Milwaukee County Potters Field Milwaukee County Grounds

Coroner has Volumes of Real Life Mystery

Source: The Milwaukee Journal Jun 8, 1932

Albums of pleasant memories to most persons, but Coroner Henry Grundman's official album is a series of pictures of unidentified persons buried in potters' field.

A real mystery surrounds every case, even after authorities have exhausted every means of learning something of these victims or their families.

In the last 30 years, Milwaukee county has buried about 11 unidentified persons yearly, which is considered a remarkably small average. Almost all of these persons are men.

Keep Careful Records

The police bureau of identification aids the coroner by taking photographs and fingerprints of the bodies. A minute description of the body and the clothes is also recorded.

"By means of these photographs and descriptions we were able to identify one man who had been buried more than two years in potters' field." Mr. Grundman said, "and in several instances we have been able to restore bodies to their families after the bodies were buried several months."

Try to Hide Identity

In some cases, a suicide will go to extremes to hide his identity and when this occurs, it is almost impossible to trace relatives or friends, the coroner said.

"One of the strangest cases we've ever had in the office was last February when a man ended his life on a grave at Union cemetery," Mr. Grundman recalled.

"He was a well dressed elderly man and he did not have one mark of identification on his person. His fingerprints and photograph were sent all over the country, but we received no replies."

Two persons have remained unidentified so far this year.

Digging for Nurses' Home; Find Coffins

Source: The Milwaukee Sentinel - Apr. 7, 1932

Power shovels excavating for the new county hospital nurses' residence in Wauwatosa Wednesday unearthed a number of coffins from the potter's field abandoned in 1929. The site of the nurses' residence is almost in the center of the 15 acre field which was set aside 70 years ago for the graves of the penniless and unknown.

Pauper cemetery in Tosa could hold 4,700 graves.

By Joe Manning Sentinel staff writer

Source: The Milwaukee Sentinel - Oct. 25, 1991

A lost pauper cemetery discovered during construction at the Milwaukee County Medical Complex in Wauwatosa this summer could contain the remains of 4,700 early county residents, an archeologist and a state historical expert said Thursday.

A 1930s map of the County Grounds shows that the cemetery, which was not used after 1929, encompasses about 5 1/2 acres, said David Overstreet of the Great Lakes Archological Research Center, the firm hired to remove old graves where the hospital's ambulatory care facility is being built.

Overstreet said he discovered the old Works Progress Administratin map in the bowels of Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewarage District offices.

Sigmund Tomkalski, associate administrator of the hospital, said removal of the grave sites was not slowing construction of the outpatient facility, which is being built next to the new outpatient clinic at Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital.

The map defines the general boundaries of the pauper's cemetery, he said. More detailed surveys will have to be conducted to determine the exact boundaries.

The number of pauper graves at the site is estimated from the size of the cemetery.

Overstreet said his firm will remove about 300 graves from the area under construction.

The grave removal is on the northern end of the cemetery. Graves not affected by the construction will not be touched.

About 150 graves have been removed so far by teams from his firm, and the work is expected to continue into the winter.

Overstreet said an initial review of the human remains shows that many of the paupers died of trauma, sometimes caused by trains. He said skeletons have been found in coffins with severed legs or missing limbs.

Some of those buried were murder victims, he said.

Nutrition was poor for the paupers, who showed early tooth loss, bone lesions and other diseases, he said.

Additional grave excavation may be necessary next year, when the county hospital tears down the former nursing school and begins building a new parking structure.

Tomkalski said grave removal is unlikely to delay construction of the parking structure because any graves on the site would have been dealt with in 1932, when the school was built.

In addition to grave sites, Tomkalski said, construction crews were running into unknown and abandoned steam tunnels containing asbestos, water lines, and other other (sic) old building remains.

1,650 skeletons taken from pauper cemetery

Sources: The Milwaukee Journal Sept. 6, 1991 and Nov 26, 1992

By Tyler L. Chin of the Journal Staff


The Great Lakes Archeological Research Center removed 1,650 skeletons from the site. They were mainly 1800s through early 1900s graves. Approximately 400-600 were juveniles. The burials were found during construction of a service road for the new ambulatory care center adjacent to Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital on the county grounds.

Richard Dexter, compliance chief for the State Historical Society, said the graves were laid out in rows with wooden coffins that had "hinges and nails and other evidence of what we call coffin furniture." Based on the coffins, Dexter speculated that the site was a pauper cemetery and that bodies were buried there between 1860 and 1880, although the county apparently doesn't have records on that site.

Removal occured in two phases- Sept. through Dec. 1991 and March throuh Nov. 1992. The bodies were transferred to Marquette University for analysis. The bodies were examined for cause of death, general health, age and gender. Examination was expected to take from 4-10 years.