There we were, in Forest Home Cemetery Milwaukee, all excited about seeing the Druid graves. I wanted to pay my respects to trade unionist Lucy Parsons and anarchist Emma Goldman. And maybe catch a few of the Roma monuments. We had the map, we knew we wanted Section N. We were all set.
We drove around and around trying to match the pictures of headstones on my phone with those around us. We circled and circled. We drove over and back across the bridge that connects the two parts of the cemetery. Frustration mounting, I checked again. Duh. We were in Forest Home alright, but not in Forest Home Chicago! Right name, wrong city. My bad. Note to self duly made to visit Chicago ASAP.
The 200-acre non-denominational Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee opened its grounds in 1850 when it occupied 75 acres outside of the town and has been home to the city’s dead every since. They say:
We have 15 Milwaukee Mayors, 5 Wisconsin Governors, A Company of Generals, an Academy of Educators, and enough Brewers, Bankers and Industrialists to permanently convene a Chamber of Commerce!
In the extensive Who’s Who buried in Forest Home, few of those listed are women. Perhaps a sign of the times, when women’s contributions to society weren’t recognised or perhaps a case that few women stepped outside their domestic boundaries to make their mark. This is in sharp contrast to the statuary, mostly grieving women.
I came across Victor Berger, born in Austria-Hungary in 1860, educated in Budapest and Vienna, and founder of the US Socialist Party. He’d emigrated to the USA when he was 18. His was an interesting life.
In 1918 Berger was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment for his opposition to American entrance into World War I, but while free on appeal he was elected again to Congress. Congress refused to seat him, but at a special election in 1919 Berger was reelected by an even larger plurality. In 1921 the Supreme Court overturned Berger’s conviction. He was seated in the House in 1923 and won reelection until 1928. On July 16, 1929, Berger died of injuries sustained in a streetcar accident in Milwaukee.
I also saw another monument to the Newhall House fire of 1883. This time, though it was to mark the Protestant deaths, the Catholic victims having been buried at Calvary Cemetery. But perhaps what was most interesting for me are the numbers of miliary dead, men who served their country at home and abroad. When I see headstones, like this of Captain Sercomb, I find myself wondering what he thought of France. Was he one of these who wanted to see the world or did he simply go out of duty to country? And what of other Americans who fought in Europe and survived the wars – did they every go back on holiday.
Lines of white headstones anywhere spell military graves. These belong to 24 Union troops who died in a hospital in Milwaukee during the Civil War. This lot, Block 5, Section 24, was purchased from the city by the Federal government back in 1982 for $525.
While no actual battles were fought in Wisconsin during the war, the state was not immune to the fall-out. Teacher Carrie Sikich has done a great job of bringing home to her students the legacy left by the war on their neighbourhood, their city.
Civil wars are among the worst of wars, pitting brother against brother against sister, father against son against mother, husband against wife and child, neighbour against neighbour. And while no blood is being shed, much of what passes for politics these days amounts to civil war of sorts. So sad.
2405 West Forest Home Ave.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53215