In the mid-19th century, two cholera outbreaks devastated Lafayette, Indiana. A small sign posted in Fink Cemetery is a lone reminder of the disease and its many victims.
According to the marker, deaths from the disease accrued so rapidly that there wasn’t time to build coffins for all the dead. There were no accessible vaccines against cholera at the time, so the bodies needed to be buried quickly to help control the spread of the outbreak.
With the widespread disease came widespread panic and hysteria among the public, so not only did the dead need to be buried quickly, they needed to be buried at night to keep the worried citizens from seeing the number of dead. Gravediggers toiled through the nights, emptying wagonloads of bodies into the earth and burying them by lantern or moonlight only.
To this day, it’s unknown how many bodies fill the mass graves in Fink Cemetery. Reports indicate that hundreds, perhaps thousands, died of the disease during this time. Don’t bother looking for individual gravestones or a list of the victims near the mass graves, because neither exist. These dead are unknown.
There are other graves in this cemetery not related to the cholera epidemic, including those of the Fink family, after whom this graveyard was named. Though many stones are broken or worn, some effort is being made to upkeep and preserve the cemetery. Some gravestones are literally held upright with wood. In other parts, a thick, yellow lichen covers tombstones like a blanket.
Know Before You Go
The graveyard is also known as Tharp and Ortmann Cemetery on old maps.
The mass graves are located on the south and east sides of the cemetery. It is easy to find the graves because there are no headstones in the area. There is no fence or gate, so it is easy to get into the area. As with all cemeteries, leave only footprints behind and take only photos and memories.