By Jen Bakken
Walking past long standing trees, amongst granite and marble tombstones of area cemeteries, you can often find Charles Rieland. Not only around Memorial Day, but year-round.
Born and raised in Delano, Rieland retired from the insurance business in 1996, and then it became his mission to ensure those buried here are truly not forgotten.
It all began when Rieland became intrigued by a grave marker with the maiden name of his former wife. After researching historical records, he found a 3-year-old girl was buried there.
Next, he came upon a gravestone with the name ‘Martin,’ and discovered this family had children buried in unmarked graves nearby, along with two family members who were Civil War veterans.
The idea of area veterans and pioneers being buried without a trace is something Rieland couldn’t accept.
“Each tombstone has a story and they’re being forgotten,” Rieland said. “I wanted to do something about that.”
If one visits any of the nine area cemeteries, they immediately notice many white crosses standing tall above ground. Each one bears the name of someone buried below it.
Rieland has made and installed nearly 200 of these crosses to mark previously forgotten civilian graves.
During the Korean War, Rieland served with the Airborne Regimental Combat Team as a paratrooper for two years. Now, he is devoted to caring for the final resting places of fellow veterans.
With gravestones provided by the federal government, this determined man has restored honor to 100 previously unmarked graves of veterans.
His years of research included making copies of more than 10,000 old obituaries. One particular moss-covered tombstone continues to present a mystery to Rieland.
Marked with the name John M. Langford, the year of death is 1879, and the epitaph, “Not forgotten.”
Rieland wondered who this man was, how he came to Delano, where he worked, and if he had a family.
By far the most captivating question for him was why was this tombstone, now aged and hard to read, was placed here, and what was the story behind it.
With the help of his computer, old copies of the local newspaper, Wright County Historical Society documents and other records, some questions, though answered, unveiled more of a mystery.
John M. Langford was born in 1822 in Boston, Mass. He married Celestina Eldridge in 1847, who was born in the Township of Barnstable in Barnstable County in 1827.
According to 1860 census records from Barnstable, there are records to verify a family consisting of John, 37, Celestina, 32, Catharine, 11, Celestine, 9 and James E. Langford, 4.
In 1868, John M. Langford came to Crow River Station in Minnesota, and worked as a clerk in a small one room log home in the southern part of what would become Delano.
Two years later, this man worked for the railroad before becoming postmaster in 1873, where he was employed until his death.
From the time he came to Delano and until his death, there is no mention of his wife or children being here.
A lengthy and curious obituary mentions a man who, for reasons unknown, concealed all knowledge of his former history, but had an intimate knowledge of Boston.
It continues to state whatever may have caused to him to carry in silence to the grave the burden of his past, no explanations were found in any dishonorable acts during his life in Delano.
Whether Rieland has uncovered the dates and information of two men bearing the same name is unclear therefore the mystery remains.
“You look at that tombstone and that is a whole lifetime,” Rieland said. “I can’t help but wonder who this man was who came to our town.”
For 128 years, the tombstone of John M. Langford has stood worn, discolored and left behind. With the help of Rieland, some of the secrets surrounding this Delano pioneer have been brought above ground again.
“I’ve spent more time on this than on my own family tree,” he admitted. “Each of these names had a life here, and I hope that one day I am not just buried, but remembered.”
His three children, seven grandchildren and members of our community, will surely remember Charles Rieland for having the desire and dedication to be a friend to the forgotten.