Calvary Cemetery houses MKE's earliest leaders

Posted at 7:16 PM, Dec 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-04 20:16:39-05

The tallest natural hill in Milwaukee over looks Miller Valley to downtown. Resting in and around that hill are some of the city's earliest founders and leaders in faith.

On top of that hill is a chapel that has stood watch over the city for over a century. That chapel is still here today due to the hard work of the Friends of Calvary Cemetery--a group of volunteers that have worked for more than twenty years to preserve its history.

Founded in 1855, the 55 acre plot of land was purchased by Archbishop John Henni from Mayor Solomon Juneau. The chapel was built almost fifty years later.

"It was finished in 1899 by [Erhard] Brielmier and sons and he was a German immigrant, landed in Cincinnati, learned his trade and came up in 1874," said Friends of Calvary board member Sy Kreilein.

The name Erhard Brielmaier may sound familiar to those who are fans of Saint Josaphat Basilica on the south side of Milwaukee. The busy Brielmaier built that beauty at the same time as the chapel at Calvary.

Underneath the chapel is a crypt that was intended only for members of the clergy. 45 vaults were built, and 44 of those remain open today.

"Only one person was ever buried here, and that's Father Teresherowitz, the remaining 44 vaults have never been used," said Kreilein.

The rest of them were left empty because of a lack of ventilation. However, the hill the chapel sits on is a resting place for area Jesuits and nuns, with some grave sites dating back to the mid 1800's.

"The hill originally had a cross on the top," said Kreilein. "Actually, it was meant for clergy and around the hill you'll find clergy buried, and some go as far back as 1840, 1846."

690 Veterans are buried in the far south end, including many soldiers who fought in the Civil War. But you might find one stone that's a little bit different than the others. A J. Shefhey, who fought with the first Missouri, is buried underneath a light colored stone that almost matches everybody else's, except for one small detail. The top is peaked, not rounded.

"The reason why they put peaked tops is because they didn't want any Union Soldiers to sit on them," said Kreilein.

While there are dozens of influential figures buried here, there wouldn't be a Milwaukee without one very important man...

"Well most prominant is our city founder, first mayor Solomon Juneau," said Vice President of Friends of Calvary Tim Richter.

But this wasn't his first or even second resting place--it was his third. Originally buried in Theresa, WI, he was then moved to Milwaukee's first cemetery, finally coming to Calvary near the beginning of the twentieth century.

While the cemetery is now closed (as in there are no more plots available), and the chapel is not open to the public, the gates are open for visitors to come pay respect to those made Milwaukee.