Sarah Carr took out a tape measure and carefully mea-sured the headstone of Erik Ramstad's first wife in the First Lutheran Church Cemetery.
Already she'd found an anomaly. According to the records, Ramstad's wife was named Oline Ingeborg Ramstad, but the headstone inscription gives her name as Ingeborg Oline Ramstad, who was born in 1851 and died in 1927.
Carr, a student in the Minot State University summer class "History and Preservation of the American Cemetery," said students will have to do more research to find out how Mrs. Ramstad's name got switched around. Maybe her first name was Ingeborg and she was called by her middle name, Oline. Maybe Oline was her actual first name and the order of names on her headstone is incorrect.
Andrea Johnson/MDN - - Minot State University student Sarah Carr measures the gravestone of Ingeborg Oline Ramstad, first wife of prominent local settler Erik Ramstad.
Andrea Johnson/MDN - - Students in the “History and Preservation of the American Cemetery” class at Minot State University, along with instructor Margaret Sherve, survey the First Lutheran Church Cemetery on June 10, 2011.
Andrea Johnson/MDN - - Minot State University student Susan Brooks uses a mirror to read the inscription on the headstone of a 4-year-old who died in 1908.
Andrea Johnson/MDN - - Minot State University student Sarah Carr assesses the stability of a headstone in the First Lutheran Church Cemetery last week.
This is the second year of the class, which is team taught by Margaret Sherve and Mark Timbrook. Students can choose to receive credit in either English or history, though the work they are doing is essentially the same.
Last year's class spent much of its time recording the names on the graves in the cemetery and comparing them with existing church records. Sherve said one person is buried in the cemetery whom the church had no record of.
This summer the class is surveying the cemetery and recording the condition of the headstones. In a couple of weeks, the students will come back and begin repairs on the headstones that are most badly damaged.
The headstone of Ole Sather, who died at age 24 or 25 in 1905, bears the marks of lawnmower strikes at its base and has bacteria growing on its stone. At some point it fell over and, when righted, was turned in the wrong direction so Sather's first and last name appear on opposite sides. More alarmingly, the headstone is loose and Carr can wiggle it back and forth. This is a safety hazard, since it could fall over and hit someone walking by the gravestone. Repairing Sather's headstone will be one of the class's top priorities.
Student Susan Brooks was using a mirror to better read the faded inscription on the headstone of 4-year-old Gladys Nina Olsen, who died on Sept. 12, 1908. Brooks said she has found a number of children's graves in the cemetery, a sad testament to the high infant and child mortality rate during those early settler years.
Students in the class are also recording interesting motifs on the graves. On little Gladys's grave there is a picture of the pearly gates and dove flying overhead, both popular themes for the largely Lutheran cemetery. Other popular motifs included a closed book, indicating a life that has ended, or an oak leaf, indicating a long life. A lamb, indicating innocence and Jesus Christ, is seen most often on a grave for a young child.
Sherve said the motifs on the older graves in the First Lutheran cemetery are similar to those that were popular 50 or 60 years earlier in New England. The motifs on Lutheran graves are also different from those on Roman Catholic graves, which tended to be more ornate and more likely to depict the Virgin Mary. Most of the graves in the First Lutheran cemetery belong to Norwegian-American Lutherans, though there are a few that are German-American. Brooks noted that some of the headstones have Norwegian inscriptions.
Next year's summer class will begin doing research on some of the citizens buried in the cemetery. Some of them are among Minot's most distinguished settlers, including the wealthy Erik Ramstad. There are some little known stories to be told by the size and location of the graves. Erik Ramstad's brother Peder Ramstad is buried in another part of the graveyard.
The project is being funded with a grant from the Center for Extended Teaching and Learning, which Sherve said helped pay for new equipment such as metal detectors, a tripod for the camera and basic surveying equipment that is helping students to map out the orientation of graves in the cemetery. There are nine students in the class.