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Once-neglected cemetery brought to life by Masons

Thirteen years ago, the brothers of the Mount Tabor Masonic Lodge in Detroit Lakes undertook a special and unique project, to restore the neglected, all-but-abandoned Elmwood Cemetery.

The project was spearheaded by Steve Score, who was at that time the Lodge's worshipful master. Since then, the Mt. Tabor Masons have been dedicated caretakers, and Score, who became the Lodge's historian, has spent countless hours tracking down the cemetery's records.

Nearly 125 years since it was first deeded over to the Elmwood Cemetery Association of Lake Eunice by M.S. Converse (coincidentally, a member of Mt. Tabor Lodge), in 1882, its lawns are now well manicured, its trees trimmed, gravestones neatly arranged.

This past year, the Lodge has been working with the Becker County Veteran's Service Officer, Dennis Warling, to get the grave markers of eight Civil War and one World War I veteran buried at Elmwood replaced. As Score noted, some of the markers were so worn their engravings were no longer legible.

On Saturday, Oct. 7, the veterans' new grave markers were dedicated in a celebration that also included a very special, time-honored Masonic tradition: a cornerstone ceremony.

"There are two special Masonic ceremonies that do not go on inside the confines of the Lodge, the cornerstone ceremony and funeral services," noted Kim Mollberg, the current Worshipful Master of Mt. Tabor Lodge. "These public ceremonies are symbolic of beginning and ending.

"Historically, Freemasons have laid cornerstones for new buildings. In the past, cornerstone ceremonies were big, festive celebrations. In modern times though, these events are barely noticed by the public."

The Mt. Tabor Masons were particularly pleased to note, however, that their Oct. 7 celebration was well-attended, with a crowd of about 90 area residents and officers of not only the Mt. Tabor Lodge, but also the Grand Lodge of Minnesota.

Steven Johnson, current Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota, presided over the cornerstone ceremony, and the Rev. Eric Lemonholm of Grace Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes dedicated the grave markers.

"Although very few cornerstones are actually laid today, the ceremony is still as meaningful to Masons as it was more than three centuries ago," said Mollberg, referring to the first recorded cornerstone ceremony, which took place in 1738.

"We had been talking about doing a Cornerstone Ceremony at Elmwood Cemetery since we began our work there 13 years ago," he continued. But this year, with the completion of the project to restore the veterans' grave markers, they decided the timing was finally right.

In addition to the dedication and cornerstone ceremony, the Oct. 7 event also included a roll call of veterans buried at Elmwood, presented by retired Becker County Veterans Service Officer Dennis Warling (who was instrumental in assisting the Masons with the grave marker restoration).

Color Guards from the Detroit Lakes Shrine Club, Jess-Omundson VFW Post 1676 and John Bridges American Legion Post 15 were on hand for the presentation of the colors.

Score, who gave a brief presentation on the cemetery's history during the celebration, also presented a copy of the restored cemetery records to the Becker County Historical Society.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454