I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb
Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website
each week and be added to the archives.
The Articles started December 2007.
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Late October thoughts turn to cemeteries and ghosts
By Barry Schrader.................................October
If only some newspaper reporter or oral historian had
interviewed Briggs, we would have a firsthand account from someone
who was an eyewitness to a major historical event. You wonder
if he ever told his grandchildren stories about his military
Some people think only of the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival come
October, but the Sycamore History Museum and DeKalb Township
decided it was time for cemetery walks. Despite the autumn chill
recent tours have been conducted at Elmwood in Sycamore, then
Oakwood and Evergreen cemeteries in DeKalb.
brief inscriptions on peoples gravestones come alive as
the tour guides explain the history of certain families and Civil
War veterans, even leaving you with a sense of mystery about
why some spouses or their children arent buried together,
wondering where they may have been interred.
Oestriecher, dressed in a full Union soldiers uniform,
took us to the graves of two Civil War veterans buried in the
black section at Elmwood. Both men were black and
had distinguished military careers. John William Salter was a
hostler, also known as a horse trainer. He was placed in an all-white
regiment, Company I, 43rd Regiment of the Wisconsin Infantry.
It was rare for a white unit to include black people in those
days. He was honorably discharged at the end of the war and given
a pension. Records indicate he was married at age 15 to Sina
Waffel and they had one son Roy.
The second black
Union soldier, buried nearby, was John N.O. Briggs who mustered
in March 29, 1864, as a private with the 29th United States Colored
Troops of Company F. He fought in the siege of Petersburg which
lasted 10 months and then his unit had the honor of being present
at Appomattox to witness the surrender of Confederate General
Robert E. Lee to the Union Army General U.S. Grant.
The grave marker of Civil War soldier John Salter stands
in foreground while to the left with flag flying is the grave
of John Briggs, another black Union soldier. Both are buried
at Elmwood Cemetery in Sycamore.
This impressive structure near the entrance
to Elmwood Cemetery is known as a "Mourning House"
used by mourners in inclement weather. It was constructed about
1897 when the entrance gates were installed.
Also on the same tour we learned that
the structure standing near the front entrance is called a Mourning
House. It was built about 1897 when the gates were put
up and used as a shelter for mourners during inhospitable weather.
The story of the John Chatfield family was told through
five letters that he wrote his brother back in England over the
years. The Englishman worked aboard a whaling vessel for seven
years, then jumped ship when it was in the New York harbor, eventually
finding his way to DeKalb County, buying land to farm on Charter
Grove Road north of Sycamore. He was married in the Charter Grove
Methodist Episcopal Church. For some unknown reason his first
wife is buried in the Joiner Cemetery on Old State Road, while
he, his second wife and the rest of his family have their graves
at Elmwood. His letters back home tell much more about his life
here and are worth publishing as a booklet.
on to the Evergreen tour in DeKalb the following week, we found
out from tour guide Steve Bigolin it is the oldest cemetery in
that city, established in 1855 by a group of ladies organized
as the DeKalb Center Sewing Society. They paid an inflated price
of $122.50 to Norris Sweet for the two-acre parcel at South Seventh
and Taylor streets, but later were not able to purchase additional
acreage to expand it. The first person buried there was Sweets
wife who died of smallpox. Next the ladies group purchased
land in 1865 on North First Street behind the First Congregational
Church (built much later) to establish the Oakwood Cemetery.
The organization evolved into the Union Cemetery Association
which maintained the two burial grounds until the early 1990s
when DeKalb Township took over.
But now lets
move to the story of a third cemetery, told to us by Bigolin.
It was known as the Pleasant Street cemetery and was also established
in the late 1800s and was about where North Tenth and Pleasant
streets cross today. It was abandoned in 1952 when the DeKalb
City Council allowed a developer to take it over for building
new homes there. He promised to move the 35 bodies and remaining
tombstones to Oakwood, but there is no proof that many of the
graves were relocated. However, a pile of markers can be found
at the back corner of Oakwood.
Now the ghost story:
Bigolin explained that around one home on North Tenth Street
(exact address to remain anonymous to protect the propertys
value) an infant can be heard crying from time to time. It seems
that a 20-month-old baby was buried at that location many years
before and people claim its soul or spirit still lingers there.
Bigolin would not confirm nor deny the claims credibility.
There is much more to tell about the people buried
at Evergreen but you must consider taking the next tour and learning
firsthand. The walk will do you good.
The columnist can be reached via email at :
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PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115