Eye on KELOLAND: Secrets from the grave


SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — The coronavirus pandemic has often been compared to the Spanish Flu outbreak that killed tens of millions of people around the globe starting in 1918. There are solemn, stone reminders of the deadly toll that pandemic took in Sioux Falls more than a century ago.

Mt. Pleasant Cemetery isn’t just a final resting place for the earliest residents of Sioux Falls, it’s also a piece of living history for people whose ancestors are buried here.

“We just think it’s a very special place. It was way out in the country, close enough to walk and stuff when they started it. And now, it’s surrounded by the city. A lot of people do not know this exists and how pretty it is here,” Mt. Pleasant Cemetery Board member Fred Gage said.

This hidden gem, located in the heart of the city, is yielding secrets from the past about the people buried here.

“Meningitis, pneumonia’s a big killer in the early days, because that was almost always fatal all the time when you got pneumonia,” Mt. Pleasant Cemetery Board President Randy Pudwill said.

This interment record, dating back to the earliest days of the cemetery, provides a rare look at the harsh realities of frontier life.

“Here’s one: somebody was killed by a horse falling on him,” Pudwill said.

Mt. Pleasant traces its beginnings way back to 1873, long before South Dakota was even a state. For decades, it was Sioux Falls’ only cemetery. Sadly, many of its first burials were children, victims of childhood diseases that had no vaccines at the time. Parents also mourned the deaths of newborns when complications from childbirth often ended in tragedy.

“Of course, the death rate for infants at that time was about one out of three. Those deaths were so common and so frequent that many times, parents, if the child died at childbirth, or shortly thereafter, the parents weren’t even involved in the burial at all. The funeral director would just take the body and take it out and do a burial,” Pudwill said.

Many of Mt. Pleasant’s burials also included victims of a typhoid fever outbreak in Sioux Falls back in the mid-1880’s.

“Because the town well was contaminated and it seems, as the story goes, the town fathers knew that it was, and they told everybody go ahead and drink out of it. So they did, and we got all those typhoid deaths,” Pudwill said.

The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 took a deadly toll in Sioux Falls, claiming victims in the prime of life.

“Most of these deaths are in the age group from 16-30. Most are in their twenties. 20, 28, 24. So it did effect the young,” Pudwill said.

Those outbreaks and pandemics that claimed so many of the people buried in this cemetery reveal just how much has changed over the decades.

“They didn’t have the communications like they do today. There wasn’t social-distancing, people just didn’t understand the whole thing as much, Gage said.

As the community faces a new pandemic, Mt. Pleasant is a serene reminder that those who came before us also faced life-threatening diseases. They grieved, they buried their loved ones, and accepted that death, can bring about a new appreciation of life.

“People just dealt with it as a daily event and another occurrence, and they got up, and they went on,” Pudwill said.

Mt. Pleasant is updating its website to include multiple languages as a way to reach out to immigrant families in city.

You can learn more about Mt. Pleasant’s history, including the famous local names who were involved in getting the cemetery off the ground, by clicking here

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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