THE OCONTO EVERGREEN CEMETERY
POTTER’S FIELD RESEARCH PROJECT
May 7, 2023
- Potter’s Field Memorial Individuals Information. Information about the 287 people whose names are engraved on the Memorial Plaza.
- Individuals Researched but Not Included on the Potter’s Field Memorial. Information about 119 other individuals, many of whom were buried in the Potter’s Field areas, but whose names are not engraved on the Plaza; either because they already have a marker stone, or because it was determined that they were buried someplace else.
- Early History of the Oconto Evergreen and Catholic Cemeteries (1850-1895). A timeline which includes information about the early history (1850-1895) of the Evergreen and Catholic cemeteries, along with some general information about early Oconto.
- Evergreen Cemetery Sexton Records Book. Digital images of every page from the original 2 books covering all burials from 1853-1985.
- Original Evergreen Cemetery Map. A digital copy of the original cemetery map with the lot numbers and block numbers identified. These numbers can be used to locate an individual’s burial plot if the person is listed in the Sexton Records Book (#4).
- Oconto County Genealogical Society’s Cemetery Index. This page will enable you to locate your relative in the OCGS cemetery transcription database. Most of the information here matches the information in the Evergreen Cemetery Sexton Records, but not all!
- Oconto County Genealogical Society’s Evergreen Cemetery Map. This map can be used to locate the burial plot of an individual that you identified by using the Oconto County Genealogical Society’s Cemetery Index (#6).
- Potter’s Field Public Photo Album. A link to a google photo album containing photos showing the development and construction of the Potter’s Field Memorial Plaza.
Background and History
As you enter the Evergreen Cemetery in Oconto Wisconsin on the southernmost road and head west, to your left is a grassy area that is almost 200 feet long and about 20 feet wide. There are a few gravestone markers in that area but for the most part it is just grass. A similar area is located along the north side of the northernmost road in the cemetery. To look at these areas, most would think that they are just empty areas awaiting future burials but in fact, these sections are actually burial sites for hundreds of individuals who had no family or whose families did not have the ability to pay for a burial plot.
Often called Potters Fields, they are a part of the cemetery that was set aside as a burial place for the poor, the destitute and the disenfranchised. Current records show that over 300 people have been buried in the Potter’s Field areas in Evergreen Cemetery, beginning in the 1850’s and continuing right through the end of the twentieth century. Who were these people and what were the circumstances by which they were buried in graves that were often unmarked? Very few of their names are noted on markers, but most if not all of the names have been recorded in the cemetery’s record books.
Like most, I had never heard of The Potter’s Field area in the Evergreen Cemetery and only stumbled on that information while trying to find the location of the burial site of my grandfather’s sister who died as an infant shortly after the family arrived in America in 1893. As I began to find the names of so many others that were interred in our Potter’s Field my curiosity led me to want to know more about who these individuals were and what their lives were like. So in 2017 I started recording the names of as many of these people as possible and then researching each of them to see what if anything I could find out. By using genealogical websites as well as newspaper archives I have been able to identify information about almost all of them. Four years later, this has led to the creation of the, “Oconto Evergreen Cemetery Potter’s Field Research Project” and several documents that can be accessed on this website.
The Potter’s Field Memorial Plaza Story
In 2020 I approached the Leon H. and Clymene M. Bond Foundation with this information and a grant request for $20,525, the purpose of which would be to create a Potter’s Field Memorial in Oconto’s Evergreen Cemetery. Their enthusiastic support for this project was immediate and they approved the grant in May of that year. We also received donations from the annual Oconto County Historical Society’s cemetery walk as well as from an individual donor.
I then contacted Brian Vandenlangenberg of Oconto City Monument and together we designed a plan for the memorial. Our progress completing this project was slowed by the challenges we faced during the pandemic, but it continued and in October, 2020 the first stage of the project, the boulder monument and bronze plaque, was completed. We were fortunate to have the help of Jeremy Wusterbarth and the city of Oconto in placing the 2 ton boulder.
Unfortunately, cracks developed in the base. The cause of these cracks was most likely unknown grave sites located in the area where the monument is placed. Brian and Scott Tousey of Scott’s Concrete, who with his son Brandon, did the concrete work for the base, decided that the best thing to do was to break up the concrete base and remove it with the exception of the part underneath the boulder and then re-pour the base using rebar to reinforce the new one. That was completed in June, 2021 and it has held well.
Meanwhile, Brian continued his work engraving names into the 36 granite pavers that formed the 128 sq foot memorial plaza located directly in front of the monument. At present, 287 names are included in this group. Unfortunately, in the summer of 2021, the supply chain dried up for some of the materials he needed and we had to wait one more winter. The final blocks were put in place in June of 2022. Once the plaza blocks were in place, we contacted Greg Mortier of Creative Curbing & Design, who does decorative landscape concrete borders. He and daughter Lilly installed a concrete border around the plaza that finished it off beautifully.
In July 2022, Carly Liegeois of Carlie’s Landscaping & Excavating contributed fill and Patty and I finished off the landscaping around the plaza. Meanwhile Brian finished two more marker stones, encased them in concrete and placed them on the north side of the cemetery to indicate that this area is also part of the Potter’s Field.
Last month (April 2023), Jeff and David Lane of L2 Engraving, donated an engraved anodized aluminum plaque which will be placed next to the Plaza informing people where to look if they want to know more about the individuals buried there or about the cemetery itself.
The Dedication of the Evergreen Cemetery Potter’s Field Memorial will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 27, at the cemetery, 325 Cook Ave, Oconto. The ceremony will not only recognize the deceased but also the living who contributed their time and resources without which this never would have become a reality.
In conclusion, I want to say that this memorial really is a “Dream come true”, none of which would have been possible without the help of many local citizens who helped to make it a reality. It’s an opportunity for us in this day and age, to affirm our empathy and compassion; and a reminder that we need to treat all people as equal in the eyes of God. As it says in the words engraved on the Potter’s Field plaque, “This monument is dedicated to ensure that the final resting place of these departed souls will remain forever consecrated and their names be forever remembered”. This monument is for them.