Project for Marking Pioneer Baby Graves at Woodland Cemetery Receives Much-Needed Funds

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- It was a project 10 years in the making.

In 2006, educator Gerald LaBlanc set out to mark 501 unmarked pioneer baby graves in Des Moines’ Woodland Cemetery. Now 90 years old, LaBlanc turned the project over to Kristine Bartley and the Abigail Adams chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution.

Bartley inherited over 300 unmarked graves. While Bartley was weeding, Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds happened to deliver food for Meals on Wheels next door.

“I thought oh, I could probably ask her questions about Governor Branstad's historic preservation fund, oh I look too bad, oh I need to ask questions. Anyway by the time she came out I had decided you know what? These unmarked baby graves are more important than how I look,” said Bartley.

After talking with Lt. Gov Reynolds, Kristine applied for the money through the Iowa history fund; a state grant for historical preservation.

“A few weeks later, we got a call from his office requesting a meeting and it was like ‘oh my god!’” said Bartley.

A self-described history buff, the governor loved the idea.

“These are exactly the types of historical projects that we in the Iowa History Fund want to support and help throughout the state,” Governor Branstad said a Monday press conference.

$10,000 in grant money and matching private donations the governor coordinated will give the DAR the money they need to finish the project.

The DAR says the city kept great records of who was buried at the cemetery, marking the graves with a number when a family couldn’t afford a headstone.

Now Bartley says everyone will be able to look at a piece of history once forgotten.

If you do genealogy at all cemeteries can be your only link to the past. There’s ‘infant of Lighthawk’, so there’s probably even an American Indian or two in here. So it’s important for history, it’s important for our city to know who was here,” said Bartley.

The project will be completed next spring.