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Deadwood spends $2M to restore forgotten St. Ambrose Cemetery

In this Dec. 2 photo, hidden by aging pines only a decade ago, Deadwood’s St. Ambrose Cemetery now affords excellent views of the town’s north side, including the Days of ’76 Rodeo Grounds and Ferguson Field. (AP photo)

By Tom Griffith

Rapid City Journal

DEADWOOD (AP) — For more than a century, an angel has watched over the grave of tiny 2-year-old Oscar Stanley Rewman on a hilltop high above town.

Born to Paul Rewman, a German immigrant who arrived in Deadwood in the summer of 1876, Oscar died on July 6, 1891, of unrecorded causes, just shy of his third birthday and only a few weeks after his mother had been laid to rest in Deadwood’s little-known second cemetery.

“His mother is with him,” is carved in the granite headstone that marks the little boy’s plot.

A scant decade ago, Oscar’s final resting place was shadowed by overgrown Ponderosa pines that crowded his family section in St. Ambrose Cemetery. As winter snows and high winds felled branches and downed trees, iron rails around the family plot were damaged, gravestones were rendered askew and Oscar’s guiding angel lost a wing and an arm.

Now, 122 years after a widowed father said goodbye to his only son, St. Ambrose Cemetery is about to be re-born with nearly $2 million in Deadwood Historic Preservation funds.

“While St. Ambrose may not have western legends like Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok, we find at Mt. Moriah Cemetery it contains the graves of many important citizens and early pioneers of Deadwood Gulch,” Historic Preservation Officer Kevin Kuchenbecker told the Rapid City Journal while sitting on the sunny hilltop, surveying the cemetery. “It’s a serene, sacred and peaceful spot and the final resting place for those who came before us and made Deadwood what it is today.”

The major project follows the three-year, $3.4 million restoration of Deadwood’s betterknown Mt. Moriah Cemetery, completed in 2005. Thus far, the city has spent $763,708 on the first three phases at St. Ambrose, according to Deadwood City Finance Officer Mary Jo Nelson.

Next year, crews are slated to begin the $349,000 fourth phase of a six-year comprehensive restoration of the 1877 cemetery, which was consecrated by the Catholic Church in 1881 and given to Deadwood in 2003, Kuchenbecker said.

The first phase, completed in 2011, removed more than 150 trees that had damaged numerous grave sites, he said. Phase two, done last year, replaced perimeter fencing around the 3.7-acre cemetery with an original design still produced by the Stewart Iron Works of Cincinnati, in business since the 1880s, Kuchenbecker noted. This year, new sidewalks and perimeter retaining walls were added.

In early 2014, contractors will start the final three phases of the project, restoring scores of plots and cleaning and straightening dozens of monuments and grave markers, Kuchenbecker said. The program is expected to be completed in 2016, he said.

“It’s a huge project, so we broke it up into manageable phases,” Kuchenbecker said.

The overseer of Deadwood’s St. Ambrose Parish said that he was profoundly appreciative that the city would dedicate Historic Preservation Funds to a nearly forgotten cemetery.

“Ever since the early days of Christianity and the Old Testament, burial has always been the way that people of faith have honored and paid respect for the sacredness of the human body,” Father Ed Vanorny said. “Under the teachings of St. Paul, we learned that our bodies our like sacred vessels, temples of the Holy Spirit.

“I am in great admiration of the city of Deadwood that they are willing to help keep in good repair this place where so many of our ancestors in faith have been buried,” he added. “It’s such a scared tradition in all of Christianity. It’s a practice that as we bury our dead, we do it in a place that we can always come back to as a reminder of the special place that they have held in our lives.”