Badger prairie gravestones

Jesse Charles, left, and his children, Duncan and Annabelle, secure the headstone for Carrie Larson atop her grave at the Badger Prairie cemetery along East Verona Avenue on Sunday, May 20. The gravestones were removed decades ago and a Verona Area Historical Society project is returning about 70 of them this year that had been stored at the home of Paul Hegge, rear.

Anyone interested in getting outside for some exercise on a midsummer morning can learn a bit about local history at the same time next week.

For the past several years, the Verona Area Historical Society has helped to restore and maintain around 70 headstones in the cemetery of Verona’s former asylum and poor house. Those efforts will continue at 10 a.m. Saturday July 13, with another work day at the cemetery grounds. Last year, the historical society led two work days on the property, located on East Verona Avenue, next to Gus’ Diner.

The society’s “Bringing Their Stones Home” project was launched several years ago, spearheaded by VAHS president Jesse Charles after he read a 2008 Verona Press story about the gravestones for the estimated 400-plus residents of the Badger Prairie Health Care Center (formerly the Dane County Asylum and Poor Farm).

Most notable was the mysterious circumstances of their disappearance – and eventual reappearance, although the answer was far more ordinary than supernatural.

It seems that over the years, maintenance workers grew tired of moving the old markers back and forth to mow the roughly one-acre grassy cemetery and eventually left them in a pile. After some years, a grounds crew supervisor moved them to his home, where they weren’t discovered until the 1980s, when the current owners moved in, Charles wrote to the Press in an email.

So far, VAHS has recovered around 70 headstones and is “putting them back where they belong, based on a historic cemetery map,” he said, noting that the group plans to restore “all the headstones can be acquired and identified.”

Volunteers should bring work gloves and a shovel (or wheelbarrow if possible), for digging small holes for the stones, shoveling/moving gravel/mulch and “general clean up” of the site,” Charles said.

Email reporter Scott De Laruelle at scott.delaruelle@wcinet.com.