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Know details of family members from before 1870? Maybe you can help us.

Forest Hill Cemetery Lost to History

Resurrection Cemetery Lost to History

Researched and written by the Cemetery Committee of Historic Madison, Inc.


Missing Madisonians

Forest Hill Cemetery

Forest Hill Cemetery's records contains 339 "unknown" Madisonians. Most were originally buried in the village cemetery, their graves often unmarked, their names forgotten as their families moved from Madison. Before the village cemetery was sold in 1877, their bodies were disinterred and moved to Forest Hill. Others, whose relatives remained in madison, were reburied in family plots at Forest Hill but never marked, or marked with monuments that have been ravaged by time. While some sections of Forest Hill have relatively few headstones, appearances are deceiving. Some 144 unknowns lie in Section 26, 55 in Section 33, and 48 in Section 32. The cemetery has two Potter's Fields.

The names of some of these earliest Madisonians are known, but newspapers recorded virtually nothing about their lives and scarecely mentioned their passing. This list is one of the last records of their lives. These individuals, who died in the decades between 1840 and 1870, are lost to history, unless you can help. Information on when the family lived in this area and any details on their lives or family members' would be appreciated.

Resurrection Cemetery

By the 1860s, it was clear the Greenbush Cemetery was too small. The Catholics bought land for a new cemteery, Clavary, next to the city's Forest Hill Cemetery, which had been laid out in 1858 west of town. After Calvary was opened in 1863, the Greenbush Cemetery was abandoned. As the years passed, a considerable number of families moved bodies from Greenbush to Calvary as other family members died and were buried in the new cemetery. (All of the graves in Resurrection with death dates before 1863 fit this category.) In some cases, however, families were too poor to relocate their loved ones, or moved away from Madison, so many bodies remained at Greenbush. As attention focused on Calvary, the Greenbush Cemetery fell into disrepair.

By the turn of the 20th century, Dead Lake Ridge itself was quickly disappearing. Composed of gravel, it was relentlessly quarried by a number of firms for material to build Madison's roads and to fill low-lying areas. The irreplaceable effigy mounds that once crowned the ridge were thoughtlessly destroyed in the process. Today, only a small portion of the ridge above the bear dens at Henry Vilas Park Zoo remains, crowned with a cluster of effigy mounds that hint at past magnificence.

In 1902 there was a brief effort to restore the cemetery, but the effort was soon abandoned. In 1908, Catholics decided the abandoned cemetery would make an excellent location for a hospital. The following year, they obtained permission from the Bishop in Milwaukee (Madison's diocese wouldn't exist for another some 30 years) to use the site. Sometime between 1909 and May, 1911, when workers began to dig the foundation for St. Mary's, the remaining bodies were moved to Calvary Cemetery. By then, coffins had deteriorated and bodies had decayed, making it difficult to distinguish one individual from another. Those bodies were eventually reburied in Calvary Cemetery and are today marked with a historical marker.

For many years, the Milwaukee Diocese hired illiterate Irish to dig graves. As a result, early records are skimpy. Calvary and Holy Cross Cemeteries were later merged to form Resurrection Cemetery.

These individuals are later arrivals in the cemetery and warranted little mention in the Madison newspapers. Whether it is due to nationality, gender, or perhaps they lived further out in the county, is currently unknown. We welcome your assistance in filling in the pixels of their life stories.