My son Ralph and I went to visit Cedar Park Cemetery in the village of Calumet Park, Cook County, Illinois. We were hunting down three graves of some distant cousins and uncles. You might be wondering how I can call a cemetery "melancholy?" Isn't that, strictly speaking, a human emotion?
The employees were not melancholy, they were nice and friendly. Although they would only tell me what was on the records, not give me copies or even let me see them.
Fifty or so years ago Calumet Park was a nice area. But as is typical, as neighborhoods become older, they become less expensive to live in, and the area becomes depressed. Cedar Park is a large urban cemetery, in one just such "once a nice neighborhood." It is surrounded by tall iron and brick fencing, with recently added barb-wire on top. The owner imported a breed of domesticated deer from Japan and turned them loose inside the fences to add to the sense of tranquility. It is still easy to see the beauty it once had! The trees, the grass, the monuments, the buildings, the design. But it has lost all its lustre.
Newspapers report that thieves climb into the grounds and steal the gravemarkers and sell them for the value of the metal, $50 for what will cost relatives of the deceased $2000 to replace. We saw evidence of that in our visit. Relatives fight with the cemetery over responsibility.
Worse could be the treatment of the markers still there. The caretakers have allowed the grass sod to cover over them. We found markers literally under two inches of sod. Seriously, no exaggeration. The location of a 2 ft. x 3 ft. bronze gravemarker is now identified by a 4 in. x 1 in. break in the top of the sod. And this is true for several hundreds of the markers. If you are going to visit a relative, bring tools and know how to use cemetery maps. Ralph is very much a graveyard rabbit and could hardly contain his anger, "This is so sad!" More questions of responsibility? Cemetery blames the relatives, and relatives blame the cemetery?
Many of the signs that identify the areas are missing. The stakes that tell visitors the block and lots have been destroyed and lay on the ground in pieces. Further examples of vandalism from the neighborhood, or the carelessness of the caretaker driving his mower? The paved roads are in total disrepair and filled with deep potholes.
Like I said, you can still see all the former beauty hiding under all the.... all the.... sadness. Cemeteries can be inherently sad places, why need we make them even moreso by the way we treat them? Where are the people who care? Neighbors who respect; employees with pride, relatives who remember? It is not too late. Or is it?
We visited on a day after it rained the night before. The cemetery reminded me of a beautiful woman who had been crying and all her mascara has ran down her face. She only needs a little clean up and a smile put back on her face to be restored to her previous beauty. She only needs people to care, to be melancholy no more.
Copyright © 2014 by Kevin W. Walker