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October 14, 2013 - Volunteers Return But Cemetery Will Be Closed?!

October 14, 2013 - 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
Attention to Director Anna B. Ashcraft
69 W. Washington
Suite 1060
Chicago, IL 60602