When the indigent, or unknown pass away, where do their bodies go? Historically, communities set aside potter’s fields- a common grave, or place of burial for the indigent or unknown. In the Pine Grove cemetery in Wausau, three such potter’s fields can be found, the largest of which is located in the far southeast corner, behind the Saint Joseph’s portion of the cemetery.
The Potter’s Field gets it’s name from the biblical story of the death of Jesus Christ. Judas, who betrayed Jesus, was so remorseful after Christ’s death that he wished to repay the 30 pieces of silver received to betray him. The Pharisees of the temple wouldn’t take the money back because it was tainted. This action caused Judas to hang himself- leaving the money behind. The Pharisees did the only thing they could- use the money to buy land a parcel of land used by pottery makers for clay to bury the indigent- hence the term potter’s field.
The Feast of Joseph of Arimethea, celebrated on July 31st by many churches also marks a time for commemorating the unknown that are interred in our cemeteries. On the 31st Fr David of Saint John’s Episcopal Church of Wausau and a representative from the Wausau Historical Society led a Blessing of Potter’s Field at the Cemetery on Grand Avenue. Attended by about a dozen people, the simple ceremony and historical lesson was moving experience about how our community comes together to honor those that may have had no other friends of relatives in the area.
Approaching the potter’s field in Pine Grove, you’ll notice the ground is slightly bumpy. Scores of bodies- many of whom are interred in rough pine boxes are underneath the ground. This has caused a quite a bit of settling over the years. Some of the individuals were passers-by who had the unfortunate experience of dieing in the Wausau area, while others were victims of floods or other disasters that occurred during the early 20th century. Still more where homeless or institutionalized at the county work farm and insane asylum. According to cemetery records, many infants and babies are buried along the edge of the field
One interesting marker along the edge of the potter’s field is the gravesite on an unknown soldier, who died at his own hands in 1933. Destitute and out of options during the height of the great depression, this man, a World War I veteran hanged himself near Mosinee. With no identification, and only a simple suicide note on his person, the body was interred at the field with the help of veterans from the local VFW and American Legion. To this day both organizations still decorate and maintain his site.
Whatever their circumstances, the bodies interred here ended up in this special reserved spot in the cemetery. We may not know their names, but their combined memory lives to this day.