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Vandals' Reign Over Cemetery May Soon End

Vandals' Reign Over Cemetery May Soon End
Suburban Tribune - IL USA
July, 06 1977
Patrick Reardon

Credit to Brad L. Bettenhausen of Tinley Park, Illinois for sending in this material.

"All four of us have really never gotten over the experience, for it was unbelievable that any human being or beings could be responsible for the desecration of a burial place."

"There must have been cases of bottles broken over all the tombstones, the headstones overturned, and a noose was hanging from a tree and a noose cut down which held a cat that was hung."

-- From a description of Bachelor Grove Cemetery after Halloween, 1976
By Patrick Reardon

BACHELOR GROVE Cemetery is well known in the southwest suburbs.

It is known as a place to hide out to drink beer or smoke marijuana.

It is known for its vandalism.

But that reputation may be at an end.

THE COOK County Cemetery trustees, a group formed by the county to oversee seven old cemeteries under county control, is planning to rehabilitate and protect Bachelor Grove Cemetery by the end of this summer.

In the next two weeks, the county forest preserve district is expected to build a barrier at the entrance of a dirt road to the cemetery to keep cars out.

Once that is done, a 7-foot-high chain-link fence with an additional foot of barbed wire at the top will be erected around the cemetery.

OVERTURNED HEADSTONES will be put back in their right places. The extensive work of vandals will be erased, and the grounds will be put in good order.

"We've had nothing but complaints about it," said Michael Igoe,chairman of the cemetery trustees.

The county vacated the dirt road in May so that the barrier can be built, an essential step for cleaning up the cemetery and keeping it that way, Igoe said.

THE ENTRANCE of the short dirt road is at the point where 143rd Street joins and becomes Midlothian Turnpike, west of Crestwood and Midlothian and north of Oak Forest.

Clarence Fulton, 75, of 6653 W. 173d St., Tinley Park, was a member of a private board of trustees that controlled the cemetery before the county took it over last year.
"My grandfather and grandmother are buried there," he said.

SOME BURIALS took place on the land in the 1830s, even before the cemetery was officially founded, Fulton said.

"It was founded by a bunch of farmers in the area," he said. "They had to have a cemetery, and the land was donated by the Smith family as a graveyard."

For more than a century, the cemetery, which apparently got its name from a large number of bachelors living in the area, was a quiet burial place. Fulton said.

THE DIRT ROAD, which now goes only to the cemetery, was once part of the Midlothian Turnpike that went past Bachelor Grove to Ridgeland Avenue.

But then, in the early 60s, the section of the turnpike between 143d Street and Ridgeland Avenue was put out of use. Instead, the traffic on the turnpike just slid into 143d Street, leaving the cemetery hidden away among the Bachelor Grove Forest Preserve.
"They left us sitting back there with no way to protect ourselves." Fulton said.

AT FIRST, Fulton tried to stop the vandals who began hanging out at the cemetery, now far away from prying eyes.

"I sat out there many nights and caught them, but what could I do with them?" he said.

"The police wanted me to sign a complaint, but I was not going to jeopardize myself for a lot of punks.

"Me and another fellow, we'd hide behind a big bush. They'd come in there to drink beer and whiskey."

FULTON'S COMPANION was hit on the head once by someone he tried to chase away, so he began carrying a gun. He ran into trouble though when he fired three warning shots.
"The cops came in," Fulton recalled, "and took the gun away -- the $60 revolver he had -- and he never did get it back."

Although only about 20 gravestones remain, nearly 200 persons have been buried in the cemetery, Fulton said. Their stones were stolen.

"WE FOUND those stones in Maywood and all over, mostly in Evergreen Park." he said. "The police department at 11th and State [Chicago Police headquarters] called me and said they've got a lot of our stones in their basement.

"They wanted me to pick them up, But I told them that if I bring them back here, they'll steal them again."

Vandals have tried on numerous occasions to dig up caskets, but every time, except once, they've been stopped by concrete vaults, Fulton said.

"THEY BROKE one vault, but it was full of water." he said.

Fulton notified the family, and a nephew said, "I don't want my aunt in water."

Fulton said, "Don't look at me. I'm just trying to help you. I don't have money to do anything."

That lack of money and his advancing age left Fulton powerless to maintain the cemetery, he said.

Last year, the county obtained the land through a condemnation suit.

"THEY JUST stole it," Fulton said. "I don't have anything to say any more."

"It makes me sick to think about the vandalism, but I can't do it. At my age, I've got to give up."

Igoe said the county went through the condemnation procedure even though there were indications the land may have been condemned in 1923 when the surrounding property was obtained by the forest preserve district.

FULTON ISN'T optimistic about the county's plans to barricade the road and fence the cemetery.

"We did that once before." he said "They brought in trucks with heavy timber and smashed the whole thing."

"I told these (county) people, 'If you put up 24-inch