- Associated Press - Saturday, February 13, 2016

JOHNSON CITY, Ill. (AP) - Hard to miss the city-run cemetery in Marion on Illinois 37, with row after row of flowered headstones lined neatly in a spacious, but manicured lawn.

For two children of Albert C. Stiritz in the community named after him just northeast of Johnston City, their final resting place is not so easily found. It’s not so well-groomed.

Their grave sites, along with 28 others, have been forgotten in the growth of time manifested in tall trees, standing or fallen, thick shrubs and layers of dead leaves.

“Shameful,” said Helen Sutt Lind of the Williamson County Historical Society who has been reading grave markers since the 1970s. She has recorded her headstone readings in about a dozen books kept at the Society’s museum in Marion.

She is also a charter member of the Frankfort Area Genealogical Society in West Frankfort and continues to serve on its board. The Society has also read abandoned sites.

Duncan Cemetery is one of 150 abandoned gravesites Lind has found across Williamson County. There are probably more. Some she has been told about cannot be found, Lind said.

Primarily found on private property, most of the historic sites are left to the whims of nature and no more, out of sight in the woods of memories lost. Few are cared for. Some had been maintained but are now overgrown, Lind said.

As with Duncan Cemetery, headstones date back to the early 1800s, left by individual families generations ago. The oldest at the Stiritz site was dated 1833, six years before Williamson County was founded. The number of burials at each site vary from one or two to up to 40.

Lind has been at Duncan twice, in 1975 and 2000. When she returned the second time, some of the headstones there 25 years before were gone. She typically finds the sites through word of mouth.

“Some of the cemeteries that we have read have been destroyed, so the only record we have are pictures or what we have read (in news accounts)” Lind said. “There’s just so many of them.”

Too many for any one group to maintain them, she said.

While Illinois has laws to protect registered and unregistered gravesites against desecration, maintenance of abandoned cemeteries tend to fall to landowners. Counties and townships are permitted to dedicate funds to clean up sites but first must receive authorization from the landowner or cemetery owner to enter the property.

“Although active cemeteries are usually maintained by the owner or cemetery association, not all have provisions for perpetual care,” the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency states on its website. “These unfunded cemeteries will eventually become abandoned due to lack of support and basic care.”

The IHPA does provide tips on cemetery preservation for those interested but notes proof of training and a permit is required through the agency.

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Source: The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan, http://bit.ly/1P2R7g1

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Information from: Southern Illinoisan, http://www.southernillinoisan.com

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