Since August 2009, the City of Minneapolis and a volunteer organization, Friends of the Cemetery, have been raising funds to restore the steel and limestone fence along the Lake Street and Cedar Avenue sides of Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery. The fence was built in 1928, seventy-five years after the first person was buried in what was then known as Layman’s Cemetery. The cemetery is the oldest existing cemetery in Minneapolis, and was the first cemetery in Minnesota to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
This year, Take-up Productions, a group dedicated to screening classic films lent their support to the cause of restoring the fence. Take-up’s usual venue is Trylon Microcinema located at 33rd Street and Minnehaha Avenue, but they offered to host a special fundraiser in the cemetery. The feature film, in keeping with the spirit of the season, was Dracula. It’s a fun film that’s a little–but not too–creepy. It was shot on the same set as the better-known Bela Lugosi version with a different cast and crew. Many regard the Spanish-language version as the better of the two movies. It was the first in what is expected to be a series of films shown in the cemetery beginning next year.
The showing on October 9th was the second attempt at a screening. The first try, on October 2, was rained out but not before people had a chance to watch some cartoons, movie trailers and a teaser for one of next year’s screenings. (If you missed it, it was Buster Keaton’s silent masterpiece, “The General”). A light rain turned into a thunderstorm, complete with lightning and some heavy winds. Since sitting under a flagpole in an electrical storm is a very bad idea, people headed for home and returned a week later for a successful screening. Taco Taxi was on hand with their great food for both events.
The cemetery is an important piece of the South Minneapolis landscape. It is the only green space on Lake Street between the river and Lake Calhoun. Over 22,000 people (10,000 of them children) are buried near the intersection of Cedar Avenue and Lake Street. Tens of thousands of drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians pass by this historic site every day without quite realizing its significance.
In addition to many important architectural features such as the fence, a caretaker’s cottage that dates to 1871, a flagpole, some Depression-era birdbaths and several one-of-a-kind markers and monuments, the cemetery is notable for its social history. It has ties to the early anti-slavery movement in Minnesota. The history of the city’s early immigrant populations can be traced in the stones. It is the final resting place of many members of the early African-American community. There are approximately 200 military veterans including four War of 1812 veterans buried there. The people who are buried in Pioneers and Soldiers are those who quite literally built Minneapolis—the people who worked for the railroads, the lumber and flour mills, and at many other jobs that created the city’s wealth.
Much of the work on the fence has been done. The steel pickets along Lake Street have been restored and put back in place. The last steel pickets will be restored this fall and winter. The pillars still need to be tuck-pointed and capped. We still need community support for preserving this very special place. For further information, visit www.friendsofthecemetery.org and “like” us at www.facebook.com/PioneersandSoldiersCemetery.