A Grave Ride

September 2, 2013 – Labor Day

18.1 Miles     Hamline-Midway, North End

Star Ocean Foods on Pierce Butler Route is a distributor of Asian foods.

Star Ocean Foods on Pierce Butler Route is a distributor of Asian foods.

Star Ocean Foods. The name of the business on Pierce Butler Route has always struck me as incongruous. I mean, Saint Paul is about as far from an ocean as you can get. I made Star Ocean Foods my first stop on the ride to learn exactly what goes on here.

Customers load up on a variety of produce at Star Ocean Foods.

Customers load up on a variety of produce at Star Ocean Foods.

Star Ocean Foods was open even though it was Labor Day. I went inside to talk to someone about what the business was all about. Unfortunately, about all I the information I could muster from a company supervisor was that company is a food wholesaler that supplies Asian markets, and it proved difficult to even get that much.

A couple of cart loads of exotic produce await loading into a nearby vehicle.

A couple of cart loads of exotic produce await loading into a nearby vehicle.

I jumped off Pierce Butler Route at Lexington Avenue and went north for one block to Burgess Street where I spotted an unusual house.

The straight lines and uncluttered, almost stark walls of this house make it unique in the Como Park area and all of Saint Paul. 1070 Burgess was built in 2010.)

The straight lines and uncluttered, almost stark walls of this house make it unique in the Como Park area and all of Saint Paul. 1070 Burgess was built in 2010.

The front entrance of 1070 Burgess.

The front entrance of 1070 Burgess.

Giant monarch butterflies on the house at 906 Stinson Street

Giant monarch butterflies on the house at 906 Stinson Street

Much of the Most’s sign is still visible on the western wall of 1026 Front Avenue. Despite a lot of Googling, I didn’t find any information about Most’s.

A fading but still readable ad for Most’s and Lee Overalls on the wall of 1026 Front Avenue.

A fading but still readable ad for Most’s and Lee Overalls on the wall of 1026 Front Avenue.

An empty lot separates the former Most’s from 1036 Front, previously the Como Grocery and now a plumbing company.

An empty lot separates the former Most’s from 1036 Front, previously the Como Grocery and now a plumbing company.

This tiny rectangular building is a hair salon. 996 Front Avenue.

This tiny rectangular building is a hair salon. 996 Front Avenue.

At the entrance to Calvary Cemetery on Front Avenue

Near the entrance to Calvary Cemetery on Front Avenue

Cemeteries are captivating places bursting with history and artistry. Older cemeteries feature fascinating hand sculpted grave markers of many sizes and shapes. By my unscientific count, there are about a dozen active cemeteries, where burials still take place, within Saint Paul city limits. Calvary Cemetery, 753 Front Avenue, is among the oldest in the city. According to the Calvary website, more than 100,000 burials have been performed at Calvary since its creation by Catholic church leaders in 1856.

Peering into the Calvary Cemetery

Peering into the main gate of Calvary Cemetery.

Rene Rosengren searches for a grave.

Rene Rosengren searches for a grave marker.

I met Rene Rosengren shortly after riding into Calvary Cemetery. Rene told me she was searching for a grave marker for someone she connected with on “Find A Grave,” a free website for locating graves (www.findagrave.com).

“I’ll take a cemetery that’s in my neighborhood, look at Find A Grave’s ‘open requests,’ and select a few that I think I can fulfill and hope I can fulfill and try to get a good a photograph and put it up there.”

Rene’s grave site sleuthing success was high, locating four of the five she came to Calvary to find. Prior to volunteering to find graves for others, Rene used Find A Grave to locate the resting spots of her family members.

“About a year and a-half ago I did quite a bit of requesting and was just so tickled with how much help I got from volunteers that I finally just kinda was thinking, ‘You know what? It’s time to pay back, and forward.’”

“It’s definitely one of those things that some people are just going to look at you like, ‘You do WHAT with your weekend.’” Rene Rosengren

Rene admitted to me that people don’t always understand her hobby, “It’s definitely one of those things that some people are just going to look at you like ‘You do WHAT with your weekend.’”

Surprisingly, an attraction to genealogy, not good map skills, are the most helpful when searching for graves. “What probably helps you the most is having an interest in genealogy because that helps you with the experience of getting to a site and realizing that the name maybe is a little bit different from what the person put upon the memorial page.”

Most people, said Rene, are very happy when she fulfills a grave finding request. “The experience has been really gratifying.  There’s been some people who have been just super excited with the results. Not always. You can be met with a lot of silence too because who knows what’s happened in the intervening time; Some of the requests can be a few years old by the time you see them so you don’t know if maybe the person isn’t actively looking at Find A Grave anymore.”

Her favorite Find A Grave success is a grave she found in Minneapolis’ Pioneer and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery. “The family was just over the moon about it. ‘You have helped us solve a huge mystery. Part of the family was so sure that this guy had died in Australia and you gave us proof that he did come to the US.’”

Rene’s favorite cemetery to search is Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, which she says has spoiled her with superior customer service and willingness to provide genealogical information.

Rene mentioned there are many historical and intricate grave stones at Calvary, which I found out for myself over the next hour and a half of wandering around. Here’s a sample of what I saw.

The back side of the large monument of the Schmidt-Bremer brewing family.

The back side of the large Schmidt-Bremer brewing family monument.

Likely the marker of another early Saint Paul brewer, Anthony Yoerg and family.

Likely the marker of another early Saint Paul brewer, Anthony Yoerg and family.

Stones mark the graves of two prominent early families in Saint Paul, the Daverns and the Mattocks.

Stones mark the graves of two prominent early families in Saint Paul, the Daverns and the Mattocks.

Members of Saint Paul’s early Catholic hierarchy are well represented at Calvary Cemetery.

The grave markers of Joseph Cretin, Saint Paul’s first Bishop...

The grave markers of Joseph Cretin, Saint Paul’s first Bishop…

    ...Saint Paul’s first Archbishop, John Ireland...

…Saint Paul’s first Archbishop, John Ireland…

...and the second Archbishop of Saint Paul, Austin Dowling

…and the second Archbishop of Saint Paul, Austin Dowling.

One of several grave markers of babies and young children topped by a lamb, representing innocence.

One of several grave markers of babies and young children topped by a lamb, representing innocence.

The Little Sisters of the Poor still provide service to the elderly poor. IHS means "In hoc salus"-there is safety in this.

The Little Sisters of the Poor still provide service to the elderly poor. IHS means “In hoc salus”-there is safety in this.

An intricately carved marker from the 1860s. It’s important to remember all of the old markers here were hand carved!

An intricately carved marker from the 1860s. It’s important to remember all the old markers here were hand carved!

Even the traditional headstones feature different shapes, materials and sizes.

Even the traditional headstones feature different shapes, materials and sizes.

George W. De Corsey worked as a police officer according to the 1879 edition of R.L. Polk & Co.'s St. Paul City Directory.

George W. De Corsey worked as a police officer according to the 1879 edition of R.L. Polk & Co.’s St. Paul City Directory.

A ground level marker.

A ground level marker.

A larger memorial marker. The oak leaves represent enduring faith.

A larger memorial marker. The oak leaves just below the obelisk represent enduring faith and the curtains on the cross symbolize mourning and/or the end of life on earth.

A pair of larger, more detailed markers.

A pair of larger, more intricately carved markers.

The curtain or drapes on the top of the Michel family marker symbolizes the end of life on earth.

The curtain or drapes on the top of the Michel family marker symbolizes the end of life on earth.

The picturesque final resting place of the Rogowskis.

The picturesque final resting place of the Rogowskis.

 This angel, guardian of the tomb, sits atop the grave marker of the James family.

This angel, guardian of the tomb, sits atop the grave marker of the James family.

The Graves' grave.

The Graves’ grave.

This grave marker most likely was provided by Woodmen of the World, an Omaha-based fraternal life insurance company. From the late 1800s until about 1930, Woodmen of the World policy holders received grave markers as a part of their benefits.

This grave marker most likely was provided by Woodmen of the World, an Omaha-based fraternal life insurance company. From the late 1800s until about 1930, Woodmen of the World policy holders received grave markers as a part of their benefits.

Symbols on this marker include a book, meaning the Holy Bible and ivy for friendship.

Symbols on this marker include a book, meaning the Holy Bible and ivy for friendship.

Calvary Cemetery sits atop a hill giving a magnificent view of the Cathedral of St. Paul, (left) and the Church of St. Agnes (right).

Calvary Cemetery sits atop a hill giving a magnificent view of the Cathedral of St. Paul, (left) and the Church of St. Agnes (right).

These obelisks are two of the taller monuments at Calvary.

These obelisks are two of the taller monuments at Calvary.

The family mausoleum of John O’Connor, former Saint Paul police chief.

The family mausoleum of John O’Connor, former Saint Paul police chief.

John J. O’Connor served with the Saint Paul Police Department as a patrol officer, detective and finally, as chief from 1900 to 1912. His legacy was mixed – he was lauded as one of the best detectives in the country. Then as chief, his strong leadership resulted in a tremendous decrease in crime. However, his “Layover Agreement” or ‘O’Connor System’ gave police protection to out-of-town gangsters in exchange for the promise not to commit crimes within the Saint Paul city limits. It curtailed crime for a time but eventually backfired.

The interior of the O’Connor family mausoleum.

The interior of the O’Connor family mausoleum.

The grave of Joseph Tenner, who served with the First Minnesota during the Civil War.

The grave of Joseph Tenner, who served with the First Minnesota during the Civil War.

graves 27

This dramatic memorial to Saint Paul firefighters who died in the line of duty overlooks individual grave sites of some of the firefighters.

This dramatic memorial to Saint Paul firefighters who died in the line of duty overlooks individual grave sites of some of the firefighters.

TThe elaborately sculpted statue atop the Firefighters Memorial is almost life-like, even up close.

The elaborately sculpted statue atop the Firefighters Memorial is almost life-like, even up close.

A plaque on the Firefighters Memorial.

The plaque on the Firefighters Memorial.

A stone of one of the men burried around the Firefighters Memorial.

A stone of one of the men buried around the Firefighters Memorial.

The scenery at Calvary is beautiful and the assortment of grave markers is apparent in this shot.

The scenery at Calvary is beautiful and the assortment of grave markers is apparent in this shot.

Calvary Cemetery is the first and only burial ground I’ve visited while bike riding Saint Paul. I’ve never had an aversion or fear of cemeteries and the time I spent here hasn’t altered that. What it has done is given me a greater respect for the historical and artistic value of cemeteries. I’m anticipating what differences I’ll notice and what I’ll learn when I bike through the other cemeteries throughout Saint Paul.

Here’s a link to the route of today’s ride: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/340461611

4 thoughts on “A Grave Ride

  1. I LOVED this post. As a dead people enthusiast (oops I’m sorry, “historian”) I really enjoyed strolling through Calvary via your blog. Great connection with the Find-A-Grave-er too!

    Like

  2. Thanks Wolfie = We go by Calvary Cemetery almost every day and have only been in it a couple of times. Your stories are wonderful.

    Like

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