Family, Minnie's Potatoes, Writing

A Cemetery Mystery: Minnie’s Potatoes

Fred's headstone

Last October I walked through Woodmere Cemetery near Standish snapping photos of grave markers, looking for my great grandmother’s stone.

I tramped along the track that looped through the grounds and found flat granite and bronze markers that lay flush to the lawn, and upright marble tablets with pictures of the dead laser-etched into the stone. I came across ledger markers … thick slabs that covered the entire grave, and an obelisk, a tall column like those designed for memorials in Egypt. I eventually found three separate plots with headstones carved with the Hartman surname.

The newest plot and headstone were pre-purchased by my parent’s years before they needed them. I remember the day they showed my brother and me how to find their future graves among the long, narrow rows of the new section.

I remember Mom being concerned as she paced out the plot. “Bill, I don’t think there’s room here for you to stretch out your legs. Look,” she said and sprawled on the grass. Her fingers touched their tombstone and her toes touched the neighbors. “There’s hardly enough room for me. Let’s move to where we have more space.” I remember my dad, always the frugal one, telling her that what was important in a cemetery was that the kids know where to find us. He added that if he needed to, he would bend his knees when he’s buried. Mom was not about to end it there. “Eternity is a long time to keep your knees bent, Bill Hartman.”

I located my grandparent’s tablet across the cemetery in the far corner of the original section. My grandmother died from cancer in 1929 during the Great Depression. Their infant son Gilbert, killed in a farm accident four years earlier, was listed on the same stone. Grandpa’s name had been carved beside his wife’s, but his death date wasn’t added for another 28 years. My great grandmother had to have been in on the design of that stone.

Following the circular drive I found the oldest plot in the private cemetery for residents of Lincoln Township. Stones covering the bones of my Hartman ancestors had been worn and weathered by 115 years of wind, acid rain and lichen. The sandstone marker near the main entrance had to have been purchased for my great grandfather in 1900 by his widow.

I found his stone: “Fred 1844-1900.” Other small stones scattered around the plot were those I recognized as his children: Amelia 1883, Otto 1892-1922, Amil 1894-1968 and Fred A. 1896-1936. The “Christina 1841-1910” stone had to be Fred’s mother judging from the dates.

Minnie's headstone

But I was looking for a stone marked “Minnie” with her lifespan attributes. What I found was a stone incised “Mother 1855-1931.”

What the … didn’t anyone know this woman’s name? Was this unnamed stone supposed to be an act of respect for the matriarch of this family by her eight surviving children?

A thought: Could this unnamed stone have been set for an unmarried woman who bore Hartman children?

I googled the “Arenac County Michigan Cemetery Inscriptions” website compiled in 1992 and scrolled through he 1093 graves listed in the census. Almost every grave marker held a name and lifespan dates, except for eight graves with the individual markers, Father and Mother, buried side by side, and two women buried alone.

Two women in this entire bone yard had only the word “Mother” chiseled on their headstones. One had no longevity listed. The other one was in the Hartman plot. It seemed to me that without a name the life decaying under that stone never existed, a fate worse than death and being buried underground.

It could be my great grandmother’s body was buried elsewhere. During earlier times families buried their own near their homes. Graves were marked with rough stones and rocks or wood. The custom of the stone, apparently, was a way to keep the dead from rising. My brother and I saw no evidence of a burial site while growing up on our Lincoln Township farm.

Churchyard burials during Queen Victoria’s reign became the “in-place” for the final sleep. Elaborate tombstones turned cemeteries into parks with lavish and decorated gravestones. The rural Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Lincoln Township where my family worships, has a lavish baseball diamond but no burial park.

When I read my great grandmother’s obituary in The Arenac County Independent on February 1, 1931 and saw she was interned at Woodmere, I knew that nameless gravestone was that of Wilhelmine Bublitz Hartman.

I have a theory based on all I’ve learned about this lady. This mother traveled to Michigan from Germany lugging three small boys with her. She survived the primitive conditions of early Michigan during the lumbering era, and gave birth to another nine children. Her progeny knew she was a strong woman, known widely and respected by many. Perhaps they thought she would be remembered regardless of what was incised on the heavy stone that would hold her in her grave.

I can assure you. Wilhelmine “Minnie” Bublitz Hartman will never be forgotten.  I’m making sure of that.

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