A lot of folks choose the fall season to embrace the spookier side of life in northern Illinois. The combination of the Halloween holiday, the chill in the night air, and the early evening sunsets provide ample backdrop for the macabre, and no where is that more the case than at the area’s oldest and most historic cemeteries.
This year, to embrace the darker side of autumn, or simply celebrate the history of Illinois, we visit a handful of cemeteries, final resting places to some local legends, and some legendary ghost stories, as well.
The Lisle Cemetery is one of the oldest registered cemeteries in DuPage County and one of the oldest cemeteries in the State of Illinois. Five of the first 11 settlers to stake property claims in the area during the 1830s are buried in this quaint west suburban cemetery. James Hatch and his brother Luther traveled to Lisle from New England and were the first settlers in the area. Their ancestors are believed to have been in the second company of Pilgrims that arrived in America in 1626. The cemetery was established in 1832 when Hatch donated a portion of his land so fellow settlers could bury their loved ones. Mr. Hatch cared for the cemetery until June 4, 1883, when the Lisle Cemetery Association was formally incorporated to manage, maintain and improve the site. The Village of Lisle acquired ownership of the property in 1987. Unlike many other cemeteries of such historical significance, lots still are available at Lisle Cemetery. Visit www.villageoflisle.org/ for more information.
Woodlawn Memorial Park
Showmen’s Rest is a section of Woodlawn Cemetery where remains from a 1918 circus-train wreck were buried in a mass grave. Between 60 and 110 employees were killed when another train conductor fell asleep, causing his train to strike the circus train. Many of the victims’ names were not known, so some of the markers say things like “unidentified male” or “Baldy” or “4 Horse Driver.” Today, the section is still used for burials of circus showmen. The cemetery is rumored to be haunted. Locals say the sound of phantom elephants can be heard at night. Visit www.dignitymemorial.com
Aux Sable Cemetery
Aux Sable Cemetery is believed to be haunted by the ghost of a mischievous young girl who has been known to play pranks, such as lowering electrical car windows when the key is not even in the ignition. The site is also said to be a portal from a ghostly dimension. But the history of this place reaches back further, as it is said to have been a burial ground of the Pottawatomi tribe before being abandon as settlers took over the area in the 1800s, coincidentally choosing the site for their own community graves. Years of vandalism and trespassing in the wake of the ghost stories have left parts of Aux Sable in disarray, which only adds to its creepiness.
Moon Point Cemetery
Small rural towns often are the heart of rich stories of hauntings, and such is the case for the little town of Streator. It is home to Moon Point Cemetery, also known as Moon’s Point Cemetery or Moon Creek Cemetery. Dating back before the Civil War, it is thought to have its roots as a family cemetery for early settlers Jacob Moon and his family. The most popular “appearance” of Moon Point is called the Hatchet Lady, a female apparition of a woman who, as legend has it, often visited the cemetery to watch over her son’s grave after he died during the Civil War. When she died, her ghost took up the vigil, carrying a hatchet. Strange noises and flickering lights also have been reported in the area. Because of vandalism, local residents and police take great care to prevent people from trespassing at night when the cemetery is closed to visitors.
One unique evolution of an historic cemetery is the Loda Cemetery Prairie. Not at all dark or macabre, here one will find a modern day cemetery, Pine Ridge, adjacent to a beautiful nature preserve, protected by the Nature Conservancy with more than 130 species of native plant species. Loda Cemetery is one of the few remaining pioneer cemetery prairies in Illinois. Also restored have been many of the gravesites of Loda’s founding community members, said to include the grave of general Israel Stiles, who commanded a brigade based out of Indiana during the Civil War.
Note: This is an Illinois State Nature Preserve, and use is limited to walking, birding, and photography. Camping, picnicking, littering, pets, and vehicles are not allowed inside the preserve. All plants, animals, birds, and insects are protected.
Graceland Cemetery and Arboretum
If history is your passion, then Graceland Cemetery, which dug its first gravesite in 1860,
Is the right spot to visit. It is known as the final resting place of some of Chicago’s most famous architects, business executives and philanthropists.
They include Daniel Burnham, one of the city’s planners and head of the 1893 Columbian Exposition., as well as the likes of Marshall Field, Howard Van Doren Shaw, and names like Goodman, Palmer, Getty, McCormick, and others who fill the popular grounds. Allan Pinkerton, who started the famous Pinkerton’s detective agency and his employee, Kate Warne, the first female detective in the United States, both are buried here.
Visitors to Graceland can find a map online, or available at the cemetery office. Or if, you are looking for something more in-depth, the Chicago History Museum hosts organized tours of Graceland, where you are bound to learn more about the people who built the city of Chicago.