It is a sad state of affairs when progress feels the need to desecrate the sanctity of a cemetery. The history of cemeteries in Milwaukee is an interesting one. I am sure Milwaukee is not unique and is similar to a lot of other larger cities in America. Progress can have its positives and negatives. Back in the old days 1830s and ’40s, Milwaukee was a small community. As the population expanded, so did the need for larger burial grounds. Remains of the dead were commonly removed from a cemetery and moved to another to make way for building expansion. Reports have told some cemeteries were not moved at all.
From a 1922 book:
There is a story about a man named Jean Baptiste Mirandeau, who is reported in all existing histories of Milwaukee to have been in Jacques Vieau’s company.
“Mirandeau was buried on the slope of the hill on what is now the northeast corner of Main and Michigan streets. When in 1837 or 1838, Michigan Street was being graded Solomon Juneau told the workmen to take care of Mirandeau’s bones, their resting place being marked by a wooden cross, I was standing near the grave with others when the blacksmith’s skull came tumbling down the bank. The greater part of the hair was still attached to the skull, and some one remarked that the reason for this was that Mirandeau had drunk so much poor whisky that he had become sort of pickled. I do not know how much truth there was in the remark. The rest of the bones came down almost immediately after, and all the remains were picked up by Juneau’s orders, put in a box and placed in the regular cemetery.
Source: History of Milwaukee, City and County: City and County v. 1; William George Bruce, Published by S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1922.
How many others were buried on that hill but were not moved?
Another story from 1886:
Bones in Bricks A Large Brick Yard Located Where an Old Cemetery Used to Be
Bones in Bricks
A Large Brick Yard Located Where an Old Cemetery Used to Be
“Many of the bricks in some fo the finest buildings in the city are partly composed of human bones,” said a well-known builder yesterday. “This may seem a little odd to you at first, but it is true, for I’ve known it for several years. One of the yards producing the largest number of bricks of any in the state-is located on an old burying-ground from which only a few of the bodies interred there were removed before the manufacture of brick from the clay began. I have actually seen small pieces of bone pressed into these bricks.”
Source: The Milwaukee Sentinel, (Milwaukee, WI) Sunday, June 20, 1886; pg. 2; Issue 34; col C
I recently read an article which disturbed me. What first caught my attention to this article is the fact there is a known civil war veteran buried among the indigent in what was formerly known as the Poorhouse cemetery near Froederdt Hospital. People are trying to locate the grave to give this man a proper burial.
I am a huge veteran advocate, so I support giving veterans respect and proper burials. The reason for my discontent, is there are approximately 1300 other graves in this indigent cemetery. Froederdt is looking to expand and it is in the works that these remains be exhumed. Instead of reburying the remains in another cemetery elsewhere in the city, it is expected that the remains will be given to the UWM anthropology department for scientific study.
In modern terminology, the people buried here are what we now call unclaimed persons. They either had no known family or the family could not afford burial for them at the time of death. Circumstances abandoned them for all these years. Now, instead of leaving them to be at peace, progress wants to dig up the remains and place what is left in a box to sit on a shelf in storage or even worse, to be studied like a culture in a petri dish. They may have been poor or alone, but their life and death matters just as much as the veteran, a successful business person, or a former president of the United States.
Over the past few years I have spent hours trying to identify family for unclaimed persons. Trying to move these people off of shelves and give them a proper burial. Here it looks like the opposite is happening.