Ranae Hanson
Kirkbridge Center, Fergus Falls, MN

Story Info


Story & Experience

The Kirkbride Cemetery itself and the Poor Farm Cemetery. Both are full of graves, most unmarked. Crates with rusting bindings edge the cemetery; each crate has five grave markers engraved with names and dates of birth and death, most from the 1900s. Quite clearly, these markers were never placed over the bodies they are meant to commemorate. Recent research has found that thousands of people are buried there, but only a few hundred names are known. I wondered, as I walked the silent cemeteries, whether it matters whether these people would be honored better if their names were over their bones, whether it could be an improvement if native plants and wild animals were allowed to live above them. The arch over the entrance to the Poor Farm Cemetery says, “Dignity at Last.” Why not dignity for these when they were living? The earth in the area indicated to me that it was sad, resigned.

Why this Place?

Kirkbridge Center, Fergus Falls, MN

At the end of May, I was at an arts residency on the grounds of the former Kirkbride Regional Treatment Center in Fergus Falls, MN. Kirkbride served for many years as a state hospital for patients with mental illness, developmental disabilities or chemical dependency. At one time 2,000 people lived there. The residence was closed in 2005. The structure, though empty and deteriorating, is imposing, even beautiful. The lawns have magnificent trees, but are mostly mown grass where nothing much is allowed to live. Nearby are two cemeteries.

Act of Beauty

Say more about your actions and activity

I made a flying crane with cones and grasses and flowers that I gathered from the area and then rearranged it into a standing crane. I took pictures of both cranes. Then I replaced the elements I had used on the land. After that, without meaning to, I lost the pictures. I am attaching, instead, a picture of the side of one of the trees that was there during most of the years that people lived in the Kirkbride Center. Residents must have sometimes found comfort in being near these living trees.


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