Under Giant Trees: The Private Cemetery of Silberfeld


In early August, I received an intriguing email from Mary Loewen: “I would like to invite you to our farm cemetery.”

I was so IN! I immediately replied and booked a day for us to make the trek to the other side of the river.

It was a rainy Friday in mid-August when Andrew and I met Mary and her husband Benno in Altona. From there, we found our way to their place, along a very long driveway, to the area known as Silberfeld.

Meet Benno and Mary Loewen of Silberfeld, between Gretna and Altona.

Yeah, Silberfeld never really was a village. From the beginning, it was an area, with a name. However, there had been a school and church at one time. But the church never had an official cemetery. Instead, the book states that there are 22 known burial plots in Silberfeld and its neighbouring community, Schoenhorst.

The Spenst cemetery is located on the Loewen’s land, and they take very good care of it — mowing the grass and putting up this nice white wooden fence.

Mary has posted about this site on Facebook, in the Mennonite Genealogy & History group:

“Our farm cemetery was the homestead of Gerhard and Maria Spenst. One child passed away in Russia. Maria died in 1886 at Silberfeld. Gerhard remarried to Anna Friesen in 1887. They had eight children born to them from 1888-1898. Only two reached adulthood. There are six of their children as youngsters buried here. Their oldest daughter married Frank Dyck (he was the teacher in Silberfeld). They both died of the flu in 1918, both buried here. Their oldest surviving son died at age 26, also buried here. Then my husband’s brother is buried here, also his young uncle. Gerhard Spenst, his first wife, and his second wife, are all buried here. My husband’s father bought the land in 1918, farmed until 1927, then my husband bought the farm. Now our son is living there.”

It’s a lovely serene cemetery right in the middle of the section, where trees and fields intersect.

Mary and Benno have also written this fantastic local history book! (#couplegoals)

Yes! They researched and created an entire hardcover book!

Within the book, Mary writes: “Some of us may drive down these roads on a daily basis. Does the view create a desire in us to learn more about the surrounding area and the circumstances that brought our forebears here? Do we wish we had questioned our parents, grandparents, and older generation more?”

I love that. It reminds me of a Plautdietsch saying that Mary shared with us as we stood in the rain, in the cemetery. She translated it for us: Too slow smart, too fast old. 

Ain’t that the truth.

On the same yard, they have built a cairn, too! Here I am with Benno, looking at the cairn.

I should let you know that Mary left another note on the Mennonite Genealogy & History Facebook group:

“We have been reclaiming old headstones this summer from abandoned farms, found in tree lines when farmers removed the burial sites to till the land. Many were buried in the fences or fruit gardens on homesteader properties. We moved them to our farm cemetery, which is cared for by us and our family. We have the records of the people buried at the site. There are many more half covered with dirt, some totally gone. We hope to continue this mission, but we are getting on in age. Who can help? Our children are taking an interest and helping.”
I know I’m interested!
If you’d like to be put in touch with Mary and Benno, to either help with the gravestones, or to purchase their book (or both!), let me know and I’ll put you in touch with these wonderful people.