NEW BERLIN — It was barely a decade since Native Americans trod the trail that was to become National Avenue when the first white settlers felled trees to make snug homes in New Berlin.
They were Yankees from New York State. They went by names like Monroe and Cooper.
So many folks who tread the same ground today want to get to know these intrepid pioneers that the New Berlin Landmarks Commission will offer a free citywide historic cemetery bus tour.
The event will be 1-4 p.m. Saturday, May 13, taking shuttle bus riders to four historic New Berlin cemeteries.
The last time the Landmarks Commission did a cemeteries tour was in 2008, said Laurie DeMoss, commission chairwoman.
"It was fabulously successful," she said, leading to requests for a reprise ever since.
The commission was flattered, but immediately after that first one had its hands full reviving the German Evangelical Protestant Cemetery. The cemetery researchers even had to use ground-penetrating radar in that effort.
"That's what we've been working on" in the nine years since the last tour, DeMoss said. Indeed, the German Evangelical Protestant Cemetery, 4041 S. Racine Ave., will be on this year's tour. It was the contribution of the city's second wave of immigrants, the Germans. That first group hailed from the Bavaria area, arriving in 1840, according to Landmarks Commission information.
It was led by Christian Damm, who built a log house on the west side of Racine Avenue. It was in that log enclosure in 1842 that the Germans organized their congregation. That same year, the first burial was in the cemetery. Today, there are 93 graves there.
The title of the oldest cemetery in New Berlin goes to the New Berlin Center Cemetery, south side of W. National Ave. west of Calhoun Road, where the first burial was a year before the one in the German Evangelical Protestant Cemetery. The tombstones at New Berlin Center bear the names of many a pioneer family — Meidenbauer, Winton, Church, Boyd and Monroe.
In fact, a Monroe with the very Latin-sounding first name of Publius is credited with convincing the town council of the fledgling community to change its name from Mentor to New Berlin. Monroe who arrived in 1837, and other Yankee settlers were from a New Berlin in New York State.
Monroe was the big man in the little town, serving as the first town clerk in 1842. Only the year before, he had donated lad for the first log school at National Avenue and Calhoun Road. He also gave land for the New Berlin Center Cemetery. He was married and their son Joseph fought in the Civil War with the 28th Wisconsin and he lived until 1905.
At the Sunnyside Cemetery, east side of S. Racine Ave., south of National Avenue, tour-goers will be among the graves of veterans of six of the nation's wars. A total of 18 Civil War veterans are buried there, including Romanta Peck who was serving in camp D of the Wisconsin infantry when he died in 1861.
Quite a bit closer to the current generation are Harvey and Alice Weston, founders of the Weston Apple Orchard, known nationally for its antique apple varieties. The couple bought the orchard in 1927, running it as a regular orchard, De Moss said. It evolved into the antique orchard that it is today, run by the couple's children.
Among the distinctions at the Holy Apostles Cemetery, 16000 W. National Ave., is that it once was in the Guinness Book of World Records. That distinction came to it because of the wooden sidewalk connecting it with the stagecoach inn next door.
"That might be something that's not even pertinent anymore," ventured DeMoss.
What is pertinent, though, is that the stagecoach inn still serves hungry folks. Only now, it's the Asia Restaurant, 16150 W. National Ave.
The inn was built by Bernard Casper who was born in Alsace, France, in 1824 and settled on 10 acres in New Berlin in 1851. He was a cooper, when that occupation was booming and he soon owned 125 acres of farmland. He built a large brick house in 1858 and on July 4 opened a saloon inside it. The establishment was known as the Casper Inn and was popular among local folks who went there after Mass at Holy Apostles as well as offering stagecoach travelers a welcome respite.
The cemetery tour will offer continuous bus service from Malone Park, 16400 W. Al Stigler Parkway, to the four sites — the German Evangelical Protestant Cemetery, 4041 S. Racine Ave.; Holy Apostles Cemetery, 16000 W. National Ave.; New Berlin Center Cemetery, south side of W. National Ave. west of Calhoun Road; and Sunnyside Cemetery, east side of S. Racine Ave., south of National Ave.
Meaning of cemetery art
Many walk through old cemeteries and wonder at the symbols carved into the tombstones. The New Berlin Landmarks Commission has supplied a list of some cemetery art symbols and their meanings:
ACORNS - Strength
ANCHOR - Hope
ANGELS - Heavenly messengers; deliver the soul to heaven
ARCHES, COLUMNS - Passage to a new life
BLOOMING FLOWERS - Re-birth, puts death into a context of
BOOKS - Often the Bible. Open Book The Book of life.
COLUMN, BROKEN - Life cut short
CROSS - Symbol of faith
CROWN - Resurrection, victory
DOG - Fidelity
CURTAIN - Passage from one world to the next
DOVE - Represents the soul's flight to heaven; also The Holy Spirit.
DRAPERY -Used to give a home-like appearance to make the deceased feel at home
EYE - All-seeing eye with rays of light indicates deceased was a Mason.
FERN - Humility, frankness, sincerity
HAND/FINGER POINTING DOWN - God is reaching down for the soul HAND/FINGER POINTING UP - Soul rising to heaven
HANDS SHAKES - Female & Male hands: matrimony. Gender neutral hands: a heavenly welcome or earthly farewell
IVY - Immortality, fidelity
LAMB - innocence (most often on children's graves)
OAK LEAVES - Symbolizes strength, endurance
OPEN GATES - Entrance to heaven
THISTLE - Earthly sorrow
TORCH, INVERTED - Immortality of the spirit
TREESTONES - Represents life
TREE STUMP - Represents a life cut short
UNFINISHED STONE - Represents the transition from life to death.
URN - Represents the body's return to dust
WEEPING WILLOW - Earthly sorrow, implies Christian faith