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Notable Firsts

In July 1871, local leaders began laying plans for Lakewood Cemetery, the first grand, park-like cemetery in the region. Here are three “notable firsts” at Lakewood: the first officially recorded death in Minneapolis, the first burial at Lakewood, and the first plot purchased at Lakewood (and the fascinating character behind it).

Notable First #1: Frances Bean

“Frances L. Bean – First Death in Minneapolis – 1838-1850.” So reads a small gravestone, flush with the ground in Lakewood’s oldest section.

The grave of Francis L. Bean, first settler to die in the new town of Minneapolis

Of course, young Ms. Bean’s death was not the first to occur on the land that we now know as Minneapolis. There were many births and deaths of Native peoples on this land before (and after) 1850. But when settlers began permanently living in the town they named Minneapolis in 1850, this new population started to officially record births and deaths.

Frances L. Bean was born in 1838 in St. Anthony, an early settlement on the west bank of the Mississippi River. Today we know this area as Northeast Minneapolis. Bean died at the young age age 12—just across the river from her place of birth in the new settlement of Minneapolis—from unknown causes. When she passed away in 1850, Minnesota was still eight years from becoming a state. It was another 20 years before the state even required death records be kept statewide.

The keen observer may notice that Ms. Bean’s death date predates Lakewood by 21 years. Bean was originally buried in Layman’s Cemetery (now Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery) on East Lake Street. When Lakewood’s scenic grounds opened for burials in 1872, it was quite common for people to voluntarily relocate the remains of their loved ones to Lakewood. (See our post “Burial Before Lakewood” for more about Minneapolis’s early graveyards.)

The interment card for Frances L. Bean. Note that the card indicates that her body was moved to Lakewood from Layman’s Cemetery.

Notable First #2: Maggie Menzel

One of the most beloved graves at Lakewood is that of Maggie Menzel. Young Ms. Menzel has the distinction of being the first person to be buried at Lakewood.

The Menzel family grave at Lakewood. Source: Find A Grave

Not much is known about Menzel’s life. We know that she was only 19 years old when she died in January of 1872. However we don’t know the cause of her death, as it was not required to enter this information on burial cards at the time.

Other members of the Menzel family would come to join Maggie in eternal rest at their family plot. But Maggie has her own personal grave marker. This marker is adorned with scallop shells, a common funerary symbol for innocence and youth. Today you will often find the Menzel monument decorated with flowers.

The grave of Maggie Menzel features scallop shells representing youth. You can often find flowers at Maggie’s grave. Source: Paula Reed Nancarrow

Notable First #3: Ellen and Sir Joseph Francis

Sir Joseph Francis and his wife Ellen Francis were East Coasters who visited Minneapolis often in the summer. One summer day before Lakewood was founded, Ellen and Joseph took a walk around the western shores of Bde Maka Ska (Lake Calhoun). Together they stood on a bluff overlooking the lake. Ellen expressed to her husband that it was perhaps the most beautiful place she knew. She wished to spend eternity there, she told him.When Lakewood Cemetery was officially opened to the public in 1872, Ellen’s wish became possible. Though Ellen was still alive at the time, the couple purchased the plot immediately. This site was plotted as Section 1, Lot 1. The following year, Ellen passed away and was laid to rest on the site at which she stood so many years prior.

The grave of Ellen and Joseph Francis.Source: Find A Grave

Another 20 years would pass before Sir Joseph Francis would join his wife in eternal rest at Lakewood. But he was well-known around the cemetery before he passed away in 1893. His obituary indicated that he achieved mild celebrity status for his consistent presence at Lakewood. “…Every summer Mr. Francis visited [his wife’s] grave and placed flowers on the [grave]. He was a familiar figure at Lakewood, and virtually made his headquarters at the cemetery,” the paper reads. But Francis was famous for more than just his frequent visits to Lakewood. A look at his tomb reveals a long list of accomplishments: “Joseph Francis, the father and founder of the United States life-saving service, founder of the American Shipwreck society, 1842. Inventor of the corrugated metallic life car, lifeboat, etc. Received the thanks of the Forty-ninth congress, honored by the Fiftieth congress for services to humanity. Honored, decorated, rewarded and knighted by the crowned heads of Europe.” Learn more about Sir Joseph’s Francis’s inventions and Ellen and Joseph’s beautiful love story.

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