By Annika Morschauser
GREEN BAY – Heritage Hill is a privately-administered state park of 56 acres that started in 1977, consisting of 26 historical buildings from the Green Bay area that have either been constructed or relocated there over the years to maintain, preserve and be used them for educational purposes.
One specific piece of history that has been on the site longer than Heritage Hill has is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Heritage Hill Executive Director Michael Telzrow explained the known history of the unknown soldier as well as what they’re looking to accomplish in the future regarding the remains.
“In 1816, Fort Howard was established in the area where TitleTown is today. At that time, the area was swampy and caused the soldiers to suffer mosquito transferred diseases such as malaria. In hopes to improve conditions for soldiers, in 1820 a military officer named Joseph Smith made plans to move the fort to the area where Heritage Hill resides today. With approval from his superiors, he began the construction of Camp Smith and later relocated it to the privately owned land of John Lawe. The camp lasted around two years as it was soon put to an end as Smith was relieved of duty and court-martialed because of the construction of the camp,” Telzrow relayed.
The land was later bought by someone who planned on turning the area into agricultural land, so it was made known that if there were any wanted remains in the cemetery there that they should be claimed.
This along with other evidence and records shows the likelihood of there being a cemetery at Camp Smith.
Human remains were found in that area in 1921, 1924, 1938, 1940, 1993 and 2011.
The unknown soldier’s remains were found in 1924.
By that time the land had been turned into a reformatory.
The unknown soldier’s bones and skull along with parts of a wooden coffin and a piece of cloth that had been recorded as a military button were all found in the gravel pit by reformatory inmates.
According to the superintendent at the time, Earl Eklund, this was not the only time human remains had been found.
They stored any remains found in the laboratory at the reformatory.
The tomb for the unknown soldier was created in 1940, with Eklund overseeing its complexion.
Telzrow highlighted the possibility of there being more remains from soldiers since the unknown soldier’s remains are suspected to be from Camp Smith’s cemetery as he added, “We think it is very important that if in fact this is a military burial site it ought to be marked properly with the proper respect as well.”
The remains of the unknown soldier have not been disturbed or looked at since their entombment.
Currently, Heritage Hill is looking into some ways to research more and possibly identify the remains, however that is ultimately up to the state to decide and carry out.
Telzrow mentioned how the most intriguing part of the unknown soldier is the button that is hopefully entombed with the remains although it’s unknown whether it is or not.
That button could be a helpful piece in identifying the remains.
Telzrow stated, “As historians here we want to be telling an accurate story. And the other thing is that if it is in fact an unknown soldier and we have the potential technology to identify the soldier I think that would be a just thing to do to bring an identity to an anonymous individual who ultimately gave their life and service to their nation…”
Every Memorial Day there is a ceremony held to honor the service of the unknown soldier, further symbolizing all the unknown soldiers out there that have not been discovered or identified as well as those who have.
“I think the unknown soldier to me is a symbol of those individuals, not just soldiers, who shaped and helped build the country. And they served in anonymity, they weren’t famous people. When they died, there was little fanfare, they received a relatively quick burial and in a lot of cases were forgotten if there wasn’t a tombstone or if the tombstone was removed,” Telzrow added.
The future of the remains is uncertain however whatever is done will be done out of respect as Telzrow concluded, “… our primary goal is to at least bring recognition and the proper honor to individuals who gave their lives and service to their nation so to me that’s very important. So, we’re at the very beginning stages of how to approach a project like that. We don’t have anything concrete to offer at this point, but it is on our radar, and it is something we want to look at.”