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October 17, 2013 - Cemetery Owners Respond & Demand Take-Down

October 17, 2013 - 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!