EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (AP) - At first glance, the trees and hills of Woodlawn Cemetery seem undisturbed — until you spot the Varner grave.
Easily 400 pounds, the Varner monument is one of several that broke in half during a severe spring storm last year. The vicious storm tore through some of the older trees, knocking into gravestones nearing their second century. The statue of an angel atop a giant pillar was knocked 20 feet to the ground, and other monuments were broken or knocked over. Some have been repaired, but others require specialty services that cost a lot of money.
Edward Ricks, who has been sexton for Woodlawn Cemetery since the summer, said he has done his best to clean out the mess left by the storm. He pointed out the places where massive trees had fallen, and have since been removed. But the storm “really took a toll” on the tombstones and statues, he said.
“It is a pretty cemetery with all the old monuments; places like this are priceless,” Ricks said. “You don’t see them very often.”
Woodlawn Cemetery is one of the newest additions to Edwardsville’s register of historic places. Established in 1871, its first internment was Louis George William Smith, 9-month-old son of Christian and Frances Smith. The new cemetery had just been opened, and according to historic documents, a neighbor of the new cemetery fretted about “the little boy who was all alone” in Woodlawn.
But he was only the first. Within six years, nine children and 11 adults were buried there. Then in the late 1800s, he got a lot of company.
Visitors to Woodlawn might be surprised to see many graves much older than the 143-year-old cemetery. The tiny Lusk Cemetery lay in the path of a road project, and more than 370 of its graves were relocated to Woodlawn. Therefore, many of the stones date back to the 1840s, including the names of early Edwardsville settlers and family names that continue to today’s residents.
The oldest graves lie near the entrance, by St. Louis Street. As the population grew, graves were dug further down the steep hill toward the woods behind the cemetery. Even now there are plots sold, with the newest graves farthest from the road. Local residents often walk through it as a park, not just a cemetery.
Woodlawn is the final resting place of 140 Civil War veterans, 122 veterans of later wars and one Revolutionary War veteran: George Prickett, who died in 1844. Annexed into the city in the 1980s, the cemetery lies just at the edge of the St. Louis Street historic district. Each year, Edwardsville’s Memorial Day remembrance is held there, among the hundreds of military graves.
For Rue Foe, president of the nonprofit cemetery’s board, it’s a personal place: he has a daughter and granddaughter buried there. He sees their role as stewards of one of the most attractive, parklike properties in the area.
“It’s more than a place to visit the loved ones who have passed on,” Foe said. “It’s a beautiful piece of property; you don’t find this kind of cemetery everywhere.”
The small chapel in Woodlawn was designed by architect Edward Kane Sr., before he himself was buried in Woodlawn. An unusual 1967 design with high ceilings and wooden beams, the chapel is not just for small funerals: at least one couple chose to be married there.
“The only charge was that we had to give them a wedding picture,” said Maxine Pakovich Callies, who married her husband there about 10 years ago. “It’s a holy place; that’s how I always felt about that chapel, peacefulness.”
But Woodlawn has fallen on difficult financial times, and not just because of the storm. Upkeep had waned in the early part of last year, and people were less likely to purchase spaces, Foe said.