Local historians have disagreed for decades concerning the location of Lansingâ€™s first graveyard. They do concur the dead sometimes travel. Many graves and whole necropolises have been relocated. Ancient Native American remains have been found throughout the county. Into the early 20th century, more modern Native remains were unearthed on the property of Turner Dodge. Many of these remains moved from private ownership to Michigan State University and, in subsequent years, have been repatriated though NAGPRA, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The graves or many early European settlers have also been relocated.
A Lansing State Journal article dated August 9, 1953 purports the third Lansing cemetery, later described in this article, as the original burial ground. Another LSJ article dated April 17, 1949 is closer to the location; it missed the mark by single block, but confuses the time period with the second cemetery.
The first Europeans in the area buried their dead in private family cemeteries. Locations for most of those are lost. However, the first semi-official burial ground for the settlement is now a commercial block in Old Town. It may still entomb remains. Cross referencing locations with period maps gives credence to a site proposed by Albert Cowles. In his 1904 publication, Past and Present of the City of Lansing, he pinpoints the polyandrium â€œeast of Turner Street, on block 6â€, now the east side of the 1200 block of Turner Street and the west side of the 1200 block of Center. The burials took place between the late 1830s until the late 1840s. Cowles continues, â€œMany of the remains were not removed and some of them have recently (circa 1904) been exhumed by workmen in excavating for cellars.â€
A Lansing Republican article dated August 8, 1878 describes details of the growing hamlet about 1849. It states, â€œ[T]he burying ground was on the hill on Cedar streetâ€. This corresponds with Durantâ€™s History of Ingham and Eaton Counties. Durant recounts the state donated blocks No. 247 and 248 of the original town-plat for â€œcemetery purposesâ€. This would place the cemetery at the southeast corner of Saginaw and Cedar & Saginaw and Larch. The road did not go through then. It was a single plot. This happened in April of 1848 and represents the second cemetery. Use was limited. Durant states, â€œThere were probably a few internmentsâ€¦it was concluded to purchase other grounds.â€
The â€œother groundsâ€ were across the street. Details are sparse. According to Durant, beyond â€œsome good and sufficient reasonâ€ it is elusive why the gratuitous property was not utilized in lieu of spending $400 on a property 2/3rds the size and across the street. Today that $400 would be worth in excess of $11K. The property was purchased from entrepreneurial and well-connected brothers James and Horatio Seymour. The Rail Road may be partly to blame. Within a decade, it bisected the properties and would have garnered revenue for the property owners. There is no record of remains being removed and re-interred at the new site.
Visit us next week for part 2 when more bodies are lost, children find human remains jutting from playground soil and a wading pool is built over a supposedly empty former graveyard.
Past and Present of the City of Lansing by Albert Cowles
History of Ingham and Eaton Counties by Samuel Durant
Lansing Republican (August 8, 1878)
Lansing State Journal April 17, 1949)
Lansing State Journal (August 9, 1953)
1859 Topographical Map of Ingham County
Story of Parks and Cemeteries by H. Lee Bancroft Superintendant of Lansing Parks 1949