Cemeteries are creepy, there is really no way around that. It is a piece of land filled with dead people in boxes of varying degrees of expensiveness. Wherever dead bodies end up is a bit spine-chilly. They are also terribly sad, especially if someone you love if buried there. The cemetery where my Grandpa is buried is a sad place for me and my family obviously, but it also falls victim to something that a lot of cemeteries around these parts have succumbed to. Tackiness. As my Mother says, "It looks like a carnival." There is so much cheap, random shit on people's gravestones that you half expect a clown selling balloon animals to pop out from behind a headstone. Pinwheels, stuffed animals, fake flowers, pictures, all kinds of stuff. It's a bit embarrassing, but the city (of Coon Rapids, btw) allows it, so what can you do?
Today I am going to tell you about my favorite cemetery (if you can have one, I guess) Forest Hill Cemetery in the City of Anoka, MN. I live in a part of Anoka that is right off of a major highway surrounded by either the Mississippi River or a cemetery. Yes, several. There is Calvary Cemetery, which is directly across the highway from my little neighborhood, which belongs to the local catholic church, St. Stephen's, and Forest Hill Cemetery, which is non-denominational and owned by the City of Anoka. Forest Hill sits only a few blocks from my house and we took to utilizing this cemetery (and the awesome park, Rocket Park, across the street from it) quite a bit this past summer.
Like I have mentioned several times before I am a stay-at-home mom and also do daycare for my niece. This past summer not only did I have my daughter and niece, I had my step-son Quinn home on summer break from school and I also took another kid for daycare, my dear friend Christy's daughter, Nina. Quinn, who was ten last summer, and Nina who was eight, were constantly at each others throat's all summer and it took everything in my power to not brick them both up in a wall somewhere, Poe-style. So, what did we do? Go the eff outside. We discovered the cemetery on a walk one day with the babies and it kept the kids occupied by giggling at some of the goofy last names of those buried there. However, I was fascinated when we started to come across headstones from the late 1800's.
We went back a few more times in the summer for a nice walk, where I encouraged reflection, respect for the dead, and history all at the same time with the kids. The both reacted appropriately to the incredibly sad headstones of those who died too young. It is a bit of a relief to discovery empathy in children. I was fortunate enough to make my way over to Forest Hill Cemetery with my dog today
When the City of Anoka was first eyeballing the area to make it into a cemetery it was only referred to as "The Woods." After establishing the land the City wanted Forest Hill to be their "nice" cemetery, so they put a rule in to effect. Only stone or granite grave markers are allowed. How fancy!
Forest Hill Cemetery was the second cemetery within the city limits of Anoka. The first person buried there, Olive Stimson, was on October 29th 1890. She was actually a transplant from the established cemetery in the city, Oakwood, but they, er, where running out of room, so poor Olive got disinterred and shipped over to the fancy new cemetery. No word on how she feels about that. Forest Hill also has the distinction of being a military cemetery. There are two monuments in the cemetery dedicated to those who served in the military.
Sorenson lived out the rest of his life in Reno, Nevada after he left the military and died there at the age of 80 in 2004. He is buried at Fort Snelling in Minneapolis.
There is another monument within the cemetery dedicated to those with military service:
I live in an area of Anoka that was once known as Cutterville among the historic neighborhoods. There are several streets with "Cutter" in the name. Cutters Grove Avenue, Cutters Street, Cutters Circle, my street also has Cutter in the name. There are 21 Cutters buried in Forest Hill Cemetery. The local American Legion is named the Edward B. Cutter American Legion. Edward Cutter is another war hero born in Minnesota. Edward Cutter was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously in 1919 a year after he volunteered to fly his plane into enemy territory in France during World War I to see if a counterattack was being planned. He was required to fly at a low altitude in horrible weather conditions under constant enemy fire. He managed to cross into France but shortly after his plane was seen crashing killing him and his brother instantly.
He is not buried at Forest Hill but Anoka is very proud to have a man like that hail from our neck of the woods. The Anoka County Historical Society in Downtown Anoka is the proud keeper of Edward Cutter's foot locker from World War I. I have seen it in person and it is a very cool artifact that the Society is lucky to have it.
Aside from being an impressive military cemetery (yes, there are actual military personnel buried on site, along with a U.S. Congressman! Ray Park Chase, served from 1933 to 1935.) It also has some nice and spooky elements to it.
In fact, today while I was there a creepy man all dressed in black was also there strolling around. I mean I had my dog with me and was taking pictures but he was clearly the weirdo, amirite? However, I do have a good spooky story from Forest Hill Cemetery. The Anoka County Historical Society, along with offering Ghosts of Anoka tours also offer cemetery tours of cemeteries around Anoka County during the month of October. Gary, a docent I know from the Ghost Tours also is a tour guide for the cemetery tours. He was conducting a tour through Forest Hill one night in the dark when the group noticed two orbs appear above Gary's head. They seemed to be circling one another and then moved over to a particular plot and then disappeared. The group moved to where the orbs disappeared and saw that the stone the two orbs disappeared over belonged to a mother-daughter duo who were buried together.
Forest Hill also offers very traditional "cemetery" looking sites, such as this:
The first two times I tried to take this photo my camera wouldn't take it. The same thing happened to my camera at Billy's during my Ghost Hunting class the other night when the activity was happening. Hmmm...my camera is five years old though, so I do have to take that in to consideration. There are seven Goves buried at Forest Hill so I am not quite sure whose site this is but I just want to acknowledge them and say that I don't mean any disrespect for taking a photo of the headstone, it's just crooked therefore...ya know...cemetery-ey.
The older part of Forest Hill Cemetery backs up against Highway Ten, which is a major roadway that runs from Highway 35W all the way up to St. Cloud. Anoka is kind of the halfway point of this road (and proud owner of the term "Redneck Bottleneck" during rush hour) and there are many fast food chain restaurants along this part of Ten. the smell of Taco Bell Cinnamon Twists were wafting through the cemetery this afternoon when I was taking my walk. It was a mix of glorious and morbid at the same time. Also, if you are in the drive-thru of that particular Taco Bell you stare directly into the cemetery while you wait for your food. I occasional re-think my decision to go to Taco Bell when I am sitting there.
And finally, Forest Hill has the privilege to have the bodies of the Ghostley family buried within their six acres.
I took this photo on one of our walks last summer because not only did it make the kids laugh, but me too. How is that not hilarious?
God love the Ghostley family. They owned a large chicken farm off of Round Lake Blvd. in what is now Andover. And have a street named after them in Champlin.
I just want to reiterate that I mean absolutely no disrespect in blogging about Forest Hill Cemetery. I find it so interesting and love the history it holds for our town. I do feel weird about taking photos of people's headstones because it is a little on the disrespectful side in my opinion, so that is why I took very few.
I'll wrap this blog up with a photo of Forest Hill Cemetery I took from the baseball field at Rocket Park across Forest Avenue. You can get a sense of how large it is and all the history it holds.