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Spring Grove cemetery walk tells the tales of long ago

By John Weiss

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

SPRING GROVE — Knute Olsen Bergo was born in Valdres Norway in 1816 and was an early settler to the Spring Grove area; he gave the Black Hammer area its name.

Georgia Rosendahl could see the name on the gravestone as she slowly walked through the tightly stacked stones in Norwegian Ridge Cemetery and knew Bergo’s story. In fact, Rosendahl knows nearly every name on the 184 stones in the old cemetery. Many are her relatives or those of her husband; others seem like friends because she’s done so much research on them.

And at 8 p.m. Friday, people coming to Spring Grove’s reunion will have a chance to learn about them in a cemetery walk with about a half dozen people dressed as people from that era. The town holds a reunion once a decade.

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Hans Torgrimsen Tveito, born 1815 in Norway, came to Spring Grove in the early 1850s, known for his "bear strength" in his youth.

That Rosendahl can even see the stones is a testament to one man, she said.

The cemetery north of Trinity Lutheran Church in Spring Grove, hasn’t had anyone buried there in about a century. In the 1960s, church leaders decided the old stones were a safety hazard and had them knocked down and piled up, she said. "Our family was not happy," she said. Her great-grandfather and her husband’s grandfather were buried there.

The stones stayed in the pile for several years until Howard Burtness, a local man, decided that they should be restored. With the help of local volunteers, they recovered and restored most of the gravestones. But no one knew where the graves were so the stones were placed back to back in four neat rows. They remain there today.

Torger Johannesen Tendeland was one of four early settlers who came in 1852 and a founder of the Norwegian Ridge Congregation.

Bill Fried is getting to know those names too. He’s a Spring Grove High School English, speech and theater teacher, and Rosendahl’s son-in-law, who is organizing the town’s cemetery walk. "It’s a fun thing to do," he said. "It’s theatrical in a sense, it’s illustrated history." Having real people recreate the lives of several people buried there "makes them more than a piece of stone in a cemetery."

Such walks have been done twice before, but in a newer cemetery on the other side of town, he said.

Walking through the old cemetery, hearing the stories of the pioneers, will add a new dimension to the rows of stones. "For many people, this is not a cemetery at all," he said. "They see the stones up here but don’t recognize it as a cemetery."

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