THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
Peshtigo Received Deed For Fire Cemetery, Not Riverside
Issue Date: December 13, 2018
A headline on a news report in last week's Peshtigo Times incorrectly stated that the City of Peshtigo now officially has the deed for Riverside Cemetery. The city has owned the Riverside Cemetery site for many years. The deed accepted at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 4 was in fact for the Peshtigo Fire Cemetery site adjacent to the Peshtigo Fire Museum, which also is owned by the city. Both the museum and the cemetery are operated by Peshtigo Historical Society, which leases them from the city for $1 for three years.
Mayor Cathi Malke said until recently the city had assumed it owned both the museum and the cemetery. Then she received a request from the Green Bay Paranormal Club to enter the facilities after the 8 p.m. closing on Oct. 8, anniversary of the Peshtigo Fire.
She explained each year bells at the museum ring at 8 p.m. on Oct. 8 to signify the museum's closing for the year and to commemorate those who died in the fire. The Paranormal Society wanted permission for members to enter both the museum and the cemetery after those bells were tolled.
She was willing, but sought advice from City Attorney Dave Spangenberg on possible legal implications. He advised it would be okay to sign a permission slip for the museum, but not for the cemetery, because he had found that the city did not own it.
Malke said after learning that the city did not own the cemetery property, Clerk/Treasurer Tammy Kasal told her they would probably find the information they needed by researching documents in the Oconto County Register of Deeds office.
So they went to the Oconto County Courthouse, and there they found a beautiful hand written page dated July 19, 1865, recording the transaction in which the Peshtigo Company sold the parcel to the Town of Peshtigo for $69. The deed specifically states the property is to be "used without let or hindrance for burial of the dead," and repeats "it is to be used for that purpose and nothing other."
Marinette County at that time was still part of Oconto County, and there was no City of Peshtigo, just a Town of Peshtigo.
After the tragic Peshtigo Fire devastated the entire area on Oct. 8, 1871, that land was used as a burial place for many of the fire's victims. The cemetery, adjacent to what today is known as the Peshtigo Fire Museum, includes a mass burial site for fire victims whose remains were never identified. The marker for that mass grave became the first registered historical marker in the State of Wisconsin.
There is mention of a Village of Peshtigo in the 1865 deed, but there was no Village of Peshtigo at that time. A portion of what then was the Town of Peshtigo, including the cemetery and museum site, became the Village of Peshtigo in 1887, and was incorporated as the City of Peshtigo in 1903.
After Malke and Kassal found the documents proving town ownership the Peshtigo Town Board was asked if they would transfer the cemetery to the city, which has cared for it for years. The Town Board agreed, and the deed was formally accepted by Peshtigo City Council on Dec. 4.