Minnesota State Archeologist Scott Anfinson was in western Minnesota Saturday, October 11, and stopped in Herman to take a look at the mysterious tombstone found on tax forfeit property on the western edge of town. He found some valuable information about what may be buried under the stone, and what it was doing in a residential lot in Herman.
The tombstone was discovered by county employees who were cleaning the property for a possible tax forfeit sale. It had the inscription, “Elizabeth M. Costello, Daug (daughter) of J.W, and Julia, Sept. 2, 1893 - August 6, 1894.”
An investigation of county records and obituaries in the Grant County Herald turned up few clues about the infants death, or her family, except an obituary from the early 1950s of a Costello who died in Rapid City, SD, but was born in Herman. This obituary said his father, a J. Costello, was once the chief of police in Herman, Minnesota. So the man who died in Rapid City in the early 1950s could well have been the brother of Elizabeth Costello.
There were no further records found of the Costello’s and property records show they did not own the house in Herman when they lived there. Herman Public Works Director Larry Brunkow, a long-time resident of Herman, said he had never heard of the Costello’s and didn’t know anyone who had, so evidently they moved from Herman not too long after their daughter died and was buried.
Scott Anfinson dug some soil core samples near the stone, and said they appear to indicate that there is indeed a small grave associated with the headstone.
“It is unusual for someone to be buried on a house lot within a town, but it did happen, mostly in the 19th century,” said Anfinson. “Being it is an infant, it is more likely that is what happened, but it is difficult to confirm due to the small size of the grave.”
Grant County Auditor Chad Van Santen said the state actually owns the tax forfeit property and the county holds it in trust. He said there will be a tax forfeit sale on the approximately 30 pieces of tax forfiet parcels in Grant County late this fall or early next winter.
Anfinson said any purchaser must be informed about the grave and no significant disturbances can be done within a five-foot radius of the headstone without the permission of the State Archeologist.
“If the county, or the new property owner, would like to have the grave and headstone moved, I would first require that a concerted attempt be made to find any relatives to get their permission and, if they concur, to have the grave moved to an appropriate location of their choosing.”
He added that if no relatives can be found, perhaps a location in an existing cemetery in or around Herman can be found. The relocation would have to be paid for by the county or the new property owner if the property is sold.