The lone trackhoe operator working on the southwest corner of Main Street and Berry Road may not know the history of the sacred ground he’s been scraping for the last few weeks.
That designation has nothing to do with the loss of Johnnie’s Charcoal Broiler, which occupied the site for a few years. The same for the old NuWay Laundry and its space age design.
That corner was the site of Norman’s first cemetery, dating back to the days of the land run.
A small plaque on the back wall of the property takes note of the site’s significance. It went up with the restaurant in 2006, dedicated to the “pioneer souls” that were buried there. That plaque is nearly obscured by the building’s dumpster. Here’s hoping the coffee shop that will open there makes note of the marker and takes some pride in the site.
• • •
Since land was at a premium in Norman’s early days, few farmers wanted to relinquish any of their claim for a public cemetery. Settlers began burying their dead on a tract of land set aside for schools at what is now Berry Road and Main Street.
The graves were eventually moved to the IOOF cemetery in about 1891, but old timers say headstones remained.
Once Main Street was extended to the area and cars became more numerous in the 1920s and 30s, the headstones were either removed or stolen.
That land was eventually developed and platted. The late Norman historian John Womack, writing in “Norman, An Early History,” reports the land was not built on, and there were no crops planted there.
Development began after World War II.
• • •
Several small cemeteries dot the local landscape. The Warren Cemetery in Brookhaven has always been of interest. In high school, the rumor was the cemetery had a gravestone that glowed in the dark. That was true, but it also had a night caretaker who kept teen adventure seekers away.
On the east edge of the city, a crypt bears the remains of Llewelyn Morris “Murray” Humphreys, a Chicago underworld figure who married a local woman in 1921. Humphreys often used his wife’s Brendle Corner property east of Norman as a retreat and hideaway from the law.
He died in 1965 in Chicago, and his ashes were taken by his former wife and daughter to Norman.
• • •
Patients who died at Central State Hospital and whose families did not claim their bodies were buried on the hospital’s grounds. On the southwest corner of 12th Avenue NE and Rock Creek Road, dozens of patients were buried over the years. For many years, volunteers cared for the grounds.
A mile west of the small cemetery on the north side of the IOOF land, a marker notes the death of 40 patients in the hospital fire of April 13, 1918. The blaze, believed to have started in a linen closet, spread through a men’s dorm, killing 40.
A family claimed one of the victims, but the other 39 men and boys were buried in a mass grave that was only located in 2014.