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In the news - Suburban Life and Chicago Tribune

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  • adgorn1
    1) Photo postings from Suburban Life newspaper: Lyonsville Cemetery, Indian Head Park, IL photos.chicagosuburbannews.com/297586 St. Mary s and St. Peter s
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 15, 2007
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      1) Photo postings from Suburban Life newspaper:

      Lyonsville Cemetery, Indian Head Park, IL
      photos.chicagosuburbannews.com/297586

      St. Mary's and St. Peter's Cemetery, Elmhurst, IL
      photos.chicagosuburbannews.com/311755

      Main Street Cemetery, Downers Grove, IL
      photos.chicagosuburbannews.com/326683

      2) Article in today's Tribune:
      Rest or jog or picnic in peace
      http://www.chicagotribune.com/services/newspaper/printedition/saturday
      /chi-cemetery_15sep15,0,7181703.story

      'You don't have to watch out for traffic. There are no curbs to go up
      and down. The scenery is beautiful. And when we're done they give us
      coffee [at the funeral home].'

      By Josh Noel
      Tribune staff reporter
      September 15, 2007

      On their first date, Steve and Chanda Szczeblowski packed a picnic
      lunch and spent six hours at Graceland Cemetery, chatting and
      wandering.

      Twenty years and two daughters later, the Szczeblowskis return to
      cemeteries often.

      They're quiet and clean. There's little traffic. And they're filled
      with history. In short, cemeteries make for a perfect Saturday
      afternoon family getaway -- provided dead bodies in all directions
      don't bother you.

      "They're just beautiful," said Chanda Szczeblowski, 40, of Berwyn, a
      tattooed graphic designer with blue-streaked hair. "It's a fun place
      to read and walk and ruminate on what happened to this person and why
      they were here at 23 years old."

      Though hardly mainstream, cemeteries are evolving beyond thoughts of
      loss and mortality to become an underground recreation spot.
      Enthusiasts range from the very young -- like the Szczeblowskis' 3-
      year-old daughter, Naomi, who learned to walk in cemeteries -- to the
      three octogenarians who get their weekly exercise amid Forest Park
      headstones.

      The trend harks back to the turn of the 20th Century, when families
      packed lunches and trekked long distances to spend afternoons by a
      loved one's grave, said Bob Fells, external chief operating officer
      of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association.
      Leisurely visits fell as new forms of entertainment developed, cars
      simplified transportation and the dead became increasingly taboo (as
      evidenced by the childhood practice of holding your breath while
      passing cemeteries).

      But the fear of death seems to have waned somewhat, Fells said, as
      people live longer and become more involved in planning for their own
      deaths. The well-regarded cable television drama "Six Feet Under,"
      about a family-run mortuary, also helped bring death into the
      mainstream, he said.

      But he said the first joggers and bikers were something of a
      surprise, not to mention the weddings in Cincinnati and 5-kilometer
      races in Kansas City, Mo.

      "There are all sorts of new uses," Fells said. "Though hopefully the
      visitors are respectful."

      Last month, John Isaacson, general manager of Woodlawn Cemetery in
      Forest Park, opened his gates to more than a dozen clowns who told
      jokes and performed tricks for an audience at Showmen's Rest, a
      cluster of circus performer graves. Though there is a fine line when
      it comes to using the grounds respectfully -- biking over grave
      plots, for example, is not advised -- he appreciates the visitors.

      "We're here as part of a community and it's a nice place," Isaacson
      said. "Why not have people enjoy it?"

      Among his regulars is Craig Bessett, 50, a corporate buyer who
      regularly walks Woodlawn's paved 11/2-mile loop past shaded lawns and
      slow-moving geese on his lunch break. Noise from bustling Cermak Road
      is drowned out by the white buzz of crickets and riding mowers.

      A forest preserve sits across the street, but Bessett prefers
      Woodlawn's sculpted cleanliness. Co-workers occasionally rib him, but
      he laughs it off.

      "I tell them I'm going to talk with my good friends back here because
      they're always so agreeable," Bessett said.

      Some days he brings his camera and others he just walks with one hand
      swinging and the other in his pocket.

      "You really start thinking about how unimportant some things are when
      you see all these people at rest and realize their troubles are far
      behind them," he said. "It kind of focuses you."

      Last year a woman approached Oakridge Cemetery in Hillside about
      hosting a wedding outside its chapel. The view would have avoided any
      headstones, but General Manager Denise Bullocks was still surprised.
      She has seen a steady increase of joggers and dog walkers during the
      last several years, she said, but never expected a wedding.

      The bride thought better of the request, but Bullocks figures another
      is inevitable. She said she would agree -- for a "small fee" -- so
      long as the nuptials are held during off hours. She doesn't want a
      funeral and wedding at the same time.

      "But it makes sense," Bullocks said. "It's a quiet and peaceful
      place."

      There are restrictions, however. Woodlawn doesn't allow student
      drivers to practice on its looping paved roads. Gary Neubieser, the
      general manager of Concordia Cemetery in Forest Park, doesn't allow
      dog walkers.

      "I had a burial once where the family came the next day to visit the
      site and there was a pile of poop on the grave," Neubieser said. "I
      couldn't believe it."

      He once made a bid to bring people in for recreation, but found it to
      be mostly trouble. These days he won't reject such visitors, but he
      keeps a wary eye on them.

      "Sometimes if I have a funeral I have to ask someone, 'Can you jog
      somewhere else?' A bunch of people mourning don't want to see a
      jogger run by," he said.

      But Eleanor Smith has had no complaints. Every Wednesday morning,
      Smith, 83, walks through Woodlawn with three other women, two of whom
      are also around 80. Centrally located, the cemetery seemed a natural
      choice when one of the women suggested it.

      "At first you're sort of taken aback, but we thought, 'What the
      heck?'" said Smith, of Lyons. "It's great! You don't have to watch
      out for traffic. There are no curbs to go up and down. The scenery is
      beautiful. And when we're done they give us coffee [at the funeral
      home]."

      They pass funerals, but are sure to stay as far as possible.

      The key, she said, especially on her side of 80, is to maintain a
      sense of humor: "One woman said, 'Well this is handy -- if we should
      collapse all you have to do is throw some dirt on us.'"

      jbnoel@...
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