Map to cemeteries in the northern part of the city of La Crosse




"CORPSE STOLEN FROM CAMPBELL CEMETERY GRAVE," was the newspaper headline that horrified La Crosse citizens on September 30, 1932. So began a very interesting story connected with the Campbell Cemetery, located on Oak St. on the North Side of La Crosse. It was the first known case of grave robbery in La Crosse.

The investigation began on Tuesday, September 27, 1932, when Archie Taylor, the cemetery attendant, noticed that the grave of Perry Brinstad seemed to have been tampered with. Brinstad, 70, had died earlier in the month in a local hospital and his body was interred in Campbell Cemetery. Brinstad had been a charge of La Crosse County, and resided at the Globe Hotel in La Crosse for a long period of time before his death.

Cambell Cemetery from Oak St., March 2000Once the cemetery assistant's suspicions had been confirmed, George Ritter, park superintendent and Campbell Cemetery supervisor, applied for a permit to reopen the grave and was granted permission pending notification and approval of relatives. On September 28, the grave was reopened, and it was discovered that the body was missing.

The theft remains a mystery to this day. The body itself was found on October 6, twelve days after its disappearance on lower Pettibone Island. The bodysnatchers, however, were never discovered. Officials later determined that the many knife incisions in the torso had been committed by someone versed in medical science.

Perry Brinstad's burial came near the end of the widespread use of Campbell Cemetery as a burial ground. The cemetery experienced heavy use from its beginning in 1863 until about the late 1940's or early 1950's. After that burials were few and far between. Plots are not sold anymore even though it is likely that there are empty ones. Only persons possessing a deed to a plot can be buried there and even then the deceased might have to be buried in another plot if theirs is occupied.

There are at least two plats of the cemetery. The cemetery land was purchased in 1860 by the supervisors of the Town of Campbell. A plat done by Bliss & Spear, Deputy County Surveyors, was completed June 5, 1863. In the cemetery assocation records, the cemetery is described as being designed with circles and arcs by Elder Brown. Whether or not this plat was actually used is unknown. There is a second plat which does not include circles nor arcs, that has a date of 1931 pencilled in the corner. It is possible that this plat was made in 1876 by William Malone and C.H. Hawkins after an addition was purchased for the cemetery in 1875. However, it is unknown which plat was used in selling plots or which plat, if either, was used in burial location.

Complicating things even more is the fact that there are no burial records for the cemetery. There are records of lot purchases which date back to the late 1870's and there are burial permits dating from 1897-1979. Neither of these records tell who is buried where in the cemetery. It is believed that some cemetery records were destroyed in a fire that consummed the farm home of Campbell town treasurer Carl Hauge in 1929.

Fires, vandalism and natural erosion have caused major problems in the cemetery. It is believed that a grass fire (probably one of many) swept through the cemetery and destroyed the wooden markers there. Some of these have been replaced, but reportedly only those veterans who were GAR members. The cemetery has been plagued by vandalism and because of erosion many of the soft stones are in disrepair and are illegible. The Campbell Cemetery has been part of the city of La Crosse since 1932, and the City Park Department now maintains it.

In November of 1993, the La Crosse Public Library Archives and Local History Area acquired the records of the City of La Crosse Park and Recreation Department as a result of a grant, funded jointly by the State of Wisconsin and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. The Campbell Cemetery records are part of the Parks & Recreation Department records, since the cemetery is under the supervisory control of the Board of Park Commissioners. In addition to the cemetery headstone readings done by the La Crosse Area Genealogical Society in 1980, the Archives also has created indexes to deeds sold as recorded in the records and burial permits (alphabetically and chronologically).

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