Mass Graves of more than Two Dozen 19th Century Illinois Settlers are being Relocated so a Proper Home Can Be Built Atop Them

A team of about a dozen archaeologists and anthropologists will relocate the remains of 27 people found buried beneath a spacious yard behind a house in the Brook Forest subdivision of Oak Brook, Illinois.

You can read more in the Chicago Tribune web site at http://goo.gl/5xwVBM.

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I live in a state where, supposedly, family ties and connections are important. The word “kin” is heard all the time. One could assume that people here would have great respect for cemeteries. And most do. But it is SO disturbing to me that cemeteries that are no longer being used are being bulldozed, stones and bones. I discovered one that only had 5 stones left — the rest were bulldozed, caskets and all, down into a farm pond. Another apparently was headed for destruction, but the man operating the bulldozer stopped for some reason. Other cemeteries have been moved, but in many cases, they have simply been paved over for a road widening.

So sad that these things continue to this day, all over.

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These type of stories never cease to disturb me. Should it come as any surprise to anyone that Paul Butler the real estate development developer, who at his request, the village declared the cemetery a public nuisance, would bungle the job. After all, any expenses he would incur would cut into his profits.

There was just no respect for the dead or future living descendants, by anyone.

Kevin McGowan of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Public Service Archaeology and Architecture Program, says, “We’re writing the final chapter”…”We’re finishing the process that began in 1962, and moving them to their final resting spot.”

There is no mention of the headstones or the identification of the people buried there. What happens with the headstones that were tossed into a hole? Were they removed from the hole, cleaned and replaced?

Something similar happened in Sacramento. I happened to learn of it because I was researching Henry Peter Kenyon, born about 1815, New York State, who went to California as part of the Gold Rush, living in Eldorado County, California in 1852. He died in California.

He is listed in the California Biographical Great Books, 1867 and 1872. Civil reg. 21 Sep 1868; residence Dry Creek.

This early pioneer who was buried in New Helvetia Cemetery, established in 1849 by Capt. John Sutter, it was the first cemetery in Sacramento. It was a cemetery of historic significance.

I was at first very excited to learn that one of my Kenyon ancestors was buried there. I live near Sacramento and was very eager to visit his grave.

I was greatly dismayed to learn what happened to that cemetery. Here is a link: New Helvetia Cemetery (defunct)

In 1916, beautiful hand-carved monuments were replaced with flat concrete markers in order to turn the cemetery into a park. “In the mid 1950’s when land was needed to build Sutter Middle School over 5,000 early settlers and pioneers were moved. 4,691 ‘unknowns’ were moved to a plot the City obtained in East Lawn Cemetery, approximately 400 ‘knowns’ were moved to the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery, and a small number moved by families to other cemeteries. Plans by the city to replace the gravemarkers with new ones did not materialize and the original markers were given away, taken, or disposed of.”

What a huge disappointment. Henry Peter Kenyon was essentially dumped into a mass grave with one lone marker for everyone buried there.

When cities and real estate developers are looking at the bottom line these things continue to happen.

What the story in Oak Brook, Illinois fails to address…is there any effort to identify the people and return the headstones? It sounds as though just moving the remains to a new location is the end of their story and they can wipe their hands clean of it.

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I also live near Sacramento and research in San Francisco, where the SF City Fathers decided that all cemeteries that had been started and used since before the Gold Rush would be moved out of the City. Unless the family was right there, watching and paying, the remains were moved to Colma (the “cemetery city” south of SF), and the headstones were dumped in the Bay as fill (which you can still see), used as gutters, etc. The City Fathers and residents had absolutely no respect for the deceased. The only cemetery left in SF is on the grounds of the Presidio – the former Army Post. It is not totally unusual remains are found when digging foundations for new Bldgs. Such a shame!

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