Not everything is dead and buried in Northfield’s cemetery. This month, history will again come alive with a major format change in the annual cemetery tours.
No longer will local actors embody a famous figure from Northfield’s rich history. Instead, ninth-grade students will lead the tour and tell the stories of those they have researched in depth as their Capstone projects.
Two leaders, seniorBrekken Modory and junior Henry Vrtis, will act as coaches to five Student Community Outreach Program Experience (SCOPE) students: Corrie Demas, Stephen Feig, Anna Forbord, Kennedy Larsen and Kelin McDowell.
Modory, who was a SCOPE student, a cemetery tour guide and a junior curator at the Northfield Historical Society, said he likes the changed format.
“We felt that last year’s end product didn’t connect as directly to the student’s research,” he said.
Another possible change this year could be that student tour guides would be dressed as tour guides in Khaki shorts and a polo shirt rather than period costumes.
“Last year when it was so hot, I got drafted into portraying a character and I had to walk around in a layered suit from the 18th century,” recalled Modory. “It was miserable.”
Modory, who will attend St. Olaf College in the fall and study English, education and history, said he plans to become a teacher. The experience he’s received this semester working with the younger students has been invaluable.
“I’ve been having fun coaching the younger students on their research projects,” he said. “I’m not their official teacher, but I am one of their leaders.”
He said he’s glad the students have chosen to research historical figures that may not be as well known as the characters involved in the Defeat. “Anyone who has grown up in Northfield learns every detail of the bank raid,” he said. Instead, students can choose regular Northfielders, not just folks who have familiar surnames.
“If they are buried here, they’re fair game,” Modory said.
In previous years, local actors in period costumes have portrayed the likes of Sigvard Mohn, Al Quie, Karl Rolvaag, Ester Wood, Guy Wells, Maggie Lee, Hiram Schriver, Edward John Thye and John Scofield while standing at their gravesites.
Cathy Osterman, director of the Northfield Historical Society, said the program allows students to not only learn about Northfield’s complex history, but also get a better idea about who were the people who came before us.
“We’re trying a different approach this year,” Osterman said. “This is the first year the tours won’t be so theatrical. We’re hoping they have more context and depth.”
In the past, the tours have rotated between Oaklawn Cemetery, City Cemetery, Calvary Cemetery and Groveland Cemetery in Dundas.
“The only criteria is the person has to be buried there,” she said.
Kevin Dahle, social studies educator at Northfield High School, said his classroom was the meeting place for the students and leaders to do research, write scripts and practice their speaking parts.
One of the really cool aspects of the project, said Modory, was choosing which historic figure to research.
This year’s characters whose lives will be discussed next to their gravestone include Carl Knudsen, Almeron Westcott, Mary Madsen, Adam Drentaw, and Oscar Perkins.
A rich tradition
The Student Community Outreach Program Experience (SCOPE) was founded in 1992 as a way for high-achieving eighth-grade students to do in-depth historical research in the Northfield community while learning writing, public speaking and analysis skills.
Past SCOPE classes contributed to four-year efforts to write full books. These books included “Caught in the Storm: A Field Guide to the James and Younger Gang Escape Trail” and “Our Story: A Guide to the History of Northfield, Minnesota,” which is used to teach local history in Northfield elementary schools.
In recent years, students have focused on one-year projects. In 2016, participants wrote and presented their research on Mexican and Vietnamese immigrant experiences in Northfield. In 2017, they compiled the stories of Northfielders in WWI. In 2018, the project focused on more recent history, discussing various controversies in Northfield. The SCOPE program was the brainchild of Earl Weinmann, who taught seventh grade social science at the middle school for 25-plus years. Weinmann has since retired and moved to Montana.
In a 2018 interview with the Northfield News, Weinmann said he always took pride in the growth his students demonstrated throughout the program“They don’t know what they can’t achieve if you don’t tell them, so they always exceed our expectations,” he said. “The idea is to produce original history and something that is of tangible benefit to the community.”