Photo Courtesy of the Verona Historical Society
By Carla Charter
VERONA, WI.- A discovery of 79 misplaced headstones has led to the renovation of a neglected cemetery where residents of a poor farm and asylum were buried.
The headstones were rediscovered during a home renovation in the 1990’s. “They wanted the stones to go back but there was no one interested or motivated to get them back so they were kept in the yard,” said Jesse Charles, President of the Verona Historical Society.
It is believed the stones were removed in the fifties and discarded in the maintenance shed. The man who previously worked at the Dane County Hospital and Home Farm as Heads Herdsman, brought them home and repurposed them to help construct a patio. The residents also worked at the farm which grew crops and had a large dairy operation.
Why the stones were removed from the cemetery is unclear. “We don’t know why they got rid of them. The common thought is that the people who were mowing the cemetery got tired of mowing around them. We have no evidence of that though,” Charles said. In 1993 money was raised to place a plaque at the site to commemorate the cemetery
The society has two plot maps stating who is buried where in the cemetery. The first was drawn by Jesse Meyers, a Civil War Veteran who became a Superintendent of the Home in 1879. “He was a very organized person,” said Charles. Meyers map shows one small cemetery for the asylum and a larger cemetery for the poor farm. It also identifies burials and their locations.
It is unclear if all 440 people buried there had headstones. In 2003, prior to the asylum building being taken down, asylum records, including proof of burials from the 1880’s-1940’s were removed from the cellar.
In 1945 another map was created by a professional engineer from Madison Wisconsin. To create this map the engineer went to the cemetery and created a map of where the headstones were. The map also indicated two long rows which did not have anyone buried there yet. He measured those plots for burial and marked them with iron stakes in a dozen locations. “We found three of the stakes. Two were found perfectly aligned, 19 feet apart. Those stakes line up to where the graves were on the map,” Charles said.
The 79 stones which were recovered had numbers rather than names carved into them. “No one is alive from that time so no one knows why numbers were used. One theory is that families at that time may have been embarrassed to have a family member with a mental illness or who was poor living there. Another theory is that cheaper scraps may have been used for the headstone and the local stone mason used a number rather than a name,” Charles said.
The last part of the renovation project, Charles said, will be to place a marker at the cemetery listing those who are buried there, their birthplace/birth country, birth dates and death dates. The historical society is still look for any other headstones which may exist as well as information from those who may have connections to the Dane County Hospital and Home, either as employees or those who may have had family members residing there. Anyone who may be willing to share information can contact the society at firstname.lastname@example.org