Explore the stories behind Mackinac Island’s cemeteries

By Isaac Constans

April 24, 2023

If you care to tour the cemeteries on Mackinac Island, keep an eye out for these graves.

MACKINAC ISLAND—To the 1 million estimated visitors a year, Mackinac Island is a fun getaway and carefree occasion to be merry, eat, drink, walk, read, bike, and enjoy the outdoors.

But let’s not forget the storied history that lies below the fudge shops and grand attractions.

After all, this has been a sacred place to Indigenous people for centuries. Then, it became a location of military importance. Finally, it tilted to a vacation destination sought out by locals looking for a holiday in the region—first open to the wealthy, and as more hotels and attractions were built in the 20th century, increasingly available to all.

Simply put, a lot of living has happened on Mackinac Island. And as follows, it’s also had its fair share of death.

Mackinac Island is home to three cemeteries: St. Ann’s Catholic Cemetery, Post Cemetery, and Mackinac Island Cemetery. All are located along Garrison Road, soundly into the hills and forest behind the fort.

Read on for an overview of each cemetery as well as any unique features they have.

If you choose to visit, please be mindful and respectful of the fact that these are real cemeteries where families are buried.

Explore the stories behind Mackinac Island's cemeteries

St. Ann’s Catholic Cemetery

St. Ann’s Cemetery was initially located in what is today thought of as downtown Mackinac Island. But islanders moved the graves as the downtown became crowded with business and development.

Today, it is set apart by stone-arched gates installed in 1924. The cemetery is still active—but only people born on the island, who lived there for 15 years, or who owned property there for 15 years are eligible to be laid to rest here.

Most people who visit St. Ann’s go to see the grave of Mary Biddle, daughter of Edward and Agatha Biddle, who died at just 8 years of age. Hers is the oldest grave in the cemetery—as a plaque at the site notes. One legend of questionable veracity claims that Mary Biddle fell through ice during the winter, leading islanders to mark out a safe path with Christmas trees to the mainland—a practice that continues today.

Explore the stories behind Mackinac Island's cemeteries

Post Cemetery

Post Cemetery is a military cemetery that is a National Historic Landmark and the final resting place of US and British soldiers who occupied Fort Mackinac.

Solemn white and weathered headstones line the cemetery’s small plot in uniform rows. The headstones identify the soldiers by their nationality—as many early graves were little more than wooden crosses, the identities of soldiers in 69 of 108 graves in this cemetery are unknown. Burials are believed to date back to the mid-1820s.

The flag over Post Cemetery flies at half-staff—and it’s just one of four cemeteries in the country to continually display this form of reverence.

The cemetery also contains several notable features outside of the unmarked graves. Also contained inside its white picket fence is a cannon from Fort Sumter, South Carolina, where the Confederate South launched its attack to ignite the Civil War.

Also notable is the grave of “The Chaplain’s Lady”—marked by a marble obelisk and set behind a chained fence. This grave belongs to Charlotte O’Brien, a British woman who died in 1855 at 42. Through letters, her life story was uncovered and preserved.

Other notable graves include Edward Biddle, the father of Mary Biddle and once the sheriff and town president, and Ignatius Goldhofer, a Civil War veteran who later came to the island.

Explore the stories behind Mackinac Island's cemeteries

Mackinac Island Cemetery

Mackinac Island is the cemetery for locals—or islanders. And while it may be the least famous of the three cemeteries, it also has a rich past.

Historically, this has been a Protestant cemetery, though those restrictions have, of course, loosened. Mackinac Island Cemetery is the final resting place of Harriet Mitchell, who died in 1831. That means this grave is older than any in St. Ann’s Cemetery, though likely not as old as some burials in Post Cemetery.

Like at St. Ann’s, there are certain conditions nowadays to be buried in Mackinac Island Cemetery. Only people born on the island, who have lived there for 15 years, or who have owned property there for 15 years, are eligible for burial.

Explore the stories behind Mackinac Island's cemeteries

Also of Note

Skull Cave is a sacred burial site for Anishinaabe people who first occupied the island. It’s fenced off for obvious reasons, but still worth seeing.

Also, other gravesites have been uncovered on the island. Mackinac Island’s status as a sacred place is, after all, nothing new.

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CATEGORIES: LOCAL HISTORY

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