Dedication effort stirs up interest in Thorsby cemetery

Published 5:43 pm Friday, July 2, 2010

Intriguing stories abound with Thorsby’s historic Scandinavian Cemetery — the site of nearly 100 burials, many of which are relatives of the town’s first settlers.

Among the most well-known people buried there is Gustaf Berlin, an interior decorator who worked in the Florida home of P.T. Barnum, American showman and founder of the circus that became Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Some of Berlin’s work can be found in Thorsby, such as the home that occupies the corner of Third Street and Peterson Avenue. Sadly, a beautiful mural painted by Berlin was lost forever when the Concordia Lutheran Church was torn down to make way for the local telephone office on Jones Street.

“He worked for a lot of well-known people all over the United States,” said Tracia Bussey, chairwoman of the Thorsby Historical Preservation Committee.

Then there’s the tale of Nester Oberg, a Norwegian who made his home in Thorsby, who, according to the town’s historical records, was given a “lift” by a tornado that passed through the area.

“He was picked up in his chair and sat down outside in his yard and survived,” Bussey recounts.

The town was recently contacted by descendants of Oberg who had traced their ancestry and wanted to find out more information about him.

There are many others of Scandinavian descent buried in the cemetery, including two relatives of Thorsby founder T.T. Thorson. The majority were Lutherans, as the land was owned by the Concordia Lutheran Church.

In order to recognize the cemetery’s rich history and heritage, the Thorsby Historical Preservation Committee has scheduled a dedication ceremony for Saturday, July 10 at 10 a.m. During the ceremony, a historical marker will be unveiled and refreshments will be served.

Bussey said the marker was purchased with donations to the committee by family members of the deceased. The total cost came to more than $1,900. She said family members responded generously to letters sent out by the committee.

“They were very glad we were working on getting recognition for the cemetery where their ancestors are buried,” Bussey said.

The Chilton Cemetery Association, a local nonprofit group, is credited for getting the cemetery listed on the state’s historic cemetery register. The committee also set out to get the site registered, but CCA had already taken steps to do this.

“We were very excited about it. We went right to work collecting donations for the marker,” Bussey said.

The general public is invited to the dedication. The Scandinavian Cemetery is located on County Road 37 across from Orchard Hills Subdivision. Pictures can be found on a link to CCA’s website at