As October approaches, more and more people visit cemeteries because, you know, dead people are spooky or something. If you’ve read this blog long enough then you already know that I am a pretty morbid person. I visit cemeteries year-round. Apparently there is a name for it – a taphophile. I am pretty lucky to live in Chicagoland where there are a number of historic cemeteries. One of the oldest and largest is Oak Woods on Chicago’s South Side where famous individuals like Jesse Owens, Enrico Fermi, and Ida B. Wells are buried. Also, the largest mass grave in the Western Hemisphere, known as the Confederate Mound, is located here. It is the resting place of 6,000 soldiers who died at a prisoner-of-war camp, Camp Douglas, during the American Civil War. But in the middle of it all is an abandoned Jewish graveyard. Located on the southern edge of Oak Woods near 71st Street, the Jewish section is fenced off with a sign that says “Private Property Not Owned By Dignity”.
Filled with weeds and overgrown bush, the cemetery-within-a-cemetery looks neglected and forgotten. But as you walk through the dense grass and leaning monuments, you occasionally see a dried up flower taped to the face of a marker or a pile of stones on top of a headstone, which means someone out there remembers. I’m not sure if there is some arrangement with a Jewish benevolent organization or historical society that, at one time, maintained the graves, but one wonders why the main cemetery does not care for it. The majority of graves appear to be a hundred years or older, so there is no one still alive who remembers these people. But when the rest of the cemetery is so well-maintained, the contrast between the two is quite shocking. Whether you’re Jewish or not, it is incredibly sad to see the memories of these people so disrespected and one can only hope someone fixes up the graves before the conditions get worse.