We all grow up hearing urban legends and stories passed down from our family. But what’s fun and colorful as children sometimes takes on a different meaning as adults.
That was the case for two brothers, who learned the truth about a story they had always been told as boys.
Growing up in Dassel, Minnesota, Keith and Les Bergquist’s father would tell them an old, strange story about the nearby Steelesville Cemetery, one that he had heard from his own father.
The tale told of a grieving father who loaded his deceased son onto a wagon and dug a grave for his son—mysteriously, just outside the cemetery fence.
The strange local legend fascinated the boys and stayed with them as adults.
Was it true? Why had the man died? Why did the father bury him outside the fence?
Les had to find out.
In 2011, he decided to visit the Dassel Area Historical Society, where he dug up all he could find about the mysterious incident.
He made a breakthrough when he found a local newspaper from 1911.
The truth was far darker and sadder than he imagined.
The truth was, Johan August Lunnberg was a young blacksmith who killed himself—he broke into a neighbor’s home and stole his gun, holding the sheriff off in the process.
“In a fit of temporary insanity, the maniac placed the gun to his head and pulled the trigger,” the paper read.
The article shed light on why his father buried him outside the cemetery: a century ago, Christians cemeteries often refused to allow suicide victims to be buried inside.
“Because they were ‘possessed with demons,’ they certainly can’t bury them in a Christian cemetery and contaminate the souls of the other saints that are buried here,” Les sarcastically explained to KARE. “That was the thought process.”
Les realized he had found a different story than the one he had grown up with—a story of injustice, of a victim kept from his rightful family plot due to long-outdated rules.
He decided to make things right.
He couldn’t relocate the body, but he did the next best thing. With grant money from a local co-op, he was able to buy a new grave marker and placed it facing towards the Lunnberg family plot, where his parents are buried. The church also took down the fence separating the plot from the rest of the cemetary.
Eerily, the new marker happened to be installed almost almost exactly a century after his death.
“Kind of fulfilling to see it come to a close,” Les told KARE. “It’s kind of breathtaking to know it happened 100 years ago tomorrow.”
But that wasn’t all. In a fitting end to the story, the local Gethsemane Lutheran Church decided to give him the proper Christian funeral service he was denied a century ago.
While they couldn’t find any surviving relatives, plenty of people from the town showed up as mourners, singing “Amazing Grace” at his graveside.
“The fence was removed, but the story was never forgotten,” Pastor Steven Olson eulogized, “And today we do what should have been done 100 years ago.”