Identity attached to infamous 1896 Nunica grave

Upon first glance at a distance, one would think it was a time-darkened stone headstone. But upon approach, its material becomes apparent — the 1896 grave marker was made from wood — and for its age, is in remarkable condition.
Kevin Collier
Nov 18, 2013

The headstone of “Emily” has made news articles repeatedly concerning unusual graves found at the Nunica Cemetery, off Cleveland Street. The name "Emily" appears in large capital letters carved at the top and is accented with a period after the letter “Y.”

There's something disturbing about the punctuation mark. It's as if, “here lies Emily — period.”

Below the name, in smaller, inconspicuous letters, reads; “Wife of E.C. Ramsdell,” followed by her birth and death dates.

Thus, her name was Emily Ramsdell. But, who was she?

Emily Ramsdell was born Emily Northrop on March 11, 1817, to Lewis and Polly Northrop, in Terre Haute, Ind. In youth, she came to Michigan with her family, settling in Wayne County. Her father Lewis was employed as a stage route driver and mail carrier on the route between Detroit and Monroe. Emily had several siblings.

At age 18, Emily married Edward Cushing Ramsdell in Canton, on Jan. 24, 1836. Ramsdell — born March 10, 1810, in Worcester, Mass., to Noah and Mehitable Ramsdell — was a shoe and boot cobbler by trade.

“I believe it was the children of Noah (a farmer) who first became employed in the shoe factories up in Abington and Weymouth,” a Ramsdell ancestor explained. “Mostly all the employment in that area was in the shoe factories.”

It would be the trade by which Edward supported his family and would pass on to one son.

A letter dated Oct. 14, 1921, written by a granddaughter of Emily, reveals what the new bride was like.

“She was very vivacious, and Grandpa (Edward) thought after he married her he would train her down,” the granddaughter wrote. “But, he had a pretty hard time of it.” The author also noted Emily liked to wear “a half-yard of ribbon” around her waist.

In another vintage ancestry memoir, Edward Ramsdell is described as a medium-size, blue-eyed fellow with black oily hair. It was written he had “a mouth and nose that resembled Abraham Lincoln,” and might have been related to our 16th president.

The Ramsdells resided in Flat Rock in Wayne County, near Emily's parents, then nearby Brownstown. Aside from operating a boot and shoe business, Edward served as a constable for the township from 1854-56. 

The Ramsdells brought eight children into the world — the first being Melita, born Nov. 18, 1836. The next five all died in childhood. Then Alfred was born Sept. 19, 1852; and Charles Edward Ramsdell on Aug. 5, 1857. 

Charles Edward Ramsdell married Jennie Watters in Flat Rock in 1876. They had four sons, but their marriage ended in divorce. After the breakup, Charles moved to Ottawa County and settled in Nunica, where he set up shop and continued a trade his father taught him — boot and shoe maker.

Charles married a widow from Nunica named Bertha Mansolf on June 9, 1894, and became stepfather to her two sons and two daughters.

But what about Emily Ramsdell?

Three months after Charles remarried, his father passed away. Edward Cushing Ramsdell died Sept. 17 at age 84 at his Wayne County home and was buried in Detroit. After the funeral, Charles brought his mother Emily to his home in Nunica — where she lived out the remainder of her life — 17 months.

While there, Emily helped raise a new grandson, Charles Edward Ramsdell, born June 26, 1895, to Charles and Bertha — their only child together.

Emily Ramsdell died Feb. 20, 1896, at the age of 78.

Perhaps Charles, raising five children on a shoemaker's wage, purchased a wood grave marker for financial reasons. Or perhaps he even made it himself. Regardless, Emily's original marker stands in Nunica Cemetery today, surviving 117 years in remarkable condition.

Ironically, after 1910, Charles moved his family from Nunica to Terre Haute, Ind., to be near relatives on the Northrop side. He died there in 1928.

Thus, the man who brought Emily to Nunica and buried her there rests in the city where she was born. 




Fascinating stuff, I love history.


Same here. If the Tribune had more stuff like this (including local railroad, and industrial history), or talk about some of the old mansions or businesses in the area that have been torn down, or other oddities (such as something I read about tunnels beneath some Grand Haven businesses, or the storefronts/tunnels that are abandoned and buried underneath Grand Rapids that if you know the right people you can see them) I think the Tribune would be MUCH better and gain more paying subscribers.

Right now the tribune mostly focuses on religious articles or reporting the same story over and over again with slightly different wording. Having interesting stories such as this would revive the paper.

I am amazed that the Tribune still has not done an article about a regular Grand Haven visitor, the St. Mary's Challenger, which was the oldest ship operating on the Great Lakes (she is older than the Titanic by several years and was still in perfect operating condition!). Sadly she very recently took her final journey. Her new owners decided to cut her up, destroying all the history (she was literally a floating museum) and character just to turn her into an unpowered barge. She is being cut up in Wisconsin as we speak. More info can be found here:


SignalMaintainer. The Tribune did an article on St. Mary's Challenger. It was in the November 14 issue. It was titled "St. Mary's Challenger to get redo" and it was written by Dick Fox. It just did not show up on the online free edition. I read it on the online edition that I subscribe to.

I do agree with both of you. The history of the Tri-Cities fascinates me! I would love to see more articles like this one.


Awesome! I did not realize that. It is truly sad what they are doing to the St Mary's Challenger.

If there are more local history articles, I would be willing to pay for the Tribune. Sadly I cannot justify paying the cost when it is constantly the same stuff over and over like it currently is.

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