Cemeteries are a vastly misunderstood location.
They get a bad rap as creepy, ghostly and haunted, and while they're a not place one would want to spend a large quantity of time, cemeteries are peaceful, allow for thought and reflection and are implicitly beautiful.
Wrought iron crosses only enhance the soft-spoken beauty of a graveyard. These creations are individually unique, made by hand and intensely rooted in German-Russian culture in North Dakota.
A weekend trip to Linton, N.D., a few days ago took me into iron cross country, to one of the most striking cemeteries containing these works of folk art.
Just west of Hague, N.D., along a curve on State Highway 11 is St. Mary's Cemetery, a 1-acre graveyard contained a few dozen wrought iron crosses all over a century old.
The cemetery dates to 1885, and its crosses are ornate and eye-catching. The typical cross shape can be decorated with spirals, waves, circles, smaller crosses, wheat ears, angels, sunbeams, tulips, roses or other flowers, all created by hand a hundred years ago. Doorknobs, screws and other odds and ends adorn the singular crosses.
Another fine example of this folk art exists in yet another St. Mary's Cemetery, this one in Richardton, N.D., near Assumption Abbey. These crosses range greatly in design, height and age, but their beauty is similar.
One other place of interest for iron crosses is a remote graveyard in a soybean field near Strasburg, N.D. Tiraspol Cemetery dates to the 1890s when a local diphtheria epidemic claimed many lives, most notably children. Six graves are marked today, two by stone markers, one by a cairn and three by wrought iron crosses. It is a lonely place.
I find nothing creepy or ghoulish about these places. Wrought iron crosses are a folk art dating to the 18th century to Austria and Bavaria. The age-old tradition carried over to the Dakota prairies where German-Russian settlers marked their dead with the sturdy creations, swaying in the wind to this day.
The prairie is often quite misunderstood, from its ecology to its beauty to its cultures. Wrought iron crosses have many stories to tell for those who seek them out.