Update on Potter’s Field Memorial.
Last week, Brian Vandenlangenberg, Patty, and I met at the cemetery to lay out the dimensions of the project. We staked out the location and dimensions. The granite boulder we chose was picked up by Brian earlier in the summer and is currently across the street from his office awaiting the pouring of a concrete base at the Potter’s Field location so that it can be installed. We have contacted Scott Tousey who will be doing the installation. He is very supportive of this project and has agreed to volunteer all of his time and labor, as has Carlie Leigeois who will be working with him. Even though he is very busy this summer, Scott told Brian that he will go ahead with the construction of the concrete base as soon as he possibly can.
I have completed the final wording for the Bronze plaque and Brian has submitted the order and we are waiting to hear back from them with a preliminary design for our approval. It shouldn’t take too long before the finished product arrives and then it will be permanently attached to the stone.
Brian has looked into the ordering of the granite blocks which will make up the plaza in front of the boulder, but is finding out that getting that order is taking quite a bit more time than usual. The Covid-19 situation is playing a big part in this I’m sure. Our plan is to go ahead with the erection of the stone boulder and plaque portion of the memorial as soon as we can and do the plaza with the names later.
We are also ordering two other smaller granite stones that will be marking the location of a considerable number of Potter’s Field burials on the north side of the cemetery and elsewhere.
I am continuing to work on identifying those who have been buried there. This is quite a bit more challenging than I thought at first, as there are many names recorded without an indication of where they were buried (many of these are infants). I have been able to ascertain that some of them were buried in the “poor ground” by accessing old newspaper articles, but for a lot of them it takes quite a bit of research into other areas to get a good idea of whether or not to include their names. Thus far I have analyzed information on 340 people (1850-1950) and have developed a spreadsheet (25 pages long thus far) with notes and misc information on most of them. Of these I have concluded that about 277 should be included. I still have a way to go and this is still a work in progress but I am doing everything I can to make sure that I get this as right as possible. We will have extra space available after the initial installation of the plaza to add names I may have missed in the future, however, we obviously won’t be able to remove a name that shouldn’t have been included in the first place so that is what is driving my research right now, (that and the fact that I find this so doggone interesting!)
Please feel free to contact me at any time with questions or suggestions.
The Oconto County Historical Society (OCHS) is pleased to announce that we have received a grant of $20,525 from the Leon H. and Clymene M. Bond Foundation to fund the creation of a Potter’s Field Memorial in Oconto’s Evergreen Cemetery. The Leon H. and Clymene M. Bond Foundation is a family endowed foundation committed to the growth and improvement of Oconto County and its surrounding areas. To date the Foundation has given over $4 million dollars to support our local community.
The Memorial is designed to honor the memory of the more than 300 people buried in unmarked graves in the cemetery; people that for too long have remained unknown and unrecognized. The proposed design includes a granite boulder monument with a bronze plaque mounted on it and a plaza of granite paver stones engraved with the name and interment date of each person buried there. In addition, two small gray granite columns will be set into the ground to mark the boundaries of the original potter’s field.
Potter’s fields were common in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but today, the location of most of them is unknown to the public. They were common ground sections for burial of the poor, destitute and disenfranchised; the people who had no one to pay for their burial and most of whom are buried there without a marker or stone. The Evergreen Potter’s Field, is located in an area that appears as if it is just vacant space but current records at Evergreen show that beginning in the 1850s, over 200 people have been buried there while scores more have been buried in other “poor ground” areas located throughout the rest of the cemetery.
This “Potter’s Field Memorial” will be a blessing for our entire community, says OCHS member Peter Gabrielson who has done considerable research on the potter’s field in Evergreen Cemetery. Pete stumbled on to its existence while doing research for another article he was working on and was completely surprised. “My reaction was; a potter’s field, you mean we have a potter’s field here in Oconto?” Since then almost everyone else he meets has had the same reaction. “I thought, this is something people need to know about.”
Our hope is that the Potter’s Field Memorial will be completed by this autumn. We know that under the current conditions there may be some uncertainty in the timeline as we move forward but we have no doubt that it will be completed. It is our belief that this project will be a great benefit to the people of Oconto and that it is an opportunity for us in this day and age, to affirm our empathy and compassion; values that show our humanity and are a reminder that we need to treat all people as equal. The time has come for us to give these individuals the recognition and respect that they deserve; in fact, have deserved for a long time.
Potter’s Field in Evergreen Cemetery, Oconto
Artist’s rendition of Potter’s Field memorial