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The first ten years of burials

Self-guided tour booklets are available at the office for our 2023 history tour

One may think researching the deaths of 76 people who once lived in your town would be melancholy. And at times, it was. However, what drove me past that feeling was the idea that these people deserve to be remembered.

Petoskey Stones Speak has covered the big names of our town. They’ve talked about war heroes and bankers and businessmen, the doctors and real estate tycoons. These people deserve the honor —if it weren’t for them, how would our town be different today?

But with this year’s tour, we aim to do something different. Because we cover the adults in the first ten years of this cemetery’s history, we are remembering the farmers, the blacksmiths, the young mothers who died in childbirth or the teenagers who had barely just begun to live. And, by the way, we cherish and have record of the 100 babies and children that were buried here between 1875 and 1885, but, for obvious reasons did not include them on the tour.

Each person was researched with an attempt to answer the following questions:

1) How did they die?

2) What did they do?

3) Who was their family?

4) Why did they come to Petoskey?

In answering these questions, a pattern emerged. In 1874, Petoskey, as a city, was only one year old and the railroad had just been built. As the item from the Aug. 6, 1874, Petoskey City Weekly on the facing page says, “Petoskey is in a flourishing state ...” So people came here for opportunity. They came to start a business. To claim a homestead and get their free land. (Many, once they earned their farm, would sell it and move into town for their golden years).

Another reason people came here was for the betterment of their health. So many were afflicted with breathing issues which were made harder in polluted cities and humid weather. The air here was cooler and cleaner and offered relief for some.

And, of course, some people did not “come to Petoskey.” They were here because they were here first — well before the trains rumbled through. According to a Petoskey News-Review article on the history of Greenwood Cemetery, “a ten-acre plot was purchased, appropriately enough including the site of an Indian burial ground, which indicates that it is an ideal and natural location.”

This land contains remains of people who deserve to be remembered, but, unless they had a metal marker, we lacked records of who and where they were buried. Our superintendent recalls that around 1961, when he started working here, this part of the cemetery had many white wooden crosses. Sadly, as they deteriorated, they were not replaced.

Another pattern appeared during research on a common disease of the 1880s. Consumption was the known cause of death for 15 people on this tour, while it’s safe to suspect it was also many of the 32 unknown causes. In the 1800s, one out of every seven deaths in America and Europe was caused by tuberculosis. It became known as a slow death. The bacteria causing it was discovered by Dr. Robert Koch in 1882, but antibiotics didn’t come along until the 1940s. “Consumption” described the way the disease seemed to consume people from within.

This, the third tour I’ve done for Petoskey Stones Speak, throughout the process of research and writing, procured the same feeling I had on year one. It is good and right to discover what I can about these people who walked the same land and gazed upon the same lake as me. Take John Whistler, a stranger who died in his hotel room in 1882 of consumption. No one knew who his family was. They found a letter from a sister in Indiana and discharge papers from the army and references showing he had experience as a teacher. A telegram to the sister was not answered. So, since he was a soldier, the GAR took him and buried him on one of their lots in the cemetery. In my research for this tour, I found he had a wife and two children (and perhaps was here to secure a job and home before sending for them). These are the revelations that make this project worth it!

I am excited to share what I’ve learned and thrilled to be a part of the mission here at Greenwood: to honor those who have come before us.

Whether you are following a tour guide or whether you are strolling through the cemetery using this booklet as your guide, I hope you enjoy getting to know a bit about the people who were the first to populate these peaceful grounds. Presenting this annual tour is our way of saying, “They lived. They lived here. They made a difference.”

Renée Tanner

Greenwood Cemetery

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