Five children, victims of a terrible tragedy 117 years ago, lie in a straight row in Minot's First Lutheran Church Cemetery.
A single weathered white headstone marks the graves of the Christianson children who died in a house fire on March 26, 1895.
The inscription on that stone is so faded that it is impossible to make out all the children's names: George Andreas, 17; Sophie Henriette, 11; Helga, 9; Senus, 6; and the baby, Ole, aged 2.
Minot State University history club member Misty Neumiller, one of the students who gave public tours of the cemetery on Saturday, told people who took the tour about Minot's first great tragedy and how the children's funeral had to be held in the city hall because the entire community wanted to attend.
The children were sleeping on the top floor of the house when the kitchen caught fire, blocking the only access to the second floor. The fire department put up ladders to the second floor and were able to save three of the eight children, but the remaining five were overcome by the flames.
The funeral procession to the First Lutheran Church Cemetery included all of the Christianson children's classmates.
Neumiller, who has taken a cemetery preservation class that is intent on recording details about the cemetery as well as restoring and preserving some of the damaged and broken stones, said the cemetery tour helps people learn about the history of Minot. She said it is important to preserve it.
During the tour people saw some of the once lost history of Minot, preserved by the class. The class located the grave of Charles Spoklie, the first baby born in the Souris River Valley, and raised the headstone so people can now see it. The class also repaired a headstone that had been broken in three places and was loose. The class has been working in the northeast quadrant of the cemetery, where many early Minot settlers are buried, including members of the Ramstad family.
Neumiller said members of the public don't always know the dos and don'ts of visiting a cemetery. People should avoid sitting on headstones, leaning against them or kicking them, both out of respect for those buried there and because it can damage the headstones and be dangerous to visitors. Some of the old headstones are loose and could topple over and cause serious injury or death. Some of the headstones weigh as much as 1,000 pounds, she said.
Neumiller said people should also avoid taking rubbings of the headstones, which can damage the stones. This is a common practice but one that historians discourage.
The First Lutheran Cemetery dates back to the 1890s and some of the graves are either unmarked or have headstones that are so sunken that they cannot be easily located. The class is working to identify people who are buried there, like the Christianson siblings, and help Minot honor its early history.
This was the third annual cemetery tour. The free will offerings made during the tour will help fund future activities by the Minot State University history club, which has 15 members.