To some this will sound morbid, but I have a fondness for cemeteries and I visit them often. I think I get this from my grandparents, who loved to get ice cream and then drive their Buick through small town cemeteries in Central Illinois.
I found myself, decades later, doing exactly the same thing. A stop at Leon's and a drive through the Forest Home Cemetery is a regular family outing in the spring, summer and fall. Only recently have our kids reached an age where they find this "hobby" of ours slightly peculiar and have questioned why we spend so much time driving through cemeteries. (Although they do still ask to visit Christopher Latham Sholes, the inventor of the first practical typewriter and the QWERTY keyboard, who is buried in Forest Home cemetery.)
The Forest Home Cemetery is probably my favorite in Milwaukee, although not really comparable to the much older cemeteries I have visited in New Orleans and Prague. But one local cemetery, a tiny one on Port Washington Road in Glendale / Whitefish Bay, has always conjured my curiosity.
As a member of the UWM Credit Union, I often access the branch on Port Washington Road in Glendale, and when I do, I drive by this small cemetery nestled between strip malls. Perhaps you've noticed it. It looks like the kind of forgotten cemetery you might find next to a country road, not sandwiched between chain stores and a stone's throw from the Interstate.
Recently, I finally pulled over and checked it out, which left me only more curious about why such a tiny cemetery, called the Town of Milwaukee Union Cemetery, exists in such an odd location.
Union Cemetery, which even though it is very small in size – perhaps a couple of acres – is technically in both Glendale and Whitefish Bay.
Many of the graves are from the 1930s, but according to Dean Herbst, whose company Bronze Stone Group now owns the cemetery, the first burial took place in 1850.
The cemetery is still active, and I spotted a burial that took place in this decade, but Herbst says they only sell a space or two a year.
During a phone conversation, Herbst shared with me what he knew about the cemetery, although much of it remains a mystery. He told me, however, that a man named Harold Seaman was the sexton (caretaker) of the cemetery in the '30s. Seaman went on to start a real estate company, which might attribute to why the cemetery did not expand and, instead, businesses cropped up all around it.
It is believed that Seaman built the shopping area next to the cemetery (where Pier 1 is today) and that Seaman's offices were inside of it.
Today, it remains unclear how many bodies are buried in Union Cemetery because a fire that took place in 1917 destroyed the records. Herbst speculates about 300 bodies are buried in the graveyard that are unknown because they had wooden markers or they were never marked in the first place.
All of the burials since 1917 have been recorded, and in 1972, a woman named Mimi Bird cataloged all of the headstones and gave the list to the Whitefish Bay Library. Currently, Herbst says he knows of a man who is in the process of finding out about more of the graves through a Web site called Findagrave.com.
The history and mystery of cemeteries, like the Union Cemetery, are just a couple of reasons why I'm so drawn to them. And I think I must have inherited a creepy gene or two, which would also explain the extended Goth phase I went through in my younger years.
I have a few ancestors at this cemetery as well as other relatives (all German). I was honored to walk this cemetery with my mom a few years back when she was still able. We discovered relatives there and found relatives we did not know we had. Sadly, I have be unable to find my great grandmother's burial site. After reading in your blog about the fire, it makes perfect sense. She died 1917 or 1918, so her spot is probably lost. Ironically, I also have several relatives buried at the Union Cemetery on Burleigh. Since I don't live in the Milwaukee area, it took me a few years to figure out that these were two different places!
I thought I was strange that I like walking through old cemeteries. What struck my interest about this article is the fact that there is a Union Cemetery for Milwaukee between 20th Street and Teutonia, around Burleigh. Is there any connection? I believe the older, larger Union Cemetery is active also.
3 comments about this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Molly Snyder
Published Dec. 22, 2014
Writer, educator and lifelong Milwaukeean Jeff Poniewaz (pronounced poen-yeah-VASH) passed away last week after a long illness. Jeff was known as an "eco-poet" and was named Milwaukee's poet laureate in 2013.
Published Dec. 22, 2014
The evolution of the mall, like much of America's history, has been fast and furious, and whether or not it's still relevant - in light of online shopping, box stores and technology, especially social media - is a fair question.
Published Dec. 21, 2014
Todd Pieper is an artist and student achieving creative and academic success despite some challenges along the way.
Published Dec. 20, 2014
Senior writer Molly Snyder reflects on a few of 2014's finer moments.
Published Dec. 18, 2014
OnMilwaukee.com stopped by during one of Chris Zito's Tuesday evening shifts at Tonic and chatted with him about a wide range of subjects, including military school, Hooligan's, winter biking, Australia, Bob Uecker and the pros and cons of Minnesotans.
Published Dec. 17, 2014
Riverwest Pizza opened on Monday at 932 E. Wright St. and the classy yet casual bar and eatery appears to be a good fit for a neighborhood that was in need of more late-night, delivery and brunch options.
Published Dec. 17, 2014
Anson Williams has a prolific career as a television director and producer. He is also a successful entrepreneur. But to most people, especially Milwaukeeans, he will always be "Potsie." Williams will be in Milwaukee on Friday promoting his new book, "Singing To A Bulldog."
Published Dec. 14, 2014
Milwaukee's Biju Zimmerman has led an exciting life. Born in India, he later became the drummer of a band that toured with Death Cab For Cutie and he currently travels around the world as the stage manager for R&B / soul star, Eric Benét.
Published Dec. 14, 2014
Dasha Kelly is a powerhouse of creativity, action and compassion. She is an accomplished writer, spoken word artist, mentor and more. OnMilwaukee.com recently caught up with Kelly and talked about her past, her present and her future.
Published Dec. 13, 2014
Diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis at a young age, Milwaukee singer and songwriter Ben Cervenka knew the disease would someday take his life. And so - from a place of humor and reverence - he threw "another year I didn't die" parties on his birthday. Cervenka passed away in October so this year, his friends and family are throwing the party.