Off Cemetery Road, Laurium, Michigan
Before and after a student crew brushed out buckthorn September 27, 2023, to recreate the eastern path through Hecla Cemetery.
Like many small cemeteries established during the Copper Country’s mining heyday, by the 21st century Hecla Cemetery in Laurium had fallen into disrepair and had essentially been abandoned. Invasive buckthorn had taken over the tidy graves, and local teens found the burial sites a beguiling spot for partying. Touched by its plight, Wild One Ruth Gleckler of Atlantic Mine took the little cemetery under her wing and has been laboring to restore its dignity, with help from other Wild Ones.
Hecla’s first native garden
…can be a good idea. Ruth selected a small workable size area to start our new native garden.
PREPARING THE SPOT
The original grass and weeds have been smothered with cardboard, leaves and mulch over the winter. The chicken wire keeps it from blowing away.
PLANNING AND PLANTING
The garden is designed, and the seedlings are settling down for their long winter’s nap, hopefully to arise in spring 2023.
In additioning to starting a garden and managing cemetery cleanup, Ruth pulled together the cemetery’s history, which is sparce, since records are few. According to Ruth’s research, it was established in the early 1860s by the Calumet Mining Company. In 1869, Sacred Heart Church was built next to the site and began leasing it; it became known as the Sacred Heart Cemetery until its lease expired in the 1930s.
The oldest known grave at the site is that of John O’Brian, in 1858. Hecla had one notable burial, the 1895 interment of Private Heimes, an 18-year-old killed while serving with the Michigan Company D, 5th Infantry Regiment during a 1895 mining strike. In 1896 a monument for Private Heimes was funded, but by 2004 his remains were moved to Lake View Cemetery in Calumet by 107th National Guard unit because they felt they could no longer protect the grave due to the cemetery’s deterioration.
Most of the cemetery’s history is a litany of the church’s efforts to bring back its faded glory. In 1910, Catholic Societies met at Sacred Heart to organize improvements to address the “deplorable” state the Hecla Cemetery. In 1929, The Polish Pioneers of Calumet reported that Father Humbert cleaned up “old Hecla” Cemetery, included removing fences around graves and leveling mounds. In 1958, records show Sacred Heart Church organized yet another of its many work bees to tidy up the site.
Otherwise, in 1911 records show that soldiers’ graves were being decorated on Memorial Day, and the last known burial was in 1944, though the identity of the deceased is unknown.
The foundation of the Keweenaw National Historical Park in 1992 helped draw attention to Hecla Cemetery. In 2010, the Houghton Keweenaw Counties Genealogical Society purchased the site from the company formerly known as Copper Range and then donated it to Calumet Township, which owns it to this day (2023).
In 2011, a grant from the National Park Service funded the purchase of a sign for the Hecla Cemetery and trees for a “green” fence to discourage ATVs from entering and damaging the cemetery. The same year, the Knights of Columbus helped put up a temporary wood fence to protect the trees until they were large enough to hold back the ATVs. Illustrating the seriousness of the problem, the fence was damaged that same year, presumably by ATVs. In 2015 an additional interpretative sign was installed. Local engineer Tom Landini donated his expertise, time and equipment to plan and install additional paths to allow pedestrians to stroll through Hecla. A bench was installed in his honor in 2021.
The interpretive sign and bench installed, respectively, in 2015 and 2021.
Ruth has spearheaded a number of improvements to the Hecla Cemetery; see the photos below.
A buckthorn bash in October 2022. At left is Wild One Lynne Robertson, carting out brush.
Adding ninebark, a beautiful native replacement for buckthorn. The fence will help protect it from traffic.
Michigan Tech students brushed out the cemetery during their annual day of giving back to the community, Make a Difference Day.
This sign was installed with funding from the National Park Service in 2011.
New garden, newly planted. Before the rabbits found it. Hopefully the plants will rise from their roots.