Cemeteries of Bemidji

Four cemeteries served the Bemidji community. If searching for a burial in the Bemidji area, these four cemeteries would be the most logical to check. Many of the burials have been recorded on www.findagrave.com. Many family members and friends have posted memorials but other information comes from transcriptions located in the archives at the Beltrami County History Center and the work of many Find A Grave volunteers who have photographed the tombstones.

Greenwood Cemetery

Greenwood Cemetery

Greenwood Cemetery is the final resting place for over 8,000 people who either lived in or had some tie to Bemidji. Greenwood has its own Potters’ Field, a G.A.R. section for Civil War veterans, a monument to Shay-now-ish-kung (Chief Bemidji), tiny flat memorial stones and impressive headstones.

Ernie Bourgeois surveyed the Greenwood Cemetery in 1899. Work was completed and certified by M. D. Stoner Oct 14, 1899 although not filed and recorded until January 30, 1900. There was quite a bit of pressure for establishment of a permanent cemetery because of the unsystematic placing of graves near the lake and the projected extension of the Brainerd and Northern Minnesota Railway north of Bemidji over ground used for graves.

The original land for Greenwood Cemetery – the Grand Army of the Republic section on the west side adjacent to Irvine Avenue NW– was donated by Freeman Doud, a Civil War veteran, who was one of the earliest settlers to Bemidji. He originally homesteaded on land that included Diamond Point Park and Greenwood Cemetery. His family’s log cabin is located at the Beltrami County Fairgrounds.

According to cemetery records, a friend of his, R. H. Carr, a soldier who had fought in the Civil War, needed a place for burial and Doud accommodated him. The earliest headstone is marked Ella Elizabeth White, May 27, 1897, but her body was likely moved here after the cemetery was surveyed and opened.

Hubert Wilms was appointed keeper of the village cemetery in April 1902.

In 1906, Mayor Carter asked the city’s citizens to erect a monument for Chief Bemidji. He noted that there was not even a headstone to mark his resting place in the cemetery. Since he was such a good friend to the early citizens of Bemidji, Mayor Carter remarked that steps should be taken to erect a monument as a mark of respect to Shaynowishkung. His many acts of kindness and friendship shown by him towards early settlers in this part of the country endeared him to every old inhabitant of this locality. The school children of Bemidji contributed to the fundraising. The city held a Benefit Ball in April of 1907 for the Chief Bemidji Monument Fund in order to finish the monument which had been erected in Greenwood Cemetery

The city reacted to concern over unrecorded burials in the cemetery in 1906 and passed a resolution ordering the city undertakers and the sexton of Greenwood Cemetery to forbear from selling or bargaining with any person for the sale of cemetery lots, and the Sexton was forbidden to dig any grave or allow any grave to be dug by others without an order from the city clerk.

A small number of graves were set aside as a Potters Field at Greenwood. The unknown man who killed Deputy Sheriff Norman Helmer was buried in the Potters field in 1912 by Coroner M. E. Ibertson. Up to the time of his burial his identity had not become known, although a large number of people visited the Ibertson morgue to view the remains. He was buried without ceremony of any sort.

S.N. Reeves was hired to clean up Greenwood Cemetery in 1906 and was hired as sexton in 1907. Upon his resignation, Wm. Bavard, H. M. Merriman, Schuch and Wm Vang each served terms as sexton.

In 1908, under the leadership of Mayor Pogue, the city established a cemetery fund, and passed a resolution that all monies collected or derived from the sale of cemetery lots should be placed to the credit of this fund and that monies in this fund should be expended from time to time to improve and beautify the city cemetery.

The Greenwood Cemetery Association was formed in 1911.  City Attorney Russell drew up articles of incorporation for the new association.  A law passed by the legislature of 1911 provided that a corporation or association could manage a city’s cemetery.  Officers and trustees named on the articles of incorporation were: Kenneth McIver, president; Tom Smart, vice president; P. J. Russell, secretary; J. O. Harris, treasurer with J. C. Parker and S. C. Bailey as additional trustees. A meeting of the trustees was held on August 11, 1911 for the first annual election of officers.  Complaints had been frequent that the Bemidji cemetery was in need of more attention, and the fence had only recently been repaired.  The new association was to have direct control of the cemetery, and all lots would be sold at cost, with the money received to be used toward repairs.

Observance of Memorial Day in the 1920’s and 1930’s included a march to Greenwood cemetery. Organizations were asked to assemble at a public location such as city hall or the high school which were all downtown. Included in the parade in 1932 were the Boys Band, Company K, the Forty & Eight, the American legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, G.A.R. and G.A.R. circle, Spanish-American War Veterans and the Legion Auxiliary.

About 1909, the Ladies of the G.A.R. began raising money for the purchase of a G.A.R. monument for the cemetery. They served suppers ad sold aprons and other useful articles for this fund. On Nov 19,  1912, the cornerstone of the G.A.R. monument was laid in Greenwood Cemetery. A copper casket was sealed in the stone which contained newspapers, a Lincoln bronze medal, a G.A.R. badge and button, a small American flag, and a piece of pine stump from the Andersonville prison. The monument was dedicated Memorial Day 1913.

Sam Kudish, WPA administrator, presented a plaque to Mayor F. G. Troppman formally turning over the Greenwood cemetery chapel to the city of Bemidji in January 1937. The meeting and presentation was held in the Peacock room of the Rex Café attended by over 50 officials from city, district and state offices.

In 1939, the Works Progress Administration built the stone mausoleum at the cemetery. The building remains today although offices have been added to the side.

Dale Moe, sexton of the cemetery for over 30 years, began digging graves by hand and caring for the 40-acre property in 1969. He graduated from Bemidji High School and then was drafted into the army. When he completed his military service and returned home to Bemidji in 1968, jobs were scarce, so he went to work as a laborer at the cemetery. In 1973, the caretaker retired and he took over. He had served as sexton at Greenwood for three decades as of June 2003.

Aardahl Cemetery

Aardahl Cemetary was associated with the founding of the Aardahl Free Lutheran Congregation. Many of the first members were from a place called Aardahl in Norway. It is one of the earliest churches and cemeteries established in Beltrami county.

A Norwegian language journal written by Iver O. Ungstad, founding member of Aardahl, revealed many interesting details about the settlement and organization of Frohn township and the beginnings of the local church and school.

In 1883 a group of Norwegian immigrants headed east from McIntosh into Bemidji in search of land for homesteading. They reached Lake Bemidji and the Carson Brothers Trading Post. The immigrants rejected land at Bemidji because it was too sandy for farming. A few miles southeast, they found better soil in the Rosby area and they filed their claims on land there. In the spring of 1894, they built the first of the homestead cabins. Beltrami County had not yet been organized, so they had to travel extensive distances to file their claims or petition for organization of a school.  Travel was with a team of oxen as there were no good roads. They had to travel to Park Rapids in order to petition for citizenship.

One of the first to take land for himself was Johannes B. Hanson. He was born in Skabo, Northern Frohn, Gudbrandsdalen, Norway. He emigrated to the U.S. around 1873 and went to Skogdalen in Vernon County, Wisconsin and was there for several years. In 1882, he married Karoline Evensdoter Norbo who was born in the same place in 1863, and that year he traveled to Grafton, North Dakota and began blacksmithing there with a Lars Dalen from Skabo. In 1882, when the eastern part of Polk county was opened to settlement, he took land there, but in 1893, he was among the first to file for a homestead in Township 16, R. 32 in Section 31. He moved there in the summer of 1894 and the first Norwegian services were held in his home. His life was cut short by cancer in 1908, leaving a wife and an adopted son.

Johan Evenson Norbo was born in Konvalle, Vernon County, Wisconsin in 1860.  He married Torbjor Hegland in Crookston in 1885. She was born in Sitisdalen, Norway in 1853. They homesteaded in Section 30. They had nine children. He died in 1935; she died in 1939.

Ole Torgerson Hegland was born in Sitisdalen, Norway in 1863. He came to Beltrami County and took land in Section 32. He married Anne Haakenson in Polk County on March 30, 1893. In March 1897 Aardahl and Malvik congregations held a meeting at the home of Ole Hegland for the purpose of making plans to build a parsonage. He died in 1931.

Oluf Larson was born in 1858 in Norway. He married Anna Pederson Skablan in Trondheim, Norway, She was born in 1863. They emigrated to America and he worked in Willmar for a time and came up to this area and homesteaded near Bemidji. He moved to Frohn in 1896 and became a member of Aardahl’s Congregation.

Iver Ungstad was born in Norway in 1867.   He took a trip back to Norway in the spring of 1900 and met Kari Pedersdoter Brenden. She was born in 1875. They were married in Kristiania (Oslo) on April 5, 1901. They had nine children, six girls and three boys.

Johan Finseth was elected chairman of the building committee in March of 1897. He also owned property in Bemidji which he purchased in Feb 15, 1900. The church building was started in 1900. John Dahl gave one acre of land for the church. The church building was constructed under the direction of head carpenter John Finseth and was completed for use in 1900. Money was raised through donations and the efforts of the Ladies Aid.

Some of the members of that first group who stayed and are buried at Aardahl are Johannes B. Hanson, Gunder H. Aakhus, Gunder Gunderson Moi, John Norbo, Ole S. Huset, Halvor Jenson Reise, Paul Kvale, Ole Hegland, Elvind Langerak, Paul Froirak, Gunstein Froirak, and Ole Vassen.

With the founding of the church came the need for a cemetery. The congregation voted on January 6, 1897 to accept a two acre tract of land from Iver Ungstad for a cemetery. The first burial in Aardahl cemetery was Knut Moe, a fourteen year old boy killed in a gun accident in 1898. The cemetery separated from the church in 1963 and now operates as an independent organization. [Material on Aardahl was summarized from the Aardahl file in the vertical files of the Beltrami County Historical Society, Bemidji, Minnesota]