Civil War Soldiers and Native American Mounds

Civil War Soldiers and Native American Mounds:
A Reflection on Forest Hill Cemetery, Madison, Wisconsin

By Sammy Kailas



Forest Hill Cemetery (Kailas 10/5/17)

For the past 19 years, the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison, Wisconsin has hosted “Talking Spirits Cemetery Tours” at Forest Hill Cemetery two miles southwest of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus during the autumn. Forest Hill was one of the first U.S. National Cemeteries in Wisconsin. Prior to its consecration, Bascom Hill on UW-Madison’s campus served as the burial location for early Madison settlers. The land for a new garden cemetery was purchased in the 1860s, and the burials at Bascom Hill were moved to Forest Hill.

The 90-minute walking tour focuses on the stories of Wisconsin veterans and their families who are buried on the grounds. While knowledgeable tour guides lead groups through the cemetery, local actors interpret the stories of Civil War soldiers and citizens. The tour predominantly highlights the graves of Civil War soldiers (most of them recent immigrants at the time of the Civil War), the Union Soldier’s Lot, and Confederate Rest. Camp Randall—now the Badger football stadium—was originally a Civil War camp and prison for Confederate soldiers. Confederate soldiers who died at Camp Randall were buried in the section of the cemetery now called Confederate Rest. Gravestones of immigrant Civil War soldiers like Hugh Lewis from Wales who fought with the 2nd Wisconsin and James Cunningham from Scotland who fought with the 7th Wisconsin were discussed. Eight Governors of Wisconsin are buried on the grounds and three were observed: Louis P. Harvey, Lucius Fairchild, and James O. Davidson. The tour also represented women of the Civil War including diarist Emilie Quiner and the nurse who founded the veteran’s hospital and soldier’s orphans home, Cordelia A. P. Harvey.

Moreover, the tour discussed gravestone construction, symbolism, and materials used like the zinc gravestone monument of Francis A. Ogden, and the towering Vilas family obelisk made of Vermont granite. After leading an elementary school group through the tour, I wandered to the southern quadrant of the cemetery where the Native American effigy mounds rest. As I walked, I scanned for topographic changes alongside the nineteenth-and twentieth-century gravestones that might signify Native American effigy mound contours. I recalled my undergraduate study in anthropology: The Woodland Period, 1000 BCE to 1000 CE is distinguishable by the construction of low, irregularly-shaped effigy mounds. The Madison area is home to several groupings of effigy mounds—all signifying the presence and importance of the water resources nearby. The set at Forest Hill includes four mounds: a goose mound, a linear mound, and two panther, or water spirit, mounds. While the four mounds are relatively intact, three linear mounds have been completely destroyed. Additionally, the head of the goose mound was sliced through during railroad construction in the nineteenth century.

Photos and descriptions of effigy mounds in textbooks and online cannot capture the affective experience of being present. These cultural constructions signify a past human presence in the Madison area, one with complex social organization, belief systems, and relationships to the landscape. The historical and cultural significance of these effigy mounds were either disregarded or reappropriated during the establishment of the Forest Hill Cemetery, as they are now surrounded by headstones. Being part of the cemetery might guarantee the preservation of the effigy mounds in the decades to come, or alternatively, lead to further encroachment and degradation. With the addition of the mound group to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, any changes would be miniscule. Recognizing the multiple layers of history and cultures on the landscape will be key to maintaining the integrity of the site going forward.

-Sammy Kailas

Additional Information:
Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum
NPS: Forest Hill


NCPTT Care for Historic Cemeteries Workshop

A Reflection on the NCPTT Workshop Care for Historic Cemeteries Workshop in Janesville, WI, on September 23rd, 2017 by Sammy Kailas


Chapel at the Oak HIll Cemetery, Janesville, WI. (Photo by Hastings, 9/23/17)

On an unusually hot September Saturday, I joined the Oak Hill Cemetery Preservation Society in Janesville, Wisconsin for a hands-on workshop on the Care of Historic Cemeteries offered by the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training of the National Park Service.  We started the morning with a lecture in the under-construction cemetery chapel complemented by a spread of coffee, muffins, fruit, and donuts. Jason Church, Materials Conservator for the NCPTT, presented on basic documentation standards for historic cemeteries. This included how to establish and maintain documentation and ethics and utilize different resources. The second part of the lecture highlighted preservation methods for cleaning stone monuments, resetting and mending gravestones, and general cemetery care.


Jason Church of the NCPTT demonstrates cleaning techniques on LIttle Mattie’s stone. Little Archie has been cleaned a few years prior using similar techniques. (Photo by Hastings, 9/23/17)

After lunch, our group of enthusiasts, historians, and concerned citizens practiced these preservation techniques on Oak Hill’s gravestones. First, we cleaned a few gravestones by soaking the stone with water. This can be difficult when water is not readily accessible (and on a sweltering 90-degree day, rain did not seem likely that day in Janesville), but with proper planning, innovative methods can be used. We used an extended water hose hooked up to a water trailer on the back of a truck. Then, we sprayed D2 biological solution all over the stone to soak. D2 is a biocide and kills off biological materials like lichen, moss, and mold. After waiting ten minutes or so, depending on the amount and severity of the grime, we scrubbed the stone with soft bristle brushes. We used toothbrushes to clean the inscriptions and detail. Jason also demonstrated ways to reset and mend gravestones, which is probably worthy of a whole other workshop in its own right that I am sure would be met with equal enthusiastic participation from those present. Overall, the workshop was clear in establishing and demonstrating proper methods for cemetery care at a level the community can actively engage in.

sammy field work

Cleaning a stone that marks the corner of a family grave plot (Photo by Hastings, 9/23/17)

I have an appreciation and an understanding of the importance of historic places and memorialization to a sense of community. I received my BA in Anthropology and Classical Languages from Marquette University in Milwaukee, and am currently an MA graduate student in History with a certificate in Museum Studies from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. I specialize in public history—the interdisciplinary, collaborative, and active approach to history. It is because of this background that my colleague and good friend Erin Hastings roped me in into driving the hour and a half to Janesville early on a Saturday morning. Cemetery preservation is not part of my normal weekend routine. In fact, up until this year, I would never have considered care of historic cemeteries to be one of my top interests. I have worked on archaeological excavations in Greece and Italy and am no stranger to getting my hands dirty, but not until my recent experiences with AGS-WI have I begun to appreciate the intricacies and significance of cemeteries as historic places of archaeological interest. Learning new things is exciting, and I relished the opportunity to diverge from my comfort zone for this workshop. And the unexpected assortment of donuts and fresh fruit certainly fueled my desire for learning.

This workshop was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had doing fieldwork. To be sure, the content was fascinating, but even more mesmerizing was the observable compassion and dedication of the attendees. It is because of them that we can preserve these historic spaces for future generations. NB: D2 will kill spiders or at least make them flea from their homes and crawl up your legs. So if you’re squeamish of spiders in your hair, be vigilant of stray arthropods.
For more information on preservation techniques, please visit and the Wisconsin Chapter’s Facebook page for recent news and upcoming events

-Sammy Kailas

I respect you and you believe in spirits

I wrote this reflection while doing fieldwork for my MA thesis in Landscape Archaeology at the National University of Ireland-Galway. It was originally posted on my Tumblr in July of 2016. 


One thing I have struggled with over the last year is setting aside my disbelief to respect the beliefs of others. One of my constant anxieties has been the gap in my understanding of why people I respect hold worldviews so drastically different from my own. Shouldn’t people smarter and wiser and older than me know better than me? Yet, they believe in silly things like ghosts, spirits, and dare I say, God. And shouldn’t I, as an anthropologist, fully accept that other people have unique ways of knowing things about their subjectively constructed world around them?

I do not want to be malicious—I want to be respectful and support diverse human knowledge. At the same time, I want to assert my own knowledge of the world as truth; I want to do away with ambiguous beliefs that have caused such harm in the past by creating social structures that ostracize entire groups of people and suppress the potential of individuals. I want people to fully appreciate the real life we have here and now, rather than suffering and believing (or “knowing”) that in the end, there will be justice.

Reconciling the two has been an ongoing and difficult task. I am sure my position will evolve in the future and maybe one day, all this will sound silly. But as of right now, I feel I am only beginning to understand how difficult it is to live in a world that is both social and scientific.

I would like to illustrate some progress I have made by describing an encounter I had in the small graveyard behind my house in Galway, Ireland. One July evening, I was recording gravestones that pre-date 1920. It was absolutely beautiful outside: the space was open, the sun was shining at a low angle, and all of the visible magpies were in pairs. I was in the infrequent condition of being perfectly dressed for the weather: a comfy jacket for the autumn wind that seems to prevail in Irish July, and my boots were perfectly tied.

I was also doing something very inappropriate for a graveyard visit: I was listening to music (Punch Brothers, Movement and Location, to be exact). I was content, as opposed to the ill-at-ease I typically feel in the emotionally public spaces of graveyards. Further, I was proud for once of the progress I was making. At the moment, I was completely into it.

I felt my phone vibrate, which caused me to look up. A man had just entered the small graveyard and went to the north end to lean against a stone. Whoever sent me a message had just saved me the blatant rudeness that I was clearly exhibiting with my bright white headphones running against my black leather jacket. I hastily stuffed them into my pocket (so long Punch Brothers) and hoped that I looked professional and respectful enough. I looked at my notes—child’s scribbles in a green marker because I was foolish enough to forget a real pen.

During my work in cemeteries in Wisconsin the two previous summers, a community member would always arrive on scene within 20 minutes of us arriving. They never went to one stone, but meandered the rows without approaching us, secretly trying to gauge who we were in their cemetery. When we were sufficiently judged as not a threat, they would leave, without a word. I wondered if this man in Galway was here to keep an eye on me, or if he came here often. I had never seen anyone in the graveyard before, even though I walked past it multiple times a day, but I didn’t want to bother him with questions if he was visiting someone. I went about my business, and he left without saying anything.

Ten minutes later, I heard a gentle cough and turned to see another man leaning over the wall, pointedly not looking at me. I imagined I sighed and twitched my nose at the anxiety of a social encounter. I was on my last stone and rushed to finish transcribing the work of a P. Fahy headstone. If the coughs were hints, he was throwing a lot of them. When I finished, I marched over to my backpack, so conveniently placed directly in front of the man on the wall.

Without looking at me, he says “Funny place for a graveyard, isn’t it?”

I must have snorted in response. I had spent an hour earlier that day considering the placement of this particular graveyard.

“It is, isn’t it?” I am picking up the Irish way of ending a statement with a question.

“Makes you wonder if there was a church here at some point.”

I was about to ruin the wonder. I knew the answer. This particular graveyard wasn’t old by Irish standards. The oldest stone was from the 1880s and there was no evidence in place or on maps that suggested there was anything here beforehand.

“Could you hear the spirits?”

So this is where the conversation was going to go. Am I meant to say “Yes” or “No” or give a long winded ambiguous answer? Instead, I do what I like to think any of us would have done and tried to relate the topic to the weather. “Oh, you know, I was just thinking… its absolutely gorgeous out. Perfect weather for visiting a graveyard.”

“But have you come at night and heard the spirits?” He wasn’t going to let it go.

“No. Do you think I should?”

“If you be careful. Some people are particularly lucky; they can communicate with the spirit world better than others. I thought you might be one of them.”

I don’t think I am. Although I lose my American edge when talking to older men from Mayo, I don’t think I lose it enough to speak to the otherworld.

“Have you been out to Inis Oírr? No? Well there is graveyard nearly covered in the sand dunes. And a church, much like the one in Kerry, St. Kevin’s. And there is a woman there, who can speak to both the dead and the living.”

We stood for a moment and stared out at the stones, the grass responding to the wind. Were we listening?

“All right then. Best of luck” And he left.

I gathered my things and wondered if I had heard the spirits. For what does that mean? Some sort of aural resonance? Would they speak in Irish or in English or in some otherworldly language? Would they appear in this sunlight or must I to wait until it was dark? Did the spirits tell me the other man had walked in earlier to get me to take my headphones off? Were they the reason I had no pen? (I found three in backpack when I got home–so they were there!)

Regardless of whether there was something to hear or see of the otherworld, I could feel the emotional density of the graveyard—it was certainly a place to people. I may be awkward and stubborn and self-centred and somewhat of an iconoclast, but I am not unaware of people’s emotions and the meaning of things. The graveyard is patched by obvious undulations of the ground, where people are buried with no marker. The stones themselves speak: a husband who first lost his young wife, and then young daughter, and lived for years after; a brother and sister who died on the same day, years apart. People had to have noted it when the sister passed—did it mean anything or was it the winning 1-in-365 chance?  These are real stories on the stones, and in that way, I did hear the spirits.

I turned to look back at the graveyard from up the hill, just before it would disappear and I would descend the few blocks to my house. There was no sign of the man from Mayo who had stumbled upon a graveyard, and stumbled upon me, the archaeologist. Was that itself a sign? And then I thought about the stir-fry I was going to make for dinner.

-Erin J. Hastings

Archive Visit I

After visiting the Milwaukee Public Library in February and finding the newsletters from the Wisconsin State Old Cemetery Society, I was curious to take a look at their graveyard records at the Wisconsin State Historical Society in Madison. I finally made it over there in April and spent the day sifting through boxes and folders of field notes, newspaper clippings, and spreadsheets. An index of what can be found in this collection–all 28 boxes containing the records of 4,000 cemeteries–can be found here.

To take a look at them, you can visit the fourth-floor archives of the Wisconsin State Historical Society located at 816 State Street in Madison. Their hours are Monday-Friday 8am-5pm and Saturday 9am-4pm. Be prepared with the call number for the material you wish to view, a pencil, a notebook, and possibly a camera. They also have a scanner available for use. More about the Wisconsin State Historical Society’s Library, Archives, and Museum Collections can be found here.

AGS Conference, Tuscaloosa 2017

Good news everyone! The Wisconsin Chapter has officially been approved by the board during the Annual Meeting at the 2017 Conference in Tuscaloosa. Though I was unfortunately unable to make the first few days of the conference which ran from June 20th to June 24th, I did manage to swing attending the last day and met some lovely people, heard some interesting presentations, and had an all-around great time. The long drive from Chicago was fortunately uneventful, even with the tropical depression coming into Alabama, and I was greeted at check-in with a conference swag umbrella in case it decided to storm again.

Instead of attending any cemetery tours, I opted for Dr. June Hadden-Hobbs workshop: “Using Classical Rhetoric to Create Winning Conference Presentations”, which I must say, I probably would have benefited from taking before creating my presentations for later that day. June’s workshop was informative and I recommend taking it if it is offered again in the future. She discussed how to arrange parts of speech, collect and build an argument, and ultimately strengthen memory to give extemporaneous speeches. We later got to see Dr. Hadden-Hobbs’ skills in action when she received the Harriette Merrifield Forbes Award and presented on the cliché of death.

Dr. Sullivan, unfortunately, could not make the conference, so I presented his paper on the acculturation of German immigrants in the Fond du Lac region of Wisconsin, colloquially known as the Holyland. I presented a slimmed down version of my MA thesis about how a landscape approach enables an archaeology of emotion. An abstract for these presentations can be found here.

We had a lovely, bright, sunny day in Tuscaloosa, with the occasional torrential downpour. I tried grits for the first time and took pictures with a mastodon cast at the Alabama State Natural History Museum where the closing banquet was held (The original mastodon skull, by the way, came from Kenosha Wisconsin).  I am looking forward to representing Wisconsin and Ireland at next year’s conference in Connecticut.

Spring Meeting Announcement

Forest Home Cemetery Guided Walking Tour

We will be meeting outside the office of the Forest Home Cemetery on April 22nd at 12:30pm for a guided walking tour led by historian Dr. Paul Haubrich. He will be guiding us through Milwaukee’s history and the phases of symbolism that can be found in the historic cemetery.

The cemetery is a classic garden-cemetery first plotted in the 1850s. It covers nearly 200 acres and features a wide variety of plants, water features, and pathways, as well as many different types of grave memorials. For more information, check out their website here.

The Forest Home Preservation Association is graciously providing us with this tour free of charge. Other tours that run throughout the summer can be found on their website here. Donations for the Association will be accepted at the start of the tour, or can be made at their website.

On arrival, enter the cemetery at the gate on Forest Home Ave and 26th St. Follow the yellow lines to the main office for parking. The walking tour runs about an hour and half.

After the tour, we will head to Colectivo Coffee Roasters (the one in Bay View at 2301 S. Kinnickinnic Ave). This will be a chance to talk about the tour and the upcoming AGS conference in Tuscaloosa, as well as discuss possible summer events for our chapter.

Any questions, please do not hesitate to e-mail me at



The WSOCS Newsletters at MPL

At our last meeting, Robert Felber told us about the past work done by gravestone researchers in Wisconsin through the Wisconsin State Old Cemetery Society (WSOCS), which ran from the early 1970s to the mid-2000s. I spent a few hours at the Milwaukee Public Library last week and while they have many records relating to Milwaukee County burials and cemeteries, they didn’t have the collected work of the WSOCS. The librarian was really helpful by showing my a few online resources which ultimately helped us track down the records. We found that they were given to the Wisconsin Historical Society in the mid-2000s and are available at the University of Wisconsin-Madison archives here.

I have yet to visit the archives in Madison, but the Milwaukee Public Library did have the WSOCS newsletters bound in several volumes, running from 1972 to 2004. The newsletters are fascinating. They share quotes, events, amusing epitaphs, comments from members, and occasionally recommend methods for cemetery recording and preservation.

Below are some excerpts from the newsletter, which also state it is okay to reproduce them as long as credit is given where due. Image 1 is a summary of the Wisconsin State Old Cemetery Society taken from the first volume of newsletters immediately after the first newsletter. Image 2 appeals to the ethos and pathos of its members to support the ongoing endeavors of the Society and actively take part in the community. This was taken from the same volume of newsletters. Image 3 is the front page of the first newsetter, which sets up the template for following newsletters.This was also taken from the first volume of newsletters found at the Milwaukee Public Library.




I must admit, I  have no experience with genealogy searches and practices. These links are probably familiar to many in our chapter, but here are the ones I came across nonetheless: 

MPL Genealogy Resources
UWM Archives
UWM Archives-Genealogy Collection
Wisconsin Historical Society Cemetery Records


-Erin Hastings
March 1st, 2017


Fall Meeting 2016 Minutes

AGS-Wisconsin Fall Meeting

The inaugural meeting of the Wisconsin Chapter for the Association of Gravestone Studies kicked off at the beautiful Milwaukee Public Library in downtown Milwaukee on a bright, but chilly Saturday afternoon. Attending the meeting were representatives from Marquette University, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Illinois Chapter, Milwaukee, and Madison. The agenda was brief, but set the tone for the Chapter in the coming months:

  • Introductions
  • Expectations and Goal Setting
  • Presentation by Dr. Norman Sullivan

As a new Chapter, there will be an adjustment period in which we find our purpose and rhythm. With this, there will come mistakes—the first being I did not take attendance, nor write down names.  I truly regret this because the one person’s who name I did not catch came as a representative for a society that disbanded in 2006. The Wisconsin State Old Cemetery Society recorded 60% of Wisconsin’s cemeteries starting in the 1970’s, and they were put on microfilm by the Church of Latter Day Saints. The records should be available at the Milwaukee Public Library, although they would not be digitized.

In discussing the goals and expectations for our Chapter, I explicitly stated that I want to facilitate what members want from the Chapter, but first laid out what I envisioned. I want us to provide an outlet for presenting research, but also contribute to generating data and research. So while we can host speakers and offer tours and enjoy come coffee over cemetery chats, I would also like us to be recording cemeteries and doing something with the data we gather—whether it is to bring attention to preservation issues or give our data over to some genealogical database. I would also like us to go over the old records previously mentioned and see what we can do about digitizing them and making them more widely available.

This vision sounded agreeable to all those present and no one had anything to add. I welcome any additional thoughts.

Laurel Mellien was in attendance, who recently published History and Stories of the McHenry County Cemeteries. She has proven to be our contact for the greater AGS world and has put us in contact with Illinois and Ohio and gave us some insight into what we can expect from the National meeting next summer.

Immediate action included spending the winter brainstorming projects and presenters and having a Spring Meeting in March.

The meeting concluded with a presentation by Dr. Norman Sullivan of Marquette University entitled The Cemeteries of Wisconsin’s Holy Land: Evidence of New and Changing Live for German Immigrants and their Posterity. Dr. Sullivan and myself have been recording cemeteries in the Holy Land region southeast of Lake Winnebago. The first European settlers there came over through chain migration from Rhenish Prussia. Their lives can be gleaned from the cemeteries in the Holy Land: demographic pattern, cultural values, religious expressions, rates of acculturation and language attenuation etc. can all be read on the stones. This presentation looked at the potential of the area for further studies by providing case examples of iconography use at St. Michael’s Cemetery in Dotyville and language attenuation by gender at St. Joseph’s Cemetery in St. Cloud.

And there we have the minutes for the 2016 Fall Meeting of Wisconsin Chapter for the Association of Gravestone Studies. For any comments or edits to these minutes, please contact me, (Erin Hastings) as or leave a comment on this post.


The Cemeteries of Wisconsin’s Holy Land.png