Exploring Duluth’s History: Greenwood Cemetery
The Lost & Forgotten
By Kyle Chisholm
History Tour Program Coordinator
My latest Duluth history adventure took me to an inconspicuous and difficult to find location – all but lost and forgotten but smack dab in the middle of Duluth – the Greenwood Cemetery. The only reason I even knew about the cemetery is because I used to live nearby and stumbled upon it as a kid while I was out on a bike ride. I didn’t quite know what I had discovered, but even then I recognized that the site had historical significance.
“I’ve never heard of this place” you might say. In fact, other than a memorial plaque posted in 1984, and a memorial service held in 2012, the Greenwood Cemetery hasn’t garnered much attention. If you conduct a search on Google Maps, the first entry that starts to “auto-fill” is the Greenwood Cemetery in Superior, WI. If you continue, and type Duluth, MN you’re left with a overhead map of the city. Nothing relevant appears, or so it seems. However, if you zoom in on Chris Jensen Health and Rehabilitation Center, you’ll eventually see a small green rectangle with a short path leading across Chester Creek and into the green rectangle. There’s no name on the map… but THAT unnamed green blob is Greenwood Cemetery.
Places we know today as: Aspenwood Townhomes, Campus Park, Chris Jensen, Duluth’s Public Safety Campus, the Community Garden on Arrowhead Road, and surrounding areas were once part of the Poor Farm or Cook Home from 1934 onward. Established by St. Louis County in 1877, the Poor Farm was created to assist the less fortunate of the area – many of whom were poor immigrants. Work on the Poor Farm was exchanged for a place to live. In 1890, a cemetery was created for those who past away while living on the farm – it was named Greenwood.
Being a “pauper” cemetery, Greenwood served as a place of rest for folks with no means of proper burial, those who were unknown or unclaimed (sadly including many children/babies), and Tuberculosis patients in facilities such as Nopeming Sanatorium.
Greenwood itself is only about 5 acres in total area but from roughly 1890 to 1947 there were a staggering 4,768 burials in the cemetery. Apparently there are more people interred than recorded burials, meaning that some burial sites included multiple people. Unfortunately, many of these folks had succumbed to injuries or infections that would otherwise be easily treated by antibiotics today. In a rather impersonal manner, the burials were only identified with numbered identification marker. In a real sense this was a burial site for Duluthians long forgotten.
Only a few gravestones actually exist, denoting who is thought to be buried at each location. In 2012, a multi-faith memorial service was held to remember those who were buried in Greenwood, whether they were lost souls or immigrants who helped build Duluth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The late St. Louis County Commissioner and champion for the poor, Steve O’Neil, organized the service and had this to say, reported in a St. Louis County press release:
“We want to do the right thing for the people buried here. Their passing likely attracted little attention, and so, by offering this blessing, we will pay tribute to them in recognition that their lives mattered and we have not forgotten them.“
Steve’s quote got me thinking… is there a record of people buried there? I wanted to know more.
As it turns out, members of the Twin Ports Genealogy Society – using death records from the Poor Farm/Cook Home, St. Louis County Courthouse, City of Duluth, UMD Library, and Northeast Minnesota Historical Society – compiled a Greenwood Cemetery Burial Index in 2012. After finding a few burial markers (which took some searching), I looked up as much information as I could. What follows is the information I was able to find for burial marker 251. As you’ll see, there isn’t much information. In some cases, age is guessed and where they came from is vague.
What is certain, however, is that these unfortunate souls had their lives cut short during a difficult time in Duluth’s history. Their loss was tragic and unfortunate.
While looking through the index, I wondered if any Chisholms were buried there. I found one: William Chisholm – marker 375. He died in Duluth after a bout with gangrene on June 12, 1921. Whether or not he is a distant relative of mine, I can’t say for sure yet. What I do know was that he was 70 years old when he passed, had immigrated from Canada, and that his parents were Alexander Chisholm and Jessie Bell. FamilySearch helped me find his parents, but nothing else. No information on the other people buried at marker 251 was found either.
Today Greenwood is considered a historical and inactive cemetery. This status protects the remains of those there as, sadly, exact placement is unknown and any attempt to verify remains would disturb, or destroy the bodies. Interested folks can visit to pay respects and, using the index, learn a little about the people buried there. Maybe you can find a lost relative too. Either way, you’ll let them know they aren’t forgotten, just like Steve O’Neil said.