Exploring Duluth’s History: Greenwood Cemetery

The Lost & Forgotten

Greenwood Cemetery Burial Vault Historic Image

Greenwood Cemetery burial vault c. 1912. Image: Kathryn A. Martin Library.

A few years ago, when we were developing our popular Dark History Bus Tour, we came across an inconspicuous and historical burial site in the middle of Duluth – Greenwood Cemetery. The only reason we even knew about the cemetery is because our City Program Coordinator used to live nearby and had stumbled upon it as a child.

“Greenwood Cemetery? 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, Greenwood Cemetery hasn’t garnered much attention.

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 St. Louis County Poor Farm. Also known as The Cook Home from 1934 onward, The Poor Farm was established in 1877 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.

Greenwood Cemetery Poor Farm Barn Image

The Poor Farm barn still stands today. Image: The Duluth Experience.

Related: Exploring Duluth’s History: Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad

Being a “pauper” cemetery, Greenwood served as a resting place for folks with no means of a proper burial, those who were unknown or unclaimed (sadly including many children), and folks who lost their lives to tuberculosis in facilities such as The Nopeming Sanatorium.

While Greenwood spans a modest 5 acres, between 1890 and 1947 there were a staggering 4,768 burials in the cemetery. Apparently there are more people interred than recorded burials – indicating 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.

Greenwood Cemetery Marker 251 Image

Burial marker 251. Image: The Duluth Experience

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 us thinking… is there a record of people buried there? We wanted to know more.

As it turns out, 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), we looked up as much information as we could find.

What follows is the information we were 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.

Yet, as we continue to tell their stories… they are no longer forgotten.

Greenwood Cemetery burial marker 251 data table

Demographic data for burial marker 251.

Related: Exploring Duluth’s History: Cascade Park

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Wendy July 23, 2018

Is there anyway to find a list of people buried there? I had 3 relatives who were immigrants from Sweden who died in Duluth and can’t find their graves. They are all listed in the St. Louis County death index as follows (with dates of death):
FORSBERG ELLEN E 02/24/1898 106
FORSBERG RUBEN NA 08/03/1893 101
FORSBERG SOFIE NA 12/20/1895 599

Thanks for any help you can give!

Dave Grandmaison – President, CEO, Duluth Native and Guide August 4, 2018

Hello Wendy. Your best bet is to follow up with St. Louis County. I’m sorry I cannot be more helpful here.

Morgan DeLille November 20, 2018

If you type into Google “Greenwood Pauper Cemetery” There should be a PDF link titled, “Greenwood Cemetery Burials Index – Archives and Special…” That is where I was able to gain information I needed to complete our burial records. The only person I was able to see with that last name was called Andrew, and he had passed away 06/29/1924 of Tuberculosis. I hope this helps!