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Vandalism Is Most Of The Attention This Cemetery Gets

Vandalism Is Most Of The Attention This Cemetery Gets
The Star
October 28, 2001
Mike Duffin

Ever hear the story about the phantom farmhouse that appears next to Bachelor's Grove Cemetery?

If not, how about the two-headed monster that roams the surrounding forest preserve or the phantom cars that cruise along nearby Midlothian Turnpike?

Brad L. Bettenhausen has heard almost every ghost story told about Bachelor's Grove and he is sick of them.

"The stories that were traditionally told about Bachelor's Grove Cemetery are documented urban legends and campfire stories," Bettenhausen said.

"Basically, they were kids out there trying to scare the pants off each other."

As president of the Tinley Park Historical Society, Bettenhausen has tried preserving the history of one of the Southland's oldest cemeteries. It is the final resting place for the area's first settlers — people of English, German, Irish, and Scottish descent — who arrived here as early as the 1820s.

The most recent burial took place in 1989 when the ashes of Robert E. Shields were buried on his family's plot. Before then, the last burial at Bachelor's Grove took place in 1965.

Through archived newspaper articles and obituaries, interviews with family members and census data, Bettenhausen has learned more than just the names of those who are buried at Bachelor's Grove.

"You have a lot of war veterans buried at the cemetery," Bettenhausen said.

"Several individuals who served in the civil war, World War I and World War II are buried there."

Bettenhausen said many of the first Tinley Park residents had ties to the Bachelor's Grove settlement.

"When the railroad came through in 1852 it bypassed the area," Bettenhausen said. "The Bachelor's Grove settlement kind of dwindled, but the people who had settled there either moved to Tinley Park or had family connections."

While Bettenhausen and a group of volunteers continue to preserve its history, there is little they can do to save what is left of the cemetery itself.

Much of what had been Bachelor's Grove is now gone. The one-acre plot of land, which officially resides in forest preserve territory across from Rubio Woods —just off Midlothian Turnpike and east of Ridgeland Avenue — has been decimated by decades of vandalism and neglect.

Michelle Bonadurer, a regular visitor to Bachelor's Grove, will often find beer cans and other garbage inside the cemetery and on the unpaved trail leading up to it.

"I feel sorry for the cemetery because people have just taken it for granted and destroyed it," Bonadurer said. "Kids go back there for the scare factor."

A fence erected in the 1970s that was intended to secure the cemetery has become a symbol of its decay. There are gaping holes in the fence and the sign that hung above the gate was stolen decades ago, never to be replaced.

There are also tall weeds that obscure the few remaining tombstones, of which many have been relocated by vandals.

"Today, the only stone that's left standing and untouched is the Fulton family stone," Bettenhausen said. "And that's because it's so massive."

Since the 1960s, the cemetery has been host to countless teenage drinking parties and curiosity seekers who heard rumors that Bachelor's Grove was haunted.

Troy Taylor, an author who has written several books on haunted places throughout Illinois, said that many of the legitimate instances of unexplained paranormal activity at Bachelor's Grove have been overshadowed by hoaxes.

"Anything that comes up now is just feeding off the legend that already exists," Taylor said.

"I have to look at the key stories that came out 25 or 30 years ago and say, 'There's some relevance here.' The key stories are the actual incidents of people who have had nothing to gain."

Two of the most frequently reported occurrences include a blue light that suddenly disappears and dark shadows that wisp across the cemetery. In the 1960s, there were even some area residents who claimed to have seen a farmhouse, only to find out later that it does not exist.

Some of those people were interviewed by author and supernatural tour guide Richard Crowe, who said they were not looking for attention.

"Most people are pretty reluctant to go on record," Crowe said. "There were all kinds of people who would have a lot to lose if it came out that they were making claims like that."

Bonadurer, who has performed several field investigations into the reported hauntings at Bachelor's Grove, speculates that any potential ghosts may have been provoked as a result of the vandalism.

"When you die, would you want to hang around a cemetery?" Bonadurer said. "I believe the vandalism brings out some sort of energy."

According to historical accounts, the vandalism coincided with the relocation of a section of Midlothian Turnpike in the 1960s that ran along the south edge of the cemetery.

When it was relocated about a half-block north, it made it difficult for motorists to see the cemetery from the newly constructed road.

Bettenhausen said this isolation prevented those who spray painted to mbstones and dug up graves from being caught.

"The fact that the road was closed off made it inviting to vandals because it was secluded," Bettenhausen said. "It started out as a place to party and the vandalism came as a result."

Most of the 175 estimated graves at Bachelor's Grove are now unmarked as a result of tombstones either being lost, stolen or destroyed.

Many tombstones are believed to have been thrown into the murky pond at the northwest corner of the cemetery.

In addition to Bettenhausen, a group called the Bachelor's Grove Restoration Project has asked officials from Cook County, which controls the land, to take a proactive role in preserving what is left of it.

But Pete Crapia, president of the group, said no official has stepped forward.

"They're just not interested in the cemetery or the responsibility of it," Crapia said. "We've been completely ignored."

"The county has basically abandoned it," Bettenhausen added.

Bettenhausen said laws are in place to protect cemeteries from vandals, but that jurisdiction issues need to be resolved for them to be enforced.

"There is confusion as to whose responsibility it is," Bettenhausen said.

"If forest preserve police get a call about the cemetery it's not their responsibility."

Both Bettenhausen and Crapia agree that Bachelor's Grove should be declared a historical landmark, which would provide funds for a new fence and a plaque commemorating the cemetery and those buried there.

They would also like the cemetery's visibility improved, which would possibly require the removal of a couple of trees as well as paving the closed portion of Midlothian Turnpike and connecting it to the local trail system.

"The thing the county can do to minimize the vandalism and discourage these activities is to make the cemetery more visible," Bettenhausen said.

"In the process it's going to have a positive effect on stabilizing the cemetery."

But even if drastic changes are made, Bettenhausen admits that it would not completely eliminate the culture that defines Bachelor's Grove.

"There's probably not a night that goes by that somebody's not trying to get into there," Bettenhausen said. "I don't think any type of fencing is going to keep anybody out of the cemetery."