BY MARGO DRUMMOND
Here is something you may not know. Racine’s historic Mound Cemetery dates back over 2,000 years to a time when the Woodland Mound Builders chose it as their sacred burial ground. Among the trees and along the river bluffs, they sculpted conical burial mounds from which the cemetery would later take its name.
Prior to 1851, a committee headed by Dr. Philo Hoy began searching for an appropriate site to locate a city cemetery for Racine. Dr. Hoy favored the current site of Mound Cemetery. Against objections from those who thought it too far from the city and/or unsuitable for burial of Christians near the remains of ancient people interred there, Dr. Hoy prevailed.
Established June 3, 1852, Mound Cemetery now encompasses some 52 acres, lush with trees and shrubs – which Dr. Hoy once catalogued. Perhaps more significantly, 14 Native American burial mounds remain, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Hoy and his colleague, Dr. Increase Lapham, who saw to it they were protected.
“The ancient Greeks referred to cemeteries as Paideia, meaning “a school.” They believed that time spent there provided a source of understanding and perspective that, rather than negating life, contemplation would deepen its meaning. Even children were encouraged to participate in visits to the dead. Such visits, it was felt, helped to clarify the natural cycle of birth and death and in doing so made the process more accepted.
A stroll through Mound Cemetery provides just such a “school,” offering lessons in archeology, history and even funerary art. Four Revolutionary War soldiers are interred at Mound. There are two Civil War cemetery plots, one laid out by a former slave, a Dough Boy statue commemorating the Spanish-American War and an impressive tribute to WWII hero Harold Agerholm.
Prior to Memorial Day, veterans’ gravesites are marked with American flags and the traditional Memorial Day Parade proceeds from Mound to Graceland, the other city-owned cemetery. Care and maintenance of both are overseen by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. A five-member cemetery commission (currently comprised of four citizens and one alderperson) was approved by Mayor A. J. Horlick in 1911, for the primary purpose of having the management of the cemetery removed from politics.
Urban historians recognize cemeteries as being man’s first attempt at permanency. How fortunate to have Mound Cemetery as a place to share in the stories of and a place to hold a record of Racine’s rich and varied past – both the illustrious and the unknown. For after all, “history is the essence of innumerable biographies.”
If you would like to learn more regarding Mound Cemetery, please consider one of the following options:
The purchase of a self-guided tour booklet of Mound Cemetery – for sale at the Mound/Graceland Cemetery Office (1147 West Boulevard) or through Preservation Racine ($2).
Request a guided walking tour for groups through the Mound/Graceland Cemetery Office (1147 West Blvd. – 262-636-9188).
By taking a walk or a drive through Mound Cemetery on your own
Margo Drummond, a retired RUSD high school social studies teacher, is the author of “Blessings of Being Mortal: How a Mature Understanding of Death Can Free Us To Live Wisely and Well,” and “Here’s to Your Health,” the story of Horlick’s Malted Milk and the two brothers, James and William, who created it. She is also a member of Preservation Racine and a former member of the Racine Cemetery Commission.