In the Spring of 2014 and again during the summer of 2015, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Cultural Resource Management (UWM-CRM), a program of the UWM Department of Anthropology, conducted archaeological excavations at the Second Ward Cemetery in Milwaukee. These excavations removed burials from an unmarked, abandoned cemetery in anticipation of developments associated with Guest House of Milwaukee, a non-profit shelter for homeless men. This cemetery was also known as Gruenhagen Cemetery and German Protestant Cemetery. The name Gruenhagen originated from two brothers that arrived in the United States through the Port of New York in the late 1830s. The brothers were considered to be a part of the “Old Lutheran” emigration of people from Pomerania, persecuted because of their refusal to merge with the Evangelical and Reformed groups as decreed by Frederick William III.
The cemetery was in use from 1849-1861 and was closed by order of Milwaukee’s Common Council. A notice was printed in the newspaper asking “lot owners” and “others interested” to remove the burials within thirty days. Although detailed records of burial removal do not exist our excavations suggest that many graves were left in place following the cemetery’s abandonment. The cemetery property was subsequently subdivided and sold as residential lots. Over the years, much of the cemetery area was built over, paved, or subject to large-scale excavations for basements and utility installations. Nevertheless, 156 years later, large portions of the cemetery remain intact beneath the landscape of the modern neighborhood.
The archaeological investigations consisted of historical research, cemetery documentation, fieldwork, and laboratory analysis conducted by UWM-CRM staff as well UWM students. In total, 53 adults and 28 juveniles were recovered from 74 burial features. Forty-seven adults and 25 juveniles exhibited some form of skeletal pathology or congenital abnormality. Evidence of physical stress and age-related skeletal indicators suggestive of a difficult life were noted on the bones of most of the adult population. Youngsters in the burial population suffered from poor nutrition and disease, suggesting difficulty in adjusting to life in the New World. Items recovered from the burials were limited and consisted of fragments of clothing, shoes, and simple personal jewelry.
The Project was featured recently on Milwaukee PBS. The program tells a part of the story of immigrant Milwaukee but more importantly illustrates the potential for preservation of cemeteries and other cultural resources that remain largely intact below modern Milwaukee’s urban landscape.