Cemetery Walk

This past Tuesday, I was looking for some (inexpensive or free) different things to do here in Green Bay.  Sunday, I may be spending some time with someone who is new to the area, and I wanted to get ideas that aren’t the normal things I like to do.  You know show the unique side of Green Bay-or surrounding area.  In my search I ended up stumbling up a link to the Hazelwood Historic House Museum and the Brown County Historical Society.  Flipping through the site, looking to see if there were any events going on this Sunday, I came across an event for last night, June 18th.  It was for a cemetery walk entitled “If Tombstones could Talk”.   It looked pretty interesting.  I signed myself up for two spots, hoping that Jenny would come along, knowing that I would go even if she didn’t.  And for $6, I think the tour was well worth the money.

So Jenny came over to my place at about 5, we stopped and grabbed a bite to eat, and then headed off to Fort Howard Memorial Park getting there around 6.  This happens to be where my some of my maternal grandmother’s family is buried, including mom’s parents.

I like all things to do with history, which is why I thought this would be pretty interesting. For those of you who are not familiar with Green Bay-or think it’s only about the Packers, here’s a brief history.   According to the City of Green Bay’s website, Jean Nicolet was the first European to visit the area, he landed on was was called La Baie des Puants (the Bay of Stinking Waters).  I’m sure the name sounded just lovely and inviting.  Nicolet claimed the area for the King of France and renamed it La Baie Verte (the Green Bay). 

In 1764 Charles de Langlade and his father Augustine de Langlade established the first permanent settlement in the area. On the west side of the river a fort was built by the French as part of the fur trade, and rebuilt in 1717.  In 1761 the fort became British Fort Edward Augustus, which was eventually abandoned.  In 1816 Fort Howard was built by the Americans.

During the 1800s as the fur trade was on the decline, the logging, shipping and agriculture were on the rise in the area.  On the east side of the river, in 1829 the village of Navarino was platted (now it’s the Navarino neighborhood) and in 1835 the village of Astor was platted by agents of John Jacob Astor (now the Astor neighborhood where the, beautiful, huge, old houses are).  In 1838, when these two villages consolidated, the borough of Green bay was born.

Beginning in the 1850s there was an immigration boom of Belgian, German (my dad’s family immigrated from both of these countries, and my mom’s family from mostly Germany), Irish, Scandinavian (you can still see the Scandinavian roots in Door County).

In 1854 Green Bay was incorporated into a city, and two years later the village of Fort Howard became a borough.  A referendum on the union of the two cities was held on April 2, 1895.  And my lovely hometown as we know it was taking shape!  You can get a full history of the city I call home here.

According to the pamphlet we were given, Fort Howard Memorial Park, was founded on January 22, 1862.  At that time it was known as Fox Hills Cemetery.  It didn’t get the name Fort Howard Cemetery until the late 1800s.  The original chapel and office were on Velp Avenue, but has been torn down in the past two years or so.

There were five groups and each group had between 10 and 15 people.  I was actually surprised. I didn’t think that there would such a large group of people. On our tour we met seven former residents of Green Bay. 

Jenny and I were in the first group, and our first stop was the family plot of the Oldenburgs, where we met Mr. Gehard Oldenburg. He and his father immigrated from Germany in 1849. He was one of the founders of the Green Bay Turner Hall and the Turner Society in Green Bay.  He was a wood worker and built caskets here and worked in the undertaking business.  He went to Madison during the Civil War and used his carpentry skills to make caskets for the soldiers. When he returned to Green Bay he got into the furniture business and opened a furniture store.

The second stop on our tour was the family grave site of the Steeno family.  Here we met Anna Steeno, along with her husband and two children, two years old and two months old, they immigrated from Belgium to the United States.  They landed in New York, and met with people who had agreed to take them to Wisconsin. She explained that the journey over was 2 months, and she helped mothers feed their children and even fed children who had lost their mothers during the journey.  It took me a while to get the meaning of what she had meant.  She also told us about making sausage, and Belgian pies and that she and her husband went on to have 10 more children.

Our third stop on the tour was at the family plot of the Borremans.  Anna she was married to Alphonse Borremans and they had a market garden and was fairly large.  The land that they owned came to 40 acres and was near the neighborhood that I live in.  The actor who played Anna, may have been my favorite.  She reminded me of Sophia from the Golden Girls.
Next we visited Thomas Hawley.  He was born in Ireland and when he immigrated to the United States he went to work in shipping.  He would go on to help victims of the Peshtigo fire, which happened the same day as the Great Chicago Fire, and killed more people than the Chicago Fire.  Thomas’ son, Thomas Hawley, Jr. who was Green Bay’s Chief of Police from August 17, 1897 to June 1, 1946.  He holds the title of Longest Serving Chief of Police in the Guinness Book of World Records. That’s a pretty long tenure.

Next on our tour was Joseph Cormier.  He was born in Trios-Rivieres, Quebec Canada.  He came to the area and worked in lumber and quarry businesses, when he had set up his house, near Duck Creek, he sent for his parents and siblings who still lived in Trios-Rivieres.  At one point his parents ran one of the quarries, and had their own train depot on the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul line.  Eventually the railroad became the Cormier’s largest client and bought out the quarry and depot.  Joseph Cormier died after being hit by an automobile in 1918.

Next we visited Stephen Atkinson. He was born in Ireland and came over with his wife and children in 1862.  He got into the lumber business and soon expanded, eventually turning the family business over to his sons.  He made one trip back to the Emerald Isle, and passed away a few years after his return to Green Bay.
At our last stop we met Adeline Bedore.  She was born Adeline Fournier in 1858 in Wisconsin.  She married Louis Joseph Bedore, and had three sons.  Of which only Sidney Bedore survived infancy and lived into adulthood.  In 1886, Louis died in a log jam. Adeline married Louis’ brother Joseph in 1886 and the couple had 10 children. When Adeline passed away in 1921, Joseph went on to marry another brother’s widow, and had nine more children with his second wife.

Adiline’s son Sidney went on to become a famous sculpture. He sculpted The Spirit of the Northwest, which it outside the Brown County Court House. The sculpture features a member of the Outagamie tribe, Father Claude Allouez S.J., and Nicholas Perrot.  He also sculpted the statue of Jean Nicolet at Red Banks, which along the west side of highway 57, on the way up to Door County over looking where Nicolet landed on his voyage to find a route to Asia.

I’m looking forward to touring going on two more cemetery walks this summer.  There will be a cemetery walk in August at the Allouez Cemetery and one in September at Woodlawn Cemetery.  
If I ever get back to New Orleans, I am going to tour St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.  Does your local Historical Society partake incemetery walks or offers unique ways to delve into local history? 

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