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Column: Cemetery is filled with stories

I was out at Corinthian Cemetery Tuesday morning, visiting with Aaron Ehlers about being caretaker for one of the community's cemeteries. And as I'm mentally preparing for the Memorial Day weekend, I know I'll be spending a little time out there, too.

While I was out at the cemetery, I took a few minutes to look around. I live right next to the cemetery, so I drive by it a couple of times a day. It's one of those things that is as much a part of my neighborhood as the Tamarack Park or the little dog next door that barks at me every time I go outside.

But there I was, with a couple of minutes to look around and really recognize the cemetery for what it is: the place where Farmington's history sleeps. Where generations of the people who have made this community what it is are laid to rest.

I wandered around, looking at gravestones. I'll be out there Friday morning, helping place flags and markers on the graves of Farmington's veterans, so no doubt, I'll cross a few of these again. But I'll be busy then, too.

So this morning, I had the time to stop at one marker I've been meaning to really look at for a long time. A fellow by the name of William Nixon. Or Billy, as he's referred to in one location on the stone.

After compiling the Looking Back page for nearly a decade, I've gotten to be pretty familiar with William Nixon's name. He owned a harness shop, he owned the Dakota County Tribune. As one of Farmington's earliest settlers, Nixon had a hand in starting this community.

But what a fascinating history lesson that man's tombstone is. Nixon came to Farmington in 1868 - that's etched on the side. His military service tells a story kids often hear about in history class. It's the story of how Nixon joined in the battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War.

According to his headstone, Nixon enlisted in the Co. A. 1st Minn. Vol. Infantry, on April 23, 1861. Referred to later as "The Old First," Nixon's unit evidentially fought in 16 battles, some of which have been noted in text books over time: Bull Run, Shenandoah Valley, Williamsburg, Seven Pines, Siege of Yorktown, Fredricksburg, and finally, Gettysburg.

Atop the stone is a poem that tells the tale of The Old First and their participation in the bloody battle that ultimately led to the Union's victory:

The 1st Minn repelled Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg July 3, 1863

Lost 85 per cent of their men and saved the Union

262, all that were here of the then

262, fearless, unfaltering men,

262, they held the mad thousands at bay, met them and baffled and broke them

Turning the tide of the day

262, when the sun hung low in the heaves

But oho! When the stars looked over -

They numbered but forty-seven

Dead on the field or wounded,

The rest of The Old First lay

For they bore the banner of freedom

On the Gettysburg Hill that day.

Interestingly enough, in talking with Aaron Ehlers, I learned Nixon bought 16 or 17 plots at the cemetery; his grave covers much of that space. But he's alone out there. Aaron said he and his dad, Buzz, have search the cemetery plot records and there's no mention of any of Nixon's relatives being buried out there. I don't know why, but it seems strange to me that a man who had given so much to his country, and his community, should be alone.

I don't know why I was so moved by this particular tombstone, but I was. Kind of makes me think I might make a point to visit the cemetery more often. Maybe put down a flower or two, now and then. Just to say thank you.

And thank you, too, to all of our community's veterans, gone or still with us. Memorial Day is a time to remember your service and sacrifice. Thank you.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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