Dating back to the 1860s, the Stanger Cemetery was forgotten for more than 50 years. It was rediscovered in the 1980s and restored. Local history buffs say the cemetery holds dramatic stories of the hard life of Minnesota pioneers.
For the most part, Memorial Day at Stanger Cemetery west of St. Cloud looks and sounds pretty typical. People gathered in the withering heat and humidity this year to pray and sing patriotic songs. And of course, a local VFW troop is on hand to offer up a gun salute and taps.
Local historians see more than just a graveyard here. They see some of Minnesota's early history.
The fenced-in site sits in a prairie, an isolated clearing among the woods growing along the nearby Sauk River. It's a remote spot in an otherwise rapidly developing piece of central Minnesota. The noise from busy highways and industrial parks fades away as you follow a quarter mile of dirt road to the site.
The cemetery was started by German immigrants, the Stanger family, on their homestead in 1868. The family then gave the land to a local church, which buried parishioners here until 1918. But then the graveyard faded from memory.
The cemetery was rediscovered in the 1980s but it was overgrown and neglected. A local Kiwanis club restored the cemetery, and found 26 headstones. But historians think there are at least 40 people buried here. In the 1800s, rural graves were often unmarked.
Larry Haws first saw the site five years ago, when he was invited to speak at one of the services. Haws is now a state representative.
Like many people who visit, Haws found himself drawn to a line of six marble tombstones lying flush with the ground, marking the resting place of six of John Stanger's children.
"You notice it's all February in 1875, and you notice that it's all children," said Haws. "You have Johanne, and Anna and John, ages 2, 3, and 4. And you have Emily and Magdalene and Katherine, ages 9, 10 and 11. And it was in 10 days he buried his six children. He dug graves two at a time, and it was black diphtheria."
Four of the Stanger children survived. One of their descendents visited the cemetery on Memorial Day.
Lanore Salinas from St. Cloud paused by the graves of the six Stanger children, the siblings of her grandfather. In the shade of her big blue umbrella, Salinas said she can't help but think of the hard life her ancestors led.
"We think we have it hard now," Salinas says. "[But] they lost so many members of their family."
Salinas is pleased the land where her family toiled to survive, and buried their dead, is now a place where people gather to honor the nation's dead.
"It's very nice. It makes an impression to think that ... they pioneered and set aside this land for the cemetery. The struggles they had, it's nice to see it being remembered," Salinas said.
This was the 12th year Memorial Day ceremonies have been held at the Stanger Cemetery west of St. Cloud.