Story to air Tuesday as part of ‘Land of 10,000 Stories’
By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, MN A hundred years ago, suicides were considered a mortal sin and therefore, not allowed burial on the hallowed grounds of the cemetery.
Recent discoveries at Steelesville Cemetery proved that was the case for the late Johan August Lunnberg of Collinwood, who recently received a headstone in his honor.
Les Bergquist grew up south of Dassel near Steelesville Cemetery and had heard stories of a person who committed suicide in that area long ago.
Years later, as secretary of the Steelesville Cemetery Association, Bergquist with the help of sexton Ernie Lantto found records of a Johan August Lunnberg and that he was buried outside the cemetery perimeters on the northeast corner. There hadn’t been a marker indicating this.
Interested in the story of this grave site, Bergquist began researching the story behind Lunnberg, with the assistance of Jeanette Servin of the Dassel Area Historical Society.
In the Sept. 7, 1911 edition of the Dassel Anchor, Servin found a gruesomely detailed story of Lunnberg’s death.
As insensitive as the article may have been, it did portray a clear picture of what happened 100 years earlier, Bergquist commented.
The newspaper article describes the incident in which Johan (John) August Lunnberg (Lundberg), a single 34-year-old blacksmith, shot himself in a neighbor’s home after the sheriff was called to the scene.
“It appears that the man became insane in the middle of the night and had an idea that his brother, Carl, was after him with a force of men, meaning to take his life,” reported the Anchor.
“On Thursday, he appeared at the Benson home, which is a short distance from the Lunnberg home and came into the kitchen, where Mrs. Benson was at work,” the report stated, adding that he appeared in his stocking feet and looked wild and disheveled, asking her for a revolver.
After informing him she had none, he asked for a gun. Mrs. Benson ran upstairs in fear and called to her son, who was outside, from a window.
The son ran upstairs to his mother while Lunnberg followed, eventually finding and loading a gun.
In the meantime, the son and mother ran outside to the barn where Mr. Benson was working.
The family spent the afternoon in the barn until the sheriff arrived to the home around 5:30 p.m.
After entering the kitchen, the sheriff could see Lunnberg in the bedroom through the crack of the kitchen door.
When the sheriff was about to “overpower the man as he turned his back for a moment,” Lunnberg turned the gun onto himself and pulled the trigger.
The Anchor reported that Lunnberg had been a heavy drinker for years and had been out of money “and was unable to buy the stuff for which he craved.”
Legend has it that Lunnberg’s father, who had been widowed just over a year, hauled his son’s body to the cemetery and dug a hole, without a proper burial or funeral conducted.
“It’s a sad thing. Something should’ve been done a long time ago,” Bergquist said.
After learning of this man’s sad death and burial, the Steelesville Cemetery Association decided to purchase a monument in honor of Lunnberg.
Keith Bergquist, Les’ brother and vice president of the cemetery association, applied and received an $800 grant from Meeker Cooperative Light and Power Association, and a gravestone was made by Darwin Monument at a discounted price.
The monument was installed just in time for the 100th anniversary of Lunnberg’s death, Aug. 31, 2011.
A dedication ceremony took place Sept. 18 with a meditation given by Pastor Steven Olson of Gethsemane Lutheran Church, which owns Steelesville Cemetery.
Olson shared with the audience of roughly 30 people that when Lunnberg was buried 100 years earlier, nearly all Christian denominations regarded suicide as a mortal sin. Therefore, the bodies weren’t allowed to be buried on hallowed ground.
Now, there is a lot more information about mental illness and depression and it’s not a matter of a lack of faith, Olson explained.
“God’s love and grace reaches out to all people, even in the darkest moments of despair,” he later said. “Our place is not to condemn those suffering . . . Our job is to reach out to them and their families with love and support.”
Inside the house
In 1999, when Karen and Keith Oberg first moved to their home in Collinwood Township, they had heard rumors that someone committed suicide in that very house.
“We never heard any concrete information,” Karen said.
Their house, which is more than a century old, was meant to be a land office for Collinwood, which was on its way to becoming a town at the time.
When Les began his research on Lunnberg, he first contacted Obergs’ neighbor Sonny Nelson, who happened to have grown up in that very same house in which they now live. He then suggested the Obergs contact Les for answers to what went on in the house 100 years ago.
When Karen was told of what happened inside her house 100 years earlier, she wasn’t surprised.
“There were lots of feelings in this house over the years,” she said.
Members of the family have commented throughout the years that the house was an eerie place.
Even before hearing of the incident that occurred in the couple’s bedroom, Karen had seen and felt things inside the home.
For instance, she described a time, roughly a year ago when she woke up and saw a head looming by her bedside.
“It scared me so bad I crawled over my husband as fast as I could to get out of the room,” Karen said.
“I never was comfortable in that room,” she said, adding that she has slept on the couch many nights.
Accepting the invitation, the Obergs attended the dedication service held at the cemetery.
“I wanted to be there for the closure of something that happened in my house,” Karen said, who believes we live in a spiritual world. “Maybe he will be at rest now.”
Since the ceremony, Karen noted that the house has felt much more peaceful, hoping it’s a feeling that continues.
Segment to air on ‘Land of 10,000 stories'
KARE 11’s Boyd Huppert was at the dedication ceremony for a segment that is scheduled to air on his Land of 10,000 Stories Tuesday, Sept. 27.
In August, Les Bergquist caught Huppert’s Land of 10,000 Stories featuring a senior men’s golf league from Madison, MN.
At the end, viewers were encouraged to submit story ideas and Bergquist did just that.
He contacted KARE 11 informing them of the Lunnberg monument story. Huppert and his camera team came out for the installation of the monument in August, and then again for the dedication.
The segment is scheduled to air on Tuesday’s 10 p.m. newscast.