What are community burial areas?
Common across the world, community burial areas have a long history of proving that community bonds, so strong in life, do not have to end at death. Most community burial areas in the US are grouped by a common bond like religion, ethnicity, industry, or membership in a community group. Especially in the years before social security began in the 1930s, many cultural or community groups formed local benevolent societies, which were intended to provide mutual support should someone fall on hard times. This aid was especially necessary at the time of a death. Those who died elderly may have spent much of their savings in their final years. And sudden deaths often left families in desperation, as most households then had only one adult doing paid labor. So cultural and industrial group members gathered together to support one another through these hard times.
Benevolent societies and fraternal organizations often grew out of this desire to provide mutual support to struggling members of the community. And this was exactly how the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks was formed. Named for the majestic animal known for living in herds and relying on one another for survival, the fraternal organization was formed in New York in 1868. A few months prior, a group of actors and entertainers in the city started meeting weekly to socialize. But when a member of their group died suddenly and left his family penniless, the group knew they needed to step in to help provide a proper burial and financial assistance to the actor’s widow and children. They formed the Elks as a way to extend this support to other families who may fall on hard times.
Elk’s Rest at Lakewood Cemetery. Source: John Henry
Elks chapters sprung up across the country, including one in Minneapolis. The group got together for music and socializing. And, like chapters in other parts of the country, they also secured an area of the local cemetery for their members. In the late 1800s, Minneapolis Lodge #44 reserved a small plot at Lakewood. That plot expanded until it was large enough to serve as the final resting place for nearly 100 members of the Elks.
A 1906 article in the Minneapolis Journal announcing the progress on Elks Rest. Source: Minneapolis Journal via Newspapers.com
In 1906, members of the Minneapolis chapter had the idea to add a statue to the area. They collected contributions from members, and the larger-than-life bronze elk was unveiled just a few months later.
Lakewood is not alone in having such a beautiful Elks Rest: there are more than 75 Elks Rests across the country, and a number of these boast elk sculptures similar to the one at Lakewood. You can find such sculptures at cemeteries in New York and another in New Orleans.
Elks Rests in New Orleans (via Cardcow.com) and in Buffalo, NY (via Tom The Backroads Traveler).
Lakewood’s Elks Rest remains one of the cemetery’s most beautiful—and photographed—community monuments. You can pay your respects and see the statue in Section 7, across from the Soldiers Memorial.
Lakewood also has two memorials that serve as the final, shared resting places for military personnel: the Soldiers Memorial and the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial. The Soldiers Memorial is the site of Lakewood’s annual Memorial Day celebration, and a common place for veterans and civilians alike to pay their respect to soldiers. (Keep an eye on our Facebook page to learn more about the G.A.R. Memorial later this month.)
The Soldiers Memorial’s white granite monument was built in a three-segment “triptych” style, honoring the soldiers of three specific wars: the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I. Each of the three segments of the memorial have a bronze plaque honoring those who served in one of these three wars. Atop the monument you can also find sculptures of the era’s military garb, such as ammunition and headgear. The memorial is surrounded by the graves of many servicepeople.
Sections of the Soldiers Memorial at Lakewood.
This beautiful memorial was publicly dedicated on Memorial Day of 1923. It was first unveiled at a small ceremony a few days prior, in front of veterans of all three of the represented wars. It was erected by the Soldiers Monument Association of Minneapolis. The Monument Association was an offshoot of the Grand Army of the Republic—a fraternal organization made up of veterans who fought for the Union during the Civil War.
A headline announcing the Soldiers Memorial’s unveiling. Source: Star Tribune via Newspapers.com
As she dedicated the monument, president of the G.A.R.-affiliated Women’s Relief Corps of Minnesota Nancy R. Payne declared, “…May this monument stand as an everlasting testimony to the fact that Minnesota does not forget.” Also speaking at the dedication was Levi Longfellow of the Grand Army of the Republic, and former congressman and Spanish-American War veteran Franklin Ellsworth. The American Legion band was one of the groups performing music at the event. A photo was taken of the ceremony, and included in the Star Tribune.
The Soldiers Memorial at its unveiling in 1923. Source: Star Tribune via Newspapers.com
Lakewood is proud to honor the lives of soldiers at this beautiful memorial.
Another of Lakewood’s most moving community burial areas is located in Section 11. Showmen’s Rest is a community memorial plot that honors those who worked in the outdoor amusement industry, including circus performers, concession stand managers, and ride operators.
Lakewood’s Showmen’s Rest, decorated for the Midwest Showmen’s Association’s annual Memorial Day ceremony. Source: MPR News via Vimeo
Lakewood’s memorial is one of several Showmen’s Rests across the country. The largest Showmen’s Rest is located in Chicago, and its size is unfortunately the result of a terrible tragedy. In 1918, the renowned Hagenback-Wallace Circus was headed to Indiana for a grand performance. But a train accident fueled a large fire on the tracks, and many of the staff were unable to escape. An estimated 86 circus performers and hired workers perished in the fire. The Showmen’s League of America stepped in to ensure burial would be prompt and respectful. Five days later, many of the deceased were buried in the Showmen’s Rest plot in Chicago’s Woodlawn Cemetery.
Chicago’s Showmen’s Rest. Source: Showmen’s League of America
Thankfully, Lakewood’s Showmen’s Rest has no such tragic story. It was dedicated in 1960 by the Midwest Showmen’s Association, providing a final resting place for those whose life’s work often kept them moving from place to place. The Midwest Showmen’s Association is still active, providing social connections for members and offering academic scholarships to youth. The group has an annual ceremony at the site each Memorial Day.
Showmen’s Rest. Source: John Henry
At the center of Lakewood’s Showmen’s Rest is a large, granite memorial, inscribed with a beautiful poem about the life and death of those who bring joy to so many:
No Ferris wheel with circling lights
Glitters across our quiet nights;
Bird music has replaced the sounds
Of barkers’ calls and merry-go-rounds;
Tent canvas folded, stored away,
Steeps in no sun for us this day.
-Visitors at life’s carnival,
Did we bring something to you all?
After drudging at mill or desk
Did you find us picturesque?
Did you enjoy a thrill, a laugh?
Then let this be our epitaph –
We Showmen with our flags unfurled
Toiled to add brightness to the world
Though grace and mercy are a need
For us, as for all of Adam’s breed,
Hopefully now, with freshened eyes
We wait God’s show, of Paradise.
Chinese Community Memorial
Near the shores of Lakewood’s lake, you’ll find a beautiful community burial area nestled amidst the grass and foliage of the cemetery. The Chinese Community Memorial, located in Section 39, was erected around mid-century, and serves as the final resting place for many members of the Chinese American community.
The Chinese Community Memorial at Lakewood
Since the early days of statehood, Minnesota has been home to a thriving community of Chinese immigrants. Like other ethnic and immigrant communities, leaders of the Chinese immigrant community formed associations to provide mutual support in good times and bad. And just like the Elks and other early benevolent organizations, Chinese community associations also helped provide assistance in the burial and memorialization process.
The need to provide appropriate burial was especially important after the WWII-era Japanese invasion of China, at which point it became very difficult for Chinese Americans to send the remains of their loved one back to China to be buried alongside ancestors, as was common practice.
The Chinese Community Memorial at Lakewood.
Located in Section 39, the Chinese Community Memorial is adorned with a large granite pagoda-style monument. The metal interior design represents yin and yang, the balance of shade and sun, reminding cemetery visitors that there is hope in hard times.
If you’d like to learn more about Lakewood’s other community burial areas, including the St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church memorial area and the Fire Department memorial, please stay tuned to our Facebook page all month. You can also keep an eye on our blog for a forthcoming self-guided Cemetery Stroll, which will feature Lakewood’s Community Burial Areas.