Atrocity at Burr Oak
Everyone in Chicago is now aware of the situation at Burr Oak Cemetery. The manager, Carolyn Towns, and three gravediggers are accused of digging up old burials and dumping the bones and shattered coffins in a disused area of the cemetery, in order to resell graves for cash – which they would then pocket, off the books. An estimated 300 graves were violated; and, because of what appear to be deliberate attempts to obfuscate the record books, potentially thousands of other graves may now be unidentifiable.
I visited Burr Oak only once, in 2003, at the invitation of a previous manager (the suspect’s predecessor, who has not been connected to these events in any way). She and her husband showed me the historic graves, such as Emmett Till, Dinah Washington, Otis Spann, Drew Ali… They were very proud of their cemetery and its history, in stark contrast to the vile profiteers who desecrated it a few years later. In 2003, the cemetery was in good condition, though there was a bit of flooding in the western portion. Mamie Till (Emmett’s mother) had recently been entombed there, in the cemetery’s only above-ground vault, and there were plans for a museum to be built on site.
But, in spite of its history, I did not revisit Burr Oak, and I have only a handful of photos – mostly close-ups of individual markers of the famous interments. I regret, now, that I had not obtained more landscape shots, before the cemetery became nefarious. My preference is for Victorian architecture and monument styles, and I just don’t find flat-marker cemeteries visually appealing; and as I had only recently switched to a digital camera (Nikon D100) I was not yet in the habit of shooting everything in sight, and getting plenty of wide shots.
So Burr Oak is lost to us. I have only a minimal record of what it looked like before the atrocity; and now it is forever tainted; once a place of history and culture, now it will be mentioned alongside the Tri-State Crematory as a horrific incident of betrayal of a sacred trust.