Rock and Roll Raises Money to Restore Historic Cemetery


Typically, the only music you hear at a cemetery is a lone trumpet playing taps — but that wasn’t the case on June 9th when the Pioneer and Soldier’s Memorial Cemetery hosted a concert fundraiser. The first burial at the cemetery took place in 1853, five years before Minnesota officially became a state. Now, to make sure the historic burial grounds are around for another century or two, preservationists are looking to the young to help save the old.

What is generally a quiet place to reflect and remember, the cemetery came to life that Saturday as rock and roll brought music lovers out to the burial grounds. “It’s the biggest green space — the only green space — on Lake Street between the River and Lake Calhoun,” said Sue Hunter Weir, who is leading the fundraising effort. Her volunteer group has committed to raising nearly $1.5 million to restore the old steel and limestone pillar fence. They say they got the idea to hold a concert among the dead from a Hollywood cemetery that hoped to get a younger crowd interested in preservation.

Holly Newsom and her band, Zoo Animal, said the gig was a no-brainer — especially since a similar show last October generated $10,000 for restoration efforts. Those who have loved ones resting in the cemetery say they love the new use for the hallowed oasis in the city’s heart and hope the fresh sounds help preserve the very old cemetery. “These concerts are the kind of music that brings out the young people — at least, it doesn’t turn them off,” said John Ferman, whose grandfather — one of the first bakers in town — is buried in the 160-year-old cemetery. “My dad used to tell stories about how he and his brother would have to get up early in the morning to fire up the ovens with wood — of course, they didn’t have natural gas.” Ferman said he still has the deed for the plot, and several of his ancestors rest there as well.

In total, there are more than 22,000 people buried on the 20-acre site, and the concert sought to make sure that the grounds can be properly preserved for future generations. “The people who are buried here are immigrants — early generation African Americans, literally the people who built the city of Minneapolis,” said Hunter Weir. The cemetery was originally known as Layman’s, for the family who owned and operated it. The city eventually purchased it in the 1920s. It is no longer an active burial site.

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