About half of a mile away from the Toimi School is a quiet little cemetery nestled back in the woods. I’ll be honest with you, I usually find cemeteries to be peaceful places filled with history. I find grave art fascinating. I don’t believe in ghosts and rarely get a spooky feeling when I explore them. I don’t usually feel sad when I visit, but the cemetery I visited on this day was different. It was a final resting place for the children of early settlers near Toimi.
I’ve come across graves of babies and children in my explorations, and they always hurt my heart to see. But this was the first dedicated children’s cemetery that I’ve been to. I didn’t know what to expect when I climbed out of my car on that snowy October day. I walked a path through the woods to the cemetery, wondering if this cemetery would feel different than the others.
At the end of the path, nestled in a quiet clearing in the woods, was the tiny cemetery. A little sign told me what to expect. Twenty-two graves of children who died between 1905 and 1919. I took a deep breath and moved into the clearing to do what I was there to do, share this place with you.
A fresh blanket of snow covered the graves of the little ones. Only five of the children’s names are known to us. And until recently, the exact number of graves here was unknown. Parents likely placed a wooden marker or memento to mark their child’s grave that has since been lost.
The Toimi School Community Center Board brought in experts with ground-penetrating radar to locate unmarked graves. They found 17 additional graves and marked each with a boulder and a nameplate that says ‘unknown.’ Their names are forgotten, but their young lives are now memorialized.
As I was leaving, I noticed a deer in the woods watching me intently. I like to think it was there to keep watch over the graves.
If you go to the Children’s Cemetery, the Toimi (town) Cemetery is just down the road and worth a stop. It holds the remains of around 100 people who called Toimi home from the late-1800s until today. Until recently, the exact number of graves was unknown. Although many were graced with headstones, Toimi residents believed several graves were without markers and ultimately lost to time. Like at the Children’s Cemetery, ground-penetrating radar was used to identify unmarked graves. They found 16 forgotten graves here. Although we may never know who laid their loved ones to rest in those graves, they are now marked with a stone and one word: unknown.