Cemetery Owners Respond & Demand Take-Down
On October 17, 2013 a phone call was received from Andrew Kruzel, the Assistant to the Director of the Real Estate Management Office of Cook County. The call was in response to the concerning statements made about closure of the cemetery. Earlier this year while speaking with the Assistant, discussions included the topic of a headstone preservation group seeking to perform headstone repair within the cemetery.
The Grove Restoration Project was previously aware of the group seeking to provide some care to the headstones and were eagerly pleased to hear about any progress. In fact, the same group reached out to the Grove Restoration Project in 2012 but coordinated efforts became complicated once it was clear that they established themselves with a paranormal tour company that was seeking to run tours-for-profit at the cemetery. The owner of the company was eventually arrested on multiple charges relating to the subject of Bachelors Grove and it was in the best interest of public safety and the restoration efforts as a whole that the Grove Restoration Project remove their short-lived association with them which had included a picnic for volunteers in 2012.
During a conversation with the Real Estate Management Office months prior to October 17th it was mentioned that everything concerning headstone repair was preliminary at that time, and as far as the Assistant was aware, part of the project included closing the cemetery. Of course the real estate office was asked if the closure was temporary or permanent, and their answer was not clear. It was expressed to them how it would be a poor decision to try and permanently close it. What would visitors, volunteers, and more importantly what would loved ones do if they wish to visit their family? Their answer was "I'm sure something could be worked out." But again, their answer was still not clear as they did not provide a solid yes or no.
The topic of closure was further discussed in October of 2013 when a family member of someone buried at the cemetery reached out to the headstone repair group after being given their contact information by the Grove Restoration Project. The family member owns a fence company and is seeking to provide a new fence for the cemetery and they wanted to touch base with anyone involved in any sort of care and upkeep involving the cemetery. On October 14, 2013 Angie Johnson, the headstone repair group leader, reached out to the Grove Restoration Project in response to the family member phone call.
Angie Johnson stated that she was working with the owners of the cemetery on repairing headstones and was asked to finalize a financial report of the work they need to complete. She also stated that the Real Estate Management Office was looking to provide the funding and would try to fit it into their budget proposals in 2014, with repairs to start in 2015. All of this is exciting news and was great to hear of such involvement by the owners. Angie then delved further into the details and mentioned a new fence to surround the cemetery. Everything appeared to sound great and she was reminded of the new fence offered by a family member, along with an on-site evaluation that took place on October 13th to work out the details for a proposal to present to the owners. The pursuit of headstone repair, talk of a new fence, a family member whom owns a fence company which will offset the costs in material, the Forest Preserve District getting more involved, it all seems like perfect timing for The Grove.
Then came the disturbing news, she added that the new fence would be locked up to prevent anyone from entering the cemetery. Was this a temporary matter? Something to help them complete their work and they would open the cemetery back up? Before inquiring as to if it was a permanent matter she was asked how the owners of the cemetery would be able to find the resources to lock and unlock the cemetery everyday for visitors. Her response was "No Pete, nobody will be able to enter the cemetery anymore."
Did it have to be permanent? Her response was that if they put all of this effort into performing repair work they did not want the public coming in and destroying everything. She then added some very confusing comments about the nature of her work and the topic of the fence. The discussion went on about how any new fence could not be installed before her work was completed. That was odd, she just said that the area needed to be locked up to stop the public from vandalizing their work and the current fence no longer has any gate. It turns out that she was referring to the new fence offered by the family member. But did it really matter? So it was asked what she would do about the current fence missing gates along with large portions of the fence already gone due to tree damage? According to Angie the owners are putting in a new fence before she starts headstone repairs and it will have a new gate.
It gets even more confusing. Her work is not supposed to start until at least 2015 and any new fence with a gate is supposed to be put in before that time. She made the point that when performing headstone restoration in any abandon cemetery the area needs to be documented with photographs. She claims that she had already captured photographs and constructing a new fence would invalidate her proposal that is "close to being complete." Strange, she mentions that a new fence will be installed with new gates, however, she already captured photographs so no new fence can be installed because it would invalidate her paperwork. What would stop her from obtaining updated photographs of a fence before her work is to start? She is not personally performing any work to the fence, only the headstones. Her response was that she needed to document the area before she "stepped foot inside" and putting in any new fence would make her "start all over again" because she already captured the photographs. Are you confused yet?
What was not mentioned to her yet was that the new fence being proposed by the family member is to only be 4 feet high with no gates and made of wrought-iron material, much the same as the original one before the chain-link version was installed in the 1970s. Once she was told of what was being proposed by the family member she stated "you need to just deal with it, the owners are calling the shots and nobody has anything to say about it." Her position about the cemetery needing to be in its original condition is to some extent very valid, so if a wrought-iron fence was originally installed as part of the cemetery how does a chain-link fence qualify as original? Angie attempted to end the discussion by stating that the wrought-iron fence could be installed after they completed their headstone repairs. But the owners intend to install a new chain-link fence with new gates to keep vandals from destroying her work, right? Does any of this sound remotely logical? The massive amount of money and other resources wasted to install two new fences, well, you get the point.
Before the conversation ended she was made aware that an announcement needed to be made on the Grove Restoration Project website to keep everyone up-to-date on the results to the meeting held on October 1st at Camp Sullivan and the return of the volunteers. Included would be information about headstone repairs and, according to Angie Johnson, the information she provided about permanent closure to the cemetery. Angie holds herself in high esteem and considering she provides assistance to other cemeteries within Illinois her conduct is expected to be very professional. Why would she not tell the truth about something as serious as closing the cemetery to the public? She probably is telling the truth about the closure, and that brings us to the recent phone call on October 17, 2013.
When speaking with Andrew Kruzel of the Real Estate Management Office, he was very concerned about people calling him. Was it because the cemetery is not being closed? How many phone calls was he receiving? He absolutely demanded that contact information be removed as he "did not want to field phone calls from anyone" and added that the Grove Restoration Project did not seek permission to publish any of that information. This is a public office payed for by tax payers, and when you call he is the one whom answers the phone. Where does it say that notifying constituents who want to address their concerns over public property need prior permission to know about a public office phone number and who they will be speaking with?
When asked if the cemetery was being closed a clear answer was never given. Demands to remove the phone number from the volunteer website and any other contact information was relentless. It was asked that if the phone number was removed then an answer as to whether or not the cemetery was being closed should be given. People have a right to know what the decision is either way. If the cemetery was not being closed then it would help to clear up the matter and no more calls would probably come in. For a moment he made it clear that he was not interested in what the public had to say because it was "their" property. Toward the end of the conversation he requested that only the address to his office be published and that anyone with concerns can mail him a letter.
There are parallels to the Real Estate Management Office and Angie Johnson which should be of concern to anyone that cares about Bachelors Grove cemetery. But first, lets look back at recent efforts by the Forest Preserve District to clear the path leading to the cemetery, as well as the cemetery itself. While work was being performed a volunteer of the Grove Restoration Project was available to help document the activities. Then during the first weekend following maintenance coordinator Pete Crapia of the Grove Restoration Project was able to spend a number of hours out at the cemetery admiring all of the great work they did. Toward the end of the visit someone had driven up onto the grass of forest preserve property and parked at the roped off entrance to the path leading to the cemetery.
When a man and woman walking together approached the cemetery entrance the question was asked as to if they knew the owner of the car that had just parked there. The man answered that it was his car and he was then told that he might receive a ticket for parking there. He announced himself as the Superintendent to maintenance for the Forest Preserve District and that he would be fine. Conversation developed and he was thanked for all of the great work they did. He was visiting to evaluate the performance of the work but expressed that the cemetery was being closed and that the maintenance they performed was a single event. Later on while trying to discuss the meeting coming up for October 1st about volunteers returning to the area he said that maybe they would be out there again to do some work. Conversation after that was short and he gathered himself to leave with his companion. Upon leaving he said that we would see him again some time during October.
Here, once again, we have discussion about the cemetery being closed and in such a matter-of-fact way. So what is really going on and what does the future hold for Bachelors Grove cemetery? Back to the parallels of the Real Estate Management Office and Angie Johnson, we have the issue of closing the cemetery. But more importantly we have comments from both of them concerning public input on what is happening at a location that has been abused way too much. If certain elements of local government will turn its back on a vandalized cemetery that is part of public land and people want to help then those same people should at the very least be given the opportunity to say something. When those same persons are related to those buried there they have absolutely every right to know how the government is operating.
During the conversation with Angie Johnson on October 14th, she became very aggressive about the topic of putting up a fence and putting a lock on it. She was asked at one point what she would do if the public put up resistance to such a decision. The public has a right to know what decisions are being made. She made it perfectly clear by saying that the public has no rights to the property and should have nothing to say about what goes on there. In reference to the Grove Restoration Project telling the public about what she plans to be doing out at the cemetery, she went so far as to say "don't you dare tell anyone what is going on, you will ruin all of my work." We have the same attitude coming from the Real Estate Management Office about demanding that we pull their contact information off of the website and that the cemetery is "their" property. This coming from the same person that wanted to "wash their hands with the situation out there" and attempt to donate the cemetery to the Forest Preserve District.
What are your thoughts? If you do not want to contact the owners of the cemetery please consider leaving the Grove Restoration Project a message on the Public Feedback line we have been providing for many years. The number to voice your opinion is (708) 978-1234. We look forward to hearing from you!
Volunteers Return But Cemetery Will Be Closed?!
On October 1, 2013 a public meeting was held to discuss various matters concerning the cemetery and volunteer participation by the public. Nearly all seats were full at Camp Sullivan which consisted of key members of the Tinley Park Historical Society, family members of those buried at the cemetery, volunteers of the Grove Restoration Project, as well as representatives of Volunteer Resources and Legal Department for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.
Approximately one week before the meeting, the Forest Preserve District generously performed maintenance out at the cemetery and the paved path leading to it. It was stated that clearing the main path and trimming the cemetery itself was to prepare the area for volunteer groups to perform upkeep to the area. There may be other occasions, however, where the Forest Preserve District will continue to lend a hand with some of the more intensive labor. The Forest Preserve District is looking for volunteer sustainability and is certainly heading in the right direction. According to the Volunteer Resources department, the type of restoration work conducted out at the cemetery and its surrounding area is unlike any other effort throughout the entire 68,000+ acres of forest preserves within Cook County. In order to maintain efficiency and less confusion a plan will be created to separate and facilitate multi efforts such as litter clean-up, ecological restoration, cemetery preservation, and much more.
In the very near future the woods surrounding the cemetery east of the pond will be thinned out and restored. This has the obvious benefit of beautifying and restoring the area but will also allow the cemetery to be viewed from 143rd Street. An ecologist from the Forest Preserve District will visit the area as in the past in order to evaluate what needs to be done and to coordinate a plan with volunteers.
As many are aware, the Grove Restoration Project has adopted the area surrounding the cemetery through the Adopt-A-Site program. The program is a function of the Forest Preserve District and consists of litter pick-up and beautification. What stands out from the rest of any other Adopt-A-Site within Cook County so far is the dedication by various volunteers to also be a part of restoration efforts through the Forest Preserve District Stewardship program. This leads to becoming certified in conducting brush cutting work by identifying invasive species of plants and other facets of preserving nature. Combining these types of activities provides the perfect solution at caring for of one of the oldest cemeteries in all of Illinois.
Among the activities for Bachelors Grove cemetery is headstone repair. The Grove Restoration Project began research on such topics back when it was first established. Over the years the legal issues were easy to figure out but it became apparent that the costs involved with such work made it prohibitive. Then there was the training required, and the type of work that is required out at Bachelors Grove pointed in the direction of advanced training classes which made basic training not an option. Even the costs involved with advance training by itself made it prohibitive.
Fortunately, there is a group from southern Illinois seeking to perform headstone repair that already has the training. We very much appreciate their love for cemeteries and wish they could be able to visit the cemetery more often. At the moment, however, the headstone repair group is also seeking to shut down and close Bachelors Grove cemetery to the general public and not allow anyone inside. This also includes access for family members of those buried there that still live in the area. Their stance is that if they take the time to perform repairs then they want to stop vandals from returning and ruining their efforts. The Grove Restoration Project is confident that the headstone preservationists will come to see the recent positive effects by observing what has been happening for over the last 10+ years. Attempting to isolate the cemetery will only result in less people visiting the area allowing vandals to cut holes in the fence like they had in the past. Isolation will lead to rising costs of constant repair and police presence, while destroying any progress made and invite crime and desecration into the area.
The Forest Preserve District agreed during the October 1st meeting that positive attention curtails the problems which had plagued the cemetery in the past. Proven by the local governments attempt at installing a barbed-wire fence in the late 1970s, isolation and closure of the cemetery has not, and never will be, in the best interest of those buried there or to the thousands of people that enjoy a peaceful visit on what is public land. As visitors continue to explore the forest and its nearby burial ground of resting pioneers, the more secure it becomes by their natural presence. Evidence of this became obvious by the lack of desecration that has occurred ever since the Grove Restoration Project became involved by educating the public that, contrary to popular belief, the cemetery is not off limits during the day time and you are free to roam the area.
On October 13, 2013, an on-site evaluation was conducted to discuss a new fence to be erected around the cemetery. In attendance was Brad Bettenhausen, President of the Tinley Park Historical Society, along with a coordinator of the Grove Restoration Project and a representative for a family member with relatives buried at the cemetery. The family member, whom was also at the October 1st meeting, owns a fence company which will significantly cut down on the construction costs. At the moment, the proposed fenced is aimed to be four feet high and made of wrought-iron material, much like the original fence that surrounded the cemetery before the barbed-wire-prison version was installed in 1976. It will be refreshing to see the drawings and they will be made available for public input as soon as a stable draft is created.
Over the years Brad Bettenhausen has been instrumental by providing massive amounts of data on burial plots and historical references to the settlement of Bachelors Grove. Much of that information found its way to the Bachelors Grove Cemetery & Settlement Research Center. The research center, being an online database, has assisted family members of those buried out at "The Grove" by providing genealogical information about their family and in return new information has came forward. Overall, gathering information has been a collective effort by groups, organizations, and many individuals with a special fondness to the subject matter.
Mr. Bettenhausen contends that isolating the cemetery from public view is the wrong way to approach the issues of vandalism and desecration. In fact, he states that isolation itself is the reason why all of the problems started. By providing a relatively clear view of the cemetery from the roadway it will help to curtail these issues. That is one of the reasons for thinning out the forested area east of the pond. Back in the 1950s and 1960s the road (now the main path) leading to the cemetery was open to anyone that wanted to drive their car back there. Combine the isolation with vehicle access and you have your answer as to why it was so easy for the headstones to have disappeared.
Some of those stones have been recovered over the years and have found their way over to the Tinley Park Historical Society out of fear that returning them to the cemetery would only result in their disappearance. Today, the road has been closed and now provides an excellent way to visit the area on foot. Any original headstones found these days are now making their way back to the cemetery where there is little chance at lifting a 100+ pound stone and walking away with it on foot without being witnessed. But of course, if the local government decides to try and isolate the cemetery with a pad-locked gate then what is left of the cemetery will be gone forever and their previous administrative headaches will surely return. Any attempt at repairing headstones to their original condition will become a wasted effort as well, and you can be sure to experience vandals digging up graves like they had in the 1960s and 1970s.
Your voices have been heard and the volunteers are back to make a positive difference. As you can see, your opinion can make a difference and we invite you to leave a voicemail message with the owners of the cemetery. You may call the Real Estate Management Office (owners of the cemetery) at (312) 603-0042 and let them know that you wish to protect the cemetery by ensuring that public land remains open to the community and to the family members that wish to visit their loved ones.
If you wish to write them a letter via postal mail you may do so by sending all correspondence to:
Real Estate Management Office of Cook County