5 Questions I Have About Felsenten Cemetery

Felsenten. This cemetery has baffled me ever since I first learned of its existence three years ago. I’ve been there, read about, and yet I still have more than a few pressing questions. Here are a few!

1. Where did the name come from? Its name is an unresolved mystery. “Felsenten.” It doesn’t sound as Mennonite as the others, and it doesn’t seem to be oft-repeated (like Chortitz, for example). The Historical Atlas of the East Reserve cites Karen S. Peters’ book East Reserve Reflections (dying to obtain this book, btw) here, explaining that it means “town of stones/rocks”. This seems to be a common theme for East Reserve place names. Honestly, we really should’ve taken a page from Morden’s book and just built buildings out of all these stones that’re lying around. Looks gorgeous and we certainly have enough of ’em. But, whatever. Sod and drywall it is, I guess.

2. Which Ungers are these? Felsenten is otherwise known as the “Unger Cemetery”. I’ve married into an Unger family, so you’d think I’d know whether my husband’s forebears are there or not. But I do not know. Why? Because my “research” is often half-assed and I insist he does the learning about his own family. But he’s busy doing other things… like making stuff up on the DB. 😉 Anyway, I’m not totally convinced this is the correct grouping of Ungers because the Atlas says this was a Bergthaler settlement… but I think his family had been Kleine Gemeinde. But I could be wrong. Honestly I think people bounced around from denomination to denomination more than we think, even back then. I mean, the Atlas says this was settled by Peter Unger, and there are many Peter Ungers in Andrew’s genealogy… but I strongly suspect every Unger could say the exact same, regardless of lineage. It’s almost the same as saying it was settled by “some Mennonite guy”.

3. Why did the town decide to put a dump next to the cemetery? Yup, you heard that right, Felsenten Cemetery is right next to the Steinbach dump. This is an otherwise beautiful, picturesque cemetery… but then you turn around and realize you’re looking at a giant pile of garbage. (And… you’re certainly smelling it the entire time.) I wonder why the town would have chosen this location for a dump and whether they even factored this into their considerations. (The cemetery long predates the dump).

Remember, we’re on the flatland prairies. See the “hill” on the left? That, my friend, is the Steinbach Landfill. (Hence the chain-link fence.)

4. Where is it? Of course, I know the answer now, but for the longest time WE COULD NOT FIND IT! We just couldn’t see what was right in front of us. I mean, could we find the landfill? YES. It’s super-obvious. So you’d think we could find this cemetery. But no. I realize that simply using Google satellite technology we could SEE this cemetery from our home computer… but we didn’t bother with such a formal search. I’d expected to see the Felsenten sign posted right beside the road. It didn’t occur to me that I’d have to look further. And so, because I wasn’t seeing what I expected, I was unable to find what I was searching for. We knew about it from the Atlas and figured since it’s a part of Steinbach, we could just stop by on the way home from grocery shopping or whatever — very casual. So we did the creepily-slow drive-by along the dump-road several times, on several different days, before finally, in desperation, venturing onto the actual landfill site itself. In our little Jetta, we followed the wheel tracks in the grass… and it did indeed lead us to Felsenten at last!

5. Who maintains this cemetery? This is a real mystery. Look at the sign in the feature photo. It says “owned and maintained by ____________ Mennonite Church”. What did it used to say? The Atlas says the original Unger family had been Bergthalers… and I think Steinbach did once have a Bergthaler church. I cannot remember which book from the messy pile of books on my dining room table this information would have come from, so I cannot cite this. The Bergthaler church is gone now… but evidently someone is maintaining this cemetery.

And that’s okay. Some things can remain a mystery.

Some of the oldest marked graves in the cemetery… at least, I’m guessing so. Maybe from the 1880’s?