C.E. Conrad Memorial Cemetery a final resting place for beloved, notorious characters

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  • The “fairy steps” leading up to the Conrad mausoleum from the Stillwater River at C.E. Conrad Memorial Cemetery.

  • 1

    James Korn, sexton at C.E. Conrad Memorial Cemetery, walks along rows of gravestones on the cemetery’s grounds in Kalispell on Thursday, Aug. 1. (Casey Kreider photos/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Korn walks by the Conrad Memorial Cemetery’s mausoleum.

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    James Korn, sexton at C.E. Conrad Memorial Cemetery, walks along a grassy promontory leading to the “fairy steps” and the Stillwater River in Kalispell on Thursday, Aug. 1. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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    James Korn, sexton at C.E. Conrad Memorial Cemetery, describes the stone on the exterior of the Conrad mausoleum on the cemetery’s grounds in Kalispell.

  • The “fairy steps” leading up to the Conrad mausoleum from the Stillwater River at C.E. Conrad Memorial Cemetery.

  • 1

    James Korn, sexton at C.E. Conrad Memorial Cemetery, walks along rows of gravestones on the cemetery’s grounds in Kalispell on Thursday, Aug. 1. (Casey Kreider photos/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 2

    Korn walks by the Conrad Memorial Cemetery’s mausoleum.

  • 3

    James Korn, sexton at C.E. Conrad Memorial Cemetery, walks along a grassy promontory leading to the “fairy steps” and the Stillwater River in Kalispell on Thursday, Aug. 1. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 4

    James Korn, sexton at C.E. Conrad Memorial Cemetery, describes the stone on the exterior of the Conrad mausoleum on the cemetery’s grounds in Kalispell.

Frontierswoman Josephine Doody, the bootlegger lady of Glacier National Park, lies buried amidst the muckety mucks — the two former governors, the doctors and lawyers and business executives of early Kalispell.

The remains of Frank Leibig and Fred Herrig, men of adventure who were among the first forest rangers in the wilderness that became Glacier National Park, also found a home at the C.E. Conrad Memorial Cemetery.

As did the caskets bearing John “Jack” Fisher, a gold miner who struck it rich at the base of what is known today as Fisher Peak in Canada and found gold years later near Libby Creek, and Arthur William Merrifield, appointed U.S. Marshal for Montana in 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt.

The cemetery is home also to the remains of Emma Ingalls, who, with her husband, Clayton, published Northwest Montana’s first newspaper, The Inter Lake, then a weekly. Emma was one of the first two women elected to the Montana State Legislature.

A host of other colorful characters have found eternal rest at the C. E. Conrad Memorial Cemetery off Conrad Drive.

As of July 31, 18,865 people were buried in the park-like cemetery, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and whose grounds include a promontory that rises east of Woodland Park. The perpetual-care cemetery markets itself as the “Best Last Place.”

Shipping magnate C.E. Conrad was the first person buried in the cemetery. He had picked the spot, as told by the Montana Historical Society.

“One fine fall day in 1902, Kalispell founder Charles E. Conrad and his wife, Alicia, took a last horseback ride to this area and rested on the narrow overlook where the valley spread below. Charles told his wife there could be no lovelier place for his final rest. Charles died weeks later, but not before he sketched the mausoleum he wanted Alicia to build here.”

Alicia Conrad did much more than that.

She appointed her attorney to buy land surrounding the promontory for a community cemetery in memory of her husband. She and a daughter toured the United States, Canada and Mexico in search of a cemetery design that would fit the site and be an asset for the Flathead Valley.

Ultimately, Alicia worked with A. W. Hobert, superintendent of a cemetery in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to design the Kalispell burial ground as a classic Rural Garden Landscape.

In the United States, the “rural cemetery” prototype was the Mount Auburn graveyard in Cambridge and Watertown, suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts.

In 1831, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society bought 72 acres of woodland in Watertown and Cambridge to create a rural cemetery and experimental garden. The Mount Auburn Cemetery represented a clear break with Colonial-era burying grounds and church graveyards, historians say.

In March 2017, Mount Auburn passed 100,000 interments on its grounds, which now total 175 acres.

In Kalispell, Alicia worked with her attorney to have a bill introduced to the Montana Legislature to establish a “perpetual care” law that would, among other things, set aside a portion of every grave sale for maintenance of the graves and larger cemetery.

That fund currently totals about $1.3 million.

A committee she formed of business and personal friends set up a tax-exempt association. Today, five long-time residents of the Flathead Valley serve as trustees to help govern the cemetery.

Kalispell native James Korn, the cemetery’s sexton since 2002, says there are about 3,000 surveyed graves for sale and that some areas of the cemetery’s 128 acres have never been surveyed.

He said there’s enough room for the cemetery to operate for at least another 200 years.

As sexton, Korn has varied roles. They include managing three maintenance staff who work full-time part of the year and then rotate duties for snow clearing and grave digging in the winter.

“I’ve got the best crew you could imagine,” he said.

Korn sells grave plots. He helps visitors find graves of family members. He can often provide key dates for genealogists.

On a recent day, a man from Minnesota sought Korn’s help to find the unmarked grave of a great uncle. Then, the man arranged to pay more than $800 for a stone to mark the uncle’s grave.

Korn said he started doing research in 2005 and writing biographical sketches of some of the cemetery’s occupants to help inform walking tours of the cemetery. To date, he has completed 168 biographies, a task that has helped him embrace the job of sexton.

“I thing being from the valley and recognizing names has made it interesting,” he said. “I think that understanding these people’s histories helps to get an understanding of the whole community.”

And many of the histories provide accounts of fascinating lives.

Author John Fraley has written about Josephine Gaines Doody and her rowdy history, a life story that included prostitution in Colorado frontier towns and shooting and killing a man in Pueblo. She claimed self-defense but fled north instead of going to trial.

Fraley reports that Josephine ended up in “the raucous town of McCarthysville in 1890 during the boom period of railroad construction over Marias Pass.”

She ended up marrying Dan Doody, a local prospector and trapper. Their courtship included Dan abducting Josephine and tying her to a mule to transport her across the Middle Fork of the Flathead River to his cabin in Nyack Flats.

Later, the couple augmented their income by making and selling moonshine. Fraley reports that “Josephine’s moonshine had the highest reputation for quality, produced from the rushing glacial waters of Harrison Creek.”

Meanwhile men like Frank Liebig and Fred Herrig were hired in the early 1900s as forest rangers to keep an eye on those living outside the law in what became Glacier National Park in 1910. The group targeted for scrutiny included, among others, poachers, timber thieves and squatters.

In C. W. Guthrie’s most recent book about the park, titled “First Rangers,” she profiles Liebig and Herrig. She writes, “Fred was as colorful a character as any in western lore... Frank Liebig and Fred Herrig are of that breed of men that [Theodore] Roosevelt described as ‘straight and square and game.’”

Herrig actually served in Cuba with Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. He once helped track down some mules loaded with machines guns after the mules bolted during a battle, Guthrie writes. “He tracked the mules, after others had given up, into Spanish territory and recovered them and the guns.”

Guthrie notes that Roosevelt later wrote of Herrig, “One of the bravest and best men in all my regiments.”

Leibig was hired as a ranger in 1902. Guthrie notes that his assignment included three sentences: “The whole country is yours, from Belton to Canada and across the Rockies to the prairie between Waterton Lake and the foot of St. Mary Lake. You’re to look for fires, timber thieves, squatters and game violators. Go to it and good luck.”

Leibig’s many adventures included climbing down into a deep crevasse in Sperry Glacier and retrieving the body of a “dead as a doornail” woman who had fallen in. Later, as her body was lowered over a cliff, the woman’s body spun, and after her head hit a rock she “let out an awful yell” that startled and surprised her rescuers, who had been sure she was a goner, Leibig recorded in his journal, as reported by Guthrie.

Korn said he’s not aware of any ghost stories associated with the cemetery. There is, however, some lore, he said.

For example, legend has that in the early days of the cemetery caskets traveled to the graveyard on boats on the adjacent Stillwater River. Another tale focuses on the steep and winding stone staircase east of the Conrad’s mausoleum. The so-called “fairy steps” have a unique reputation, Korn said.

“They say if you count the steps going down, it’s a different number than when you count them coming up,” he said.

With a smile, he declined to share his take on the veracity of the lore.

To stay current with funeral trends, including families opting to cremate a loved one and scatter his or her remains, the cemetery has erected a “Perpetual Memory Monument” not far from the Conrad mausoleum. The granite monument includes an outline of key peaks in Glacier National Park and its surface provides a place to engrave names and dates.

Many survivors who have scattered a loved one’s ashes still want a place to visit to honor the one they’ve lost, Korn said.

Meanwhile, he acknowledged that the Flathead Valley’s population growth means that he no longer recognizes many of the names of the newly interred dead at C. E. Conrad Memorial Cemetery.

He said he recently spotted a woman he knew wandering through a portion of the cemetery that he was aware featured no gravesites of members of her family.

Korn said he was worried about her and went to inquire.

“I know more people up here than I do in town,” the woman told Korn.

Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at dadams@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4407.

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