As you leave downtown Red Lodge on Montana Highway 78 heading towards Roscoe, you find the Red Lodge Cemetery high on the bluffs overlooking the town, and not far from the gateway to the county fairgrounds. The cemetery is remarkable. A few years ago residents worked with the Montana State Historic Preservation Office to place the Red Lodge Communal Mausoleum, from the 1920s, in the National Register of Historic Places. The impressive Classical Revival styled building is certainly the centerpiece of the cemetery.
But as the grave markers in the front of the building document, the cemetery itself makes a powerful statement of the ethnic diversity of Red Lodge, especially during its coal mining era from the late 1880s into the middle of the 20th century. Twenty years ago Bonnie Christensen’s book on the ethnic groups who worked in and around Red Lodge, mostly in coal mines but not always, documented how local history went against the stereotypes of the mythic West. A walk through this cemetery, with grave markers from residents who came from the United Kingdom and Ireland or Central Europe or the Mediterranean and especially from Scandinavia, makes history books like that of Christensen become jarringly real.
Two of the more interesting markers bookend the mausoleum and mark the lives of immigrants from Italy who were also members, judging from the markers’ form and style, of the Woodmen of the World.
The mausoleum is not the only crypt. Located behind the mausoleum and facing the mountains to the west is the Powers grave house, built of concrete.
Scattered throughout are child grave markers from the early 20th century, perhaps none more poignant that the hand-scripted concrete marker for Angjelka Grubisic who died not even one year old in 1923.
The concentration of ethnic markers around the mausoleum and to the north of the building is the central pattern of the cemetery. But to the southwest of the mausoleum is the veterans section, marked by an American flag, which documents the long tradition of military service from the 20th century, and 21st century, residents of Red Lodge and Carbon County.
The veterans section in the center of the cemetery is a powerful reminder of what the United States is about. We are a nation of nations–here that reality is loud and clear–but when faced by the enemy, we bind together and sacrifice for the good of the country.