In Toimi, a resting place restored
It's been almost 100 years since the last child was laid to rest in the Toimi Settlers Children's Cemetery, about 30 miles northwest of Two Harbors. Two Harbors resident Roy Hanson has driven by the cemetery occasionally during the past few years...
It’s been almost 100 years since the last child was laid to rest in the Toimi Settlers Children’s Cemetery, about 30 miles northwest of Two Harbors.
Two Harbors resident Roy Hanson has driven by the cemetery occasionally during the past few years and watched as it became overgrown and started disappearing into the trees and brush surrounding it.
“It was just a piece of history that was disappearing and disappearing fast,” Hanson said earlier this month.
Meanwhile, Adrian Ranta, chairman of the Toimi School Community Center Board, was contemplating a similar loss of history at the neighboring Toimi Cemetery. Though the board maintained the grass and kept the brush back, Ranta knew there were a number of unmarked graves in the cemetery.
The restoration started with the children’s cemetery. Hanson and other volunteers started cutting back the brush and throwing out stray rocks so they could begin regular mowing. That turned out to be the easy part.
“It’s been a labor of love,” Hanson said.
Ranta and Hanson decided they wanted to hire someone to map the graves in the two cemeteries. The records they had were incomplete, and grave markings were deteriorated or nonexistent. So, they used board money to hire a specialist to use ground-
penetrating radar and GPS to pinpoint the exact locations of each grave in the cemeteries.
Settlers first made their homes in Toimi and the surrounding areas in the late 1800s and early 1900s; Ranta’s grandparents settled in Toimi, and he lived there in his early life before moving to Two Harbors. When people died, Hanson said, their families didn’t always have time or money to travel to town and report the death and buy a proper headstone.
“When life was hard and people died, they took them out and buried them,” Hanson said. “There are no stones, just mounds and depressions.”
Before the radar imaging was done, Ranta and Hanson estimated there were five graves in the children’s cemetery. The graves were completely unmarked, but some records had been found listing those that had been buried in the early 1900s. They likely died of influenza or other infections, Ranta said.
The radar found more than four times that number in August - 22 total unmarked graves exist. And in the nearby Toimi Cemetery, they found 16 unmarked graves. Ranta said he knew there would be surprises, but he never expected the numbers to be that high.
The radar imaging allowed the graves to be marked with stakes and string, but now Ranta and Hanson are working on installing more permanent fixtures to commemorate the unknown remains in the graves.
“We’re not going to know who they are,” Ranta said. “But we’ll at least put some kind of marker there to show them some respect.”
Hanson is still hoping that somebody, somewhere has more complete records for the cemeteries, or even just a family story, that could help solve big question: Who are these people?
“The hope against hope is that something will show up eventually,” Hanson said. “The more we make this story known, the better chance we have of finding some sort of records.”
Anyone with information about the cemeteries can contact the Lake County News-Chronicle at (218) 834-2141, email@example.com or PO Box 158, Two Harbors, MN 55616.
Donations to the Toimi School Community Center Board can be sent to Toimi School Community Center, in care of Robert Kari, 2456 Newgord Drive, Ely, MN 55731.