Group continues to reclaim history and dignity for people with disabilities
How well do you know the city of Rochester? If you used to live there and have some knowledge of the way things used to be, Remembering With Dignity would like to talk with you. You see, the Rosemont Cemetery, where the earliest residents of the Rochester State Hospital are buried, is completely missing. A plat map exists, showing the location of graves and names of each of the 75 people buried in Rosemont Cemetery. “How could a cemetery be lost?” you ask. We don’t have the answer, but it speaks to the disregard for people with disabilities and neglect of state hospital cemeteries.
Over 12,500 people were buried without a named marker in Minnesota state hospital cemeteries in the last century. Remembering With Dignity (RWD), a coalition of Minnesota disability groups, has so far facilitated the marking of over 2500 of these with proper, named headstones. In May of this year, RWD received a grant from the State of Minnesota to continue their work at state cemeteries in Hastings, Rochester and St. Peter. By August 2007, approximately 1500 more named grave markers will be installed, along with other physical cemetery improvements, such as signage, fencing and landscaping.
The second cemetery connected to the Rochester State Hospital came to life October 1st, when close to 200 people gathered there for a ceremony, organized by the Rochester State Hospital Cemetery Recognition Group and RWD. The event recognized the 2019 people buried in numbered graves. The old, impersonal numbered markers—found discarded in the nearby woods—were set out on graves as a display, along with a typed sheet of information researched from old records. Susan Hayes, from Moline IL, came to pay her respects for her great grandfather, Charles Bloomquist, who received a headstone with his name.
The group also witnessed the relocating of a headstone for Lillian Scheuneman to the correct gravesite. Scheuneman’s son Steve had been separated from his mother as a boy. When he discovered years later that she had lived and died at the Rochester State Hospital, the cemetery provided no clue as to her actual gravesite. With a desire for closure, he simply found a suitable spot and placed a headstone to remember her with dignity. Fortuitously, on one of his visits to his mother’s grave, he met a couple members of the newly formed cemetery recognition group. They were able to show him the exact location of his mother’s grave. They also invited him to the October 1st event they were organizing in conjunction with RWD.
“Today we are placing named gravestones to recognize people here in the cemetery, and we will be placing 500 gravestones in the cemetery next summer. Our real work is to make things better for people in the community today,” stated emcee Kelly Lee, board member of St. Paul-based Advocating Change Together.
RWD also held a gravestone installation ceremony at the Hastings State Hospital Cemetery October 7th. The cemetery sits on a beautiful site, filled with oak trees and a wonderful view over the valley to the east. There are 901 people buried at the site. No grave markers have been found for individual graves, only border markings to reference locations of rows.
If you or an elderly relative have any recollections of a cemetery “down by the railroad tracks” in Rochester, please contact RWD, [email protected]