Burr Oak Cemetery Reopens Thursday; Large Turnout Expected
A few thousand family members are expected to show up at Burr Oak Cemetery when it reopens to the public at 8 a.m. Thursday, officials said this afternoon as they explained how the reopening process will work.
Praising the “herculean efforts” to restore the cemetery since a grave desecration scandal closed it to the public four months ago, the cemetery’s court-appointed chief operating officer Howard Korenthal said families would be “pleased” by the improvements they’ll find if they visit.
For the first week, visitors may enter the cemetery only with a ticket issued by cemetery officials that shows the location of a loved one’s grave site, officials said.
Visitors can find the location of their loved ones’ graves and print a ticket at www.burroakalsip.com.
Though they won’t be able to walk or drive into the cemetery, they can take a free shuttle bus at the Burr Oak Cemetery Transportation Center at 12250 S. Cicero Ave., Suite 109, in Alsip, Korenthal said.
Staff will be on hand to help families find the graves, a task made easier now that 3,000 stakes have been planted in the ground to aid navigation, he said.
The cemetery will be opened in sections over the course of the week, and families are encouraged to visit on the appropriate day, he added.
Information about which sections will be open when is also on the Web site, he said. If families come on the wrong day, they will be allowed in, but won’t get the same level of help, he said.
Families without internet access can get help from staff at the transportation center, he said.
Roman Szabelski, the Catholic Cemeteries chief who’s acting as a consultant to the cemetery clean-up effort, said the complex reopening system was necessary to control the large crowd that’s expected Thursday.
“The main thing is that families can finally visit their loved ones’ graves,” he said.
While “most families” will be able to find their loved ones’ graves, “a handful” may need further investigation, he said. Of 140,000 bodies buried at the cemetery, only 43,000 have headstones, he said.
He said the online database of burial records is “reliable” but cautioned that it was only as good as the records kept at the cemetery, which officials have previously characterized as shoddy and incomplete.
Families will have to click on a disclaimer acknowledging that the information in the database represents “the best efforts” of authorities but “may not be 100 percent,” he said.
The rear area of the cemetery Cook County sheriff’s police believe was used as a mass burial dumping ground remains fenced off and is not open to the public.
More than $125,000 in improvements have been made, including repairing fencing and sewers and cutting down dangerous trees since the cemetery closed, Korenthal said.
Burr Oak has been closed since July, when it was alleged that four workers had the remains of some bodies dug up and dumped on a vacant lot, while reselling the plots. From Thursday through Nov. 25, visitors may enter the cemetery from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
On Nov. 27, the cemetery will permit drive-in and walk-in traffic.
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