CHICAGO (CBS) — A team of archaeologists has been excavating the yard of a west suburban home for the past two weeks, after the residents unearthed several graves from a 19th century cemetery.
WBBM Newsradio’s Nancy Harty reports property along what’s now known as Kimberly Court in the Brook Forest subdivision of Oak Brook was once part of a cemetery that was active from 1830 to 1890.
Dr. Kevin McGowan, director of the Public Service Archaeology & Architecture Program at the Uiversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said the cemetery wasn’t used much after the early 20th century.
The cemetery once held more than 400 bodies, according to McGowan. Most were moved to a different cemetery in the 1960s when developers took interest in the land.
“They decided that the cemetery was in such disrepair that they wanted to remove the remaining burials to another cemetery, so that they could redevelop it,” he said. “But that removal process was incomplete.”
McGowan said attempts to find descendants of those interred at the old cemetery were unsuccessful at that time. For the last two weeks, McGowan and other archaeologists have been digging up the remains of 30 infants, children, and adults found in a homeowner’s yard.
“Our job was just to make sure that they go from what was supposed to be their final resting place to their new final resting place,” he said. “We do have some cases where there might be comingling, and that’s because in the 1960s they went through with a backhoe and cut through multiple graves at the same time.”
McGowan said he’s helped dig up and relocate remains four or five other times in the past 20 years in Illinois.
“We find it very commonly throughout the state that people didn’t really … weren’t very thorough if they were just trying to put in another development. They felt if they removed the headstones, and removed the traces from the surface, then basically the cemetery would disappear,” he said.
The remains found in Oak Brook should be moved to Butler Cemetery by next month, McGowan said.
The homeowners bought the property in the 1970s, but did not learn that there had been a cemetery on the property until 2001. Since then, they have wrangled with the county, village, and their title insurance company over who should be responsible for the cost of excavating and reinterring the bodies. The family sued their title company in 2007.