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An Old Downtown Cemetery (updates included)

An Old Downtown Cemetery (updates included)
By Barek Halfhand

Far west suburban Downers Grove is one of many of the main street revitalization projects designed to help reinvigorated the existing classic storefront shops that languished economically in the early 90's with the inception of the Wal Mart superstore model by way of the addition of specialty shops, concept bar & grills, and of course “Starbucks... The Downtown Cemetery lies at almost the epicenter of this now bustling Main street business district who’s side streets are now dotted with new condos and remodeled Victorian style homes that are common along the metro railway that acts one of the main commuter arteries connecting downtown Chicago to the suburbs, some of which east of this location are even Franklin Lloyd Wright designs ...The economic invigoration efforts of the early to mid 90 's included transforming the building adjacent to the cemetery that sat closed after serving a short tenure as a now defunct printing company into a bi level state of the art micro-brewery with seating on both floors that entertained a south view of the historic cemetery nestled between buildings next door...I remember the rumors of bar patrons catching glimpses of luminous apparition meandering among the stone markers by squinting through the windows into the darkness below when I used to visit this establishment periodically in the late 90's and I of course wrote it off to one too many of the proprietary home elixirs peddled there much the way I remember dismissing the sensations of uneasiness I often felt there ...

There was also rumored to be the recurring spectral appearances of what was reported to be a woman wearing turn of he century period clothing wandering the 1st floor isles between tables and disappearing after ignoring the challenge of the startled closing staff member ...

Founders Hill Bar and Grill closed in 2004 and the building was subsequently purchased and reopened under new ownership/ management and is still in business today as Emmett’s Taverns( pictured below) ...less than a quarter of a block south of the cemetery is of course, the train station that was the site of a horrific train accident that claimed several lives and is rumored to also be the site of intermittent paranormal activity as well...Also rumored to be haunted is the historic Tivoli Hotel, Theater and Bowling Alley that is still the focus of controversy because the hotel caters to transients and is considered to attract an unsavory element to the area that local residents and the area Chamber Of Commerce agree serves as a deterrent to attracting new business investors and residents to fill the multi tenant upscale condos that sit unoccupied as a result of the sputtering economy ...

I opted for a predawn/sunrise visit as I seem to experience more “positive hits” during that time frame...Often the sites I select to photograph are dictated by a quixotic work schedule that can be shaped and altered by any number of a confluence of events and circumstances that can lead me to change my plans 15 times before noon, but things have been slow lately so this was one of those occasions that I got up at 4 am for the exclusive purpose of venturing out into the night air with my camera ...The 4:30am mist that peppered my windshield as I rolled down the quiet suburban side street reminded me there was rain predicted for the morning commute, but aside from adding some orbs to the flash photos; it did not prove to be a hindrance, although the penetrating chill reminded me that the black hoodie that I favor would have been better suited as an under garment to a heavier coat ... The holiday lights and decor that is already draped on the trees poles and storefronts a week before Thanksgiving looked to be a testament to the pre holiday jitters the local retail and special store merchants must already be feeling ...

The Bar that was originally named “Founder’s Hill” as a homage to the historic cemetery next door was now one of the 3 Emmett’s Taverns that have sprouted in the Far West Burbs, but the familiar visage of the huge metallic vats that dominate the front windows became visible as I crossed the street from a vacant parking lot that likely be filled to capacity a few hours later ...

The amber glow of the holiday lights created an ambient mood for the initial shots of the tavern and the rain streaked streets provided a colorful neon and stoplight collage below...The Downtown Cemetery seems oddly juxtaposed between buildings and even the plaque annotations affixed to the flagstone staircase did not seem to validate the visual contradiction that this preserved patch of history purveyed the downtown district continued to slumber the cemetery’s sole live occupant seemed surprisingly unabashed by my sudden incursion but bolted back to Bunny land when I got to close ...I seemed to be more drawn to the tavern building than the cemetery but I invoked my standard resolve to focus on the film and not the phantasms ...

The train station was about a half a block south but I elected to drive there because the light sprinkle was becoming more of a steady rain at this point....the frequency of overnight freight trains along this corridor of the Burlington Northern railway was kind enough to accommodate me with a lengthy freighter to add to the new Photobucket album...

And as the roaring locomotive shook the ground as it angrily lumbered by followed by a burden of everything from stacked containers on flatcars, tankers , hoppers, car carriers to classic box cars, I had to wonder what a train wreck must have been like on that fateful April of 1947 evening when the wreck claimed 2 lives and injured 34 as the Zephyr passenger train derailed following a collision with a tractor trailer and, crashed into the station...a station that sits on the same set of racks nine miles west in Naperville, Ill., where 45 persons died the previous April of 1946 in a collision of two Burlington passenger trains...

The predawn activity in the train station was limited to the first of the early AM commuters that I passed a block or so north walking the opposite direction pausing for shots of the storefronts that added to the neon sheen of the rain slicked streets ..she glanced in groggy confusion as she accepted the jumbo coffee the cheerful to the point of annoying concession stand employee handed her and was probably still wondering how I made it there so fast as she upended she last of the Mocha Grande before disembarking from the train and spilling into the Union Station platform and the sea of humanity that awaited her that hemorrhaged from the street level exits and dissipated into the city streets of Chicago only to repeat itself in reverse starting as early as 2:30 pm that afternoon ...

The Tivoli Theater/Bowing Alley/Hotel looked to have been the focus of some recent remodeling or renovation efforts as the old style pained windows and blinds that were yellowed with age were replaced with a modernized and probable “green” model...this and the painted, repaired or replaced facade seemed to belie the “flophouse” enigma that I recalled as providing the town’s sole seedy element...The “YES WE’RE OPEN “ sign in the barber poled, next door shop window darkened by obvious overnight closure provided a comedic reprieve as I visualize a Vitalis doused , cantankerous old barber turning off the lights, locking the doors and once again forgetting to flip the sign in the window for the millionth time in the eons he has probably worked there...

The history is rich within the tapestries of this old classic railway suburban town and it is hewn into the stone and fabric of these streets both visually and energetically wonders if the paradox of modernized nostalgic antiquity that is preserved here with such a fragile balance today in 2009 will prevail in 2109?....


Downers Grove was founded in 1832 by Pierce Downer, a religious evangelist from New York. Its other early settlers included the Blodgett, Curtiss, and Carpenter families. The original settlers were mostly migrants from the Northeastern United States and Northern Europe. The first schoolhouse was built in 1844.

During the American Civil War, 119 soldiers from Downers Grove served in the Union Army; at least one of these was interred in the cemetery downtown. There was an abolitionist presence in the village, and some of the older homes are thought to have been stops on the Underground Railroad.

The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad was extended from Aurora to Chicago through Downers Grove in 1862, boosting its population. The town was incorporated in March 1873. Its somewhat unusual spelling ("Apostrophe-free since 1873") remains a minor historical mystery.

In April 1947, a Burlington Railroad Nebraska Zephyr passenger train wreck killed two people, including the engineer. The eastbound streamliner struck a large piece of farm equipment which had become loosened from its flat car, and was protruding onto the adjoining track from a westbound freight. Part of the train crashed through a wall of the Main Street Station.

The construction of two major toll roads along the village's northern and western boundaries, I-355 in 1989 and what is now referred to as I-88 in 1958, facilitated its access to the rest of Chicago metropolitan area. Downers Grove has developed into a bustling Chicago suburb with many diverse businesses, including the headquarters for Rossi, FTD, The Travelers Companies, Lovejoy, ServiceMaster, Sara Lee, Swift-Eckrich,[4] Arrow Gear,TMK IPSCO,[5] Magnetrol,[6] Spiegel and Butterball.

source and full article:,_Illinois

Downers Grove, IL Train Derails & Crashes into Depot, Apr 1947
Posted August 4th, 2009 by June

Illinois Wreck Claims Lives Of Two

34 Hurt as Zephyr Derails, Crashed Into Suburban Station.

By The Associated Press.
Chicago, April 4-Two passengers were killed and about 34 persons were injured when the Burlington railroad’s speeding Pam City Zephyr was derailed by a tractor and crashed into the railroad station at suburban Downers Grove last night.

The tractor had fallen off a westbound freight train that had just passed on an adjoining track and into the path of the stainless steel streamliner, eastbound from Minneapolis to Chicago.

The crash in a flash of flame and shower of falling bricks ripped up three sets of tracks nine miles east of Naperville, Ill., where 45 persons died last April 25 in a collision of two Burlington passenger trains.

Several eyewitnesses said they saw “a tremendous ball of fire” as the Zephyr left the rails.

The diesel train, which the Burlington said was traveling at its usual 75 miles an hour clip through the suburb 21 miles west of Chicago, smashed into the side of the unoccupied brick depot, partially wrecking it.

Police said the crash occurred at 11:41 p.m. The Zephyr was due in Chicago at 12 p.m. It left Minneapolis at 5:10 p.m.

The dead passengers were identified by police as Lloyd W. Wright, 48, of Oak Park, Ill., and Edith Hettand of Minneapolis.

Most of the injured were taken to hospitals at nearby Himsdale and Aurora. Three were reported in serious condition.

The Zephyr’s engineer, Clarence Thurston, 67, of Aurora, Ill., was trapped in the cab.

He was reported in serious condition.

source and full article:

Here are the unedited (compressed) photos from my recent visit. 11-19-09 (105 total)....b



The Downtown Cemetery Update Part 1
By Barek Halfhand

This first of two planned updates entailed both a day a night return visit to downtown Downers Grove....and while this night trip transpired in the late evening as opposed to the 4am predawn of last time around, the unseasonable cold and caliginous quietude of that stone blocked, cast iron gated plot of land known as Founder's Hill still managed to evoke a sense of isolation and solitude...a precipitant, penetrating gloom even amid the chattering of cold impervious smokers that flanked the vestibules of both the Micro brewery next door and Irish pub across the street …Samuel Curtiss probably wouldn’t recognize the land surrounding this portion of his sheep pasture he donated to appease the need for a village cemetery in the mid 1850's for which he was later recompensed the tidy sum of $15.00 USD …

While suburban nightlife may seem sedate by Chicago's Rush Street standards, the vivacious vibrancy of this mid week, main street permeated the darkened space beyond the short flight of stairs with laughter, car horns and the concussive thump of over-amplified bass speakers from passing vehicles that an un-gloved hand could literally feel on the most remote of smooth granite slabs from the street...

An uncharacteristic lapse in my street wise, self defense oriented, heightened senses found me startled by a lone middle aged man cutting through the cemetery as I blocked the sidewalk contemplating my next photo ...I stepped aside with a brusque “excuse me” and he passed without comment, eye contact or any break in cadence that would imply acknowledgment, his face fixed in a dour, phlegmatic scowl …oddly as he passed into an area deprived of streetlight illumination at a steady pace, I continued to track his progress based on that pace and estimate his reemergence into visibility near the park but he never did reappear …

The Tivoli Theater and hotel is another story altogether and I was surprised to see Poi Dog Pondering on the marque thus confirming the rumor that the classic cinema would indeed be adding select music acts to it's 1,000 seat venue fare...The hotel, bowling ally and the theater are reputed to be the site of supernatural activity, the reports of which have varied and changed with the passage of time, but that is for a future update...I did get some shots of the basement bowling ally during the the day as unrelated circumstances brought me back to the area thus enabling me to secure some sunlit shots…My own (questionable) sources have in fact informed me that the bowling ally has experienced a few unexplained gutter balls scaring the overnight cleaning crew by slamming into the lowered pinsetter gate over the past decade...the escalation of this and other unspecified supernatural occurrences are evidently concurrent with remodeling work performed on the hotel and resurgent during the those time tables …

The sun-drenched, late morning cemetery revealed that the adjacent park to the west is the site of a new
band shell project and with it, more ground shaking construction machinery and workers ...the annual summer “ Heritage Festival” held here has been legendary in the past and hopefully the assembly of this new band-shell will dispense with the rumor that commission of the yearly event had been suspended pending resolution of financial issues...alas it would appear that no community is immune the effects of this troubled economy, even those in affluent Du Page County it would appear....

Here are the (compressed to 1MB) photos...some have been slightly sharpened or color enhanced (03-2011)...

Here's the latest YouTube video:

Best Of Barek 8

This installment includes photographic anomalies from
Bachelor's Grove, Holy Sepulchre, Burr Oak, The St Pascal Friary Demolition, several road trips and much more....b



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