In the back of Porter's Wergeland Cemetery, an aging bush - dead branches sprouting from its core?- rustles listlessly in the wind. Seemingly mundane, the bush holds a special meaning that harkens back to a time of hardship during early days on the plains and, for one family, symbolizes a young girl's story that began in February 1910.
At 12-years-old Ida Anderson came home from school in Porter, handed her valentines cards to her mother, and said she wasn't feeling well. With the valentines unopened she went to bed, saying she would read them when she was feeling better.
Photo by Phillip Bock
Avove: Shirly Holt returns to the Wergeland Cemetery each year to check up on the 100-year-old spirea bush and tell Ida’s story to her grandchildren.
Ida had diphtheria, an infection of the upper respiratory system, that proved fatal. She died days later, leaving her valentines unread.
In the early 1900s families would be quarantined when siblings were sick with diphtheria, a highly contagious disease. The family was devastated by the loss, but was cut off from the outside and could do very little to honor their fallen family member.
"No one could come in," Lake Cochrane, S.D., resident Shirly Holt, Ida's niece, said. "The sheriff would come and leave the groceries outside the door."
With the family locked in, Ida was carted away to the cemetery.
No funeral, no flowers.
"They just came with a wagon and put her in a little box and took her," Holt said. "It was really hard. Diphtheria was a terrible thing in those days."
Many in the family had diphtheria, but only Ida died from the disease. In her early childhood Ida had contracted the measles, and had always been weak as a result.
"She was a special child because she had measles when she was tiny and was never really strong," Holt said. "She was the special child of the whole family because of that."
Holt had learned the tale from her mother Anna, who was an older sibling of Ida. Over the years, Holt said her mother spoke highly of Ida.
"My mother said that as (Ida) died she put her hands up and smiled the most beautiful smile she had ever seen," Holt said. "My mother said she was never afraid of death because (she thinks Ida) saw the angels coming."
As winter turned to spring, the family, which did not have much money, planted a spirea bush next to the grave. Ida's siblings would walk to the cemetery - more than two miles outside of town?- to water the developing bush.
To this day the bush still stands, aging and withered next to the grave, and continues to flower each spring.
"They wanted it to grow," Holt said. "They wanted their little sister to have flowers, and now she's had flowers for 100 years."
Every year Holt returns, along with her children and grandchildren, to the site. On Memorial Day they water the bush and she tells them Ida's story.
When they returned this year they found the bush had been cut back, but it was still in full blossom.
"I think that bush is really something- it's almost 100 years now," Holt said. "If you visit Wergeland cemetery, look at the bush and tell it to keep struggling for another 100 years."