Saint Ann’s Cemetery
also called Sainte Anne’s Cemetery or the Catholic Cemetery
Garrison Road & Custer Street
Mackinac State Park
Mackinac Island, Michigan 49757
GPS: Lat: 45° 51′ 29″N, Lon: 84° 37′ 16″W
Founded: early 1850s
Size: 2 acres
Number of interments: approximately 1000
Open: Daily from sunrise to sunset
Information: Ste. Anne Catholic Church, PO Box 537, Mackinac Island, MI 49757
North of Michigan’s lower peninsula lies an island 8 miles in diameter. The local native tribes used it as a burial ground. Since it lies at the Straits of Mackinac between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, the French based fur trading operations there. The British occupied Mackinac Island during the Revolutionary War and built a fort. After the War of 1812, the island came under American control, was minimally staffed during the Civil War, and eventually became a resort for the wealthy of Detroit and Chicago.
Motorized vehicles were banned on Mackinac Island in 1898, so to this day the chief modes of transportation are bicycles and horses. The island, with its restored fort, livery stables, and fudge shops, is the #1 tourist attraction in Michigan.
Originally, Mackinac Island had only a Catholic burial ground, set up by French fur traders in 1779. That graveyard lay down near Sainte Anne’s Church, close to the water. For nearly a century, Mackinac Island simply had no Protestant community. Not until the fishing industry began in earnest toward the end of the 1800s did Calvinist missionaries come to preach to the fishermen and convert the natives.
Eventually that original Catholic cemetery filled to capacity. As early as 1852, islanders buried their dead on military reserve land near the Post Cemetery behind the fort. This was one of the few areas on the rocky island where the topsoil was deep enough to dig graves.
By the 1880s, most bodies from the first Catholic cemetery had been moved to Saint Ann’s. Not all the graves were transferred, however. Several stray headstones have been discovered in the weeds in town over the years. One now resides in the village museum. The site of that original Catholic cemetery, on Hoban and Market Streets, is prime land in the village now.
This newer Saint Ann’s Cemetery sprawls across an irregularly shaped piece of land, bounded by the curves of Garrison Road on the north and Custer Street on the west. The oldest graves lie on the Garrison side. Lots of stones date from the last half of the 19th century. They were ordered and shipped from the “mainland,” as islanders call Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.
The oldest marked grave in Saint Ann’s Cemetery belongs to 8-year-old Mary Biddle, who died after falling through the ice in December 1833. Her parents, Edward and Agatha Biddle, paid for a stone carved by W. E. Peters in Detroit (he signed his work) to mark her grave, which had been moved from the earlier cemetery. Her father Edward, who served as the village president, was buried in the Post Cemetery across the road.
Mary’s epitaph sums up the brevity of many children’s lives at the time:
“As the sweet flower that scents the morn
but withers in the rising day,
Thus lovely was this infant’s dawn,
Thus swiftly fled its life away.”
Also buried in the cemetery is Lieutenant G. A. Graveraet, a 22-year-old who oversaw Confederate prisoners of war at Camp Douglas, the notoriously unsanitary camp near Chicago, before leading the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters Company K into battle at Spotsylvania. His tombstone says he died in Washington of wounds received before Petersburg. Sharing his monument is 1st Sgt. Henry G. Graveraet, 57, one of the “boys” in Company K, who died in the battle. Henry was G.A.’s father and died under his command.
In Summer 2011, a place in Saint Ann’s Cemetery was set aside for the burial of bones repatriated to the Sault Sainte Marie Chippewa by the Smithsonian Institution.
Later that year, when the foundation for a new hotel was being excavated at the site of the old cemetery in town, human remains were uncovered. Although no anthropological analysis seems to have been performed, the bones were considered Native American. Since the Chippewa believe that the body has two souls — one that travels to the land of the dead and one that remains with the body forever, soaking into the soil — they believe the soil surrounding the bones should be preserved with the same respect as a body.
Because of that, a dumptruck was brought to the island. It was filled with earth and a jumble of bones and unloaded in the Catholic cemetery, where a turtle mound has since been built. Nearby a totem pole was erected, along with a sign reading “Jiibay Gitigaan” in Ojibwa, which translates to “Spirit Garden.” The turtle mound has 13 sections, for the 13 moons of the year celebrated by the Ojibwa.
The Fort Mackinac Post Cemetery on Cemetery Travel
More information on rhe oldest grave in St. Ann’s
Sainte Anne’s continues to be an active church on Mackinac Island
Remains discovered in 2012 were buried in the Catholic cemetery
More information on the turtle mound memorial