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IDOT construction project unearths human bones left from former cemetery

The graves were supposed to moved decades ago, when the highway first came through.

WASHINGTON PARK, Illinois — Scott Rose first took notice of the land near Interstate 64 and North Kingshighway in Washington Park when he considered buying property nearby.

He dug into the property's history and was surprised by what he found out.

"I believe we're walking up to the original property lines of where the cemetery started," Rose said as he crossed an interstate off-ramp into a roughly mowed plot of land. "I believe this is where the graves were laid out."

Rose says the small patch of grass was once the site of Douglas-Lawnridge Cemetery, also known as Lawn Ridge Cemetery. At one point there were 3,000 graves on the property, all the interred were African-American. 

Last week, a preliminary engineering crew came to check out the land for an upcoming IDOT project, discovering some of the cemetery's residents were not moved as was planned.

"They found the outline of a casket," Rose said. "So they marked it, took pictures, and then they found some bones. So as soon as they find these things they stop, identify, mark it, and cover it up."

Rose said the graves were supposed to be moved decades ago when the highway first came through, a task complicated by time.

"There is not much left," Rose said. "So they would dig down, find some bones, or part of a casket, put that in a new casket, and move on."

IDOT's Guy Tridgell said they are aware of the situation, but it is too early to tell if excavations and removals will delay construction in any way. The state, Tridgell said, has hired archeologists from the University of Illinois to survey the land and report what they find. It is too early to know the scale and size of the situation. 

Rose said he doesn't want to stand in the way of construction along I-64, adding that he sees 18-wheeler trucks skim the bottom of the bridge often.

But he also wants to make sure the bodies aren't overlooked in the pursuit of progress.

"At the bare minimum the souls that were buried here, there should be some kind of remembrance for them," Rose said.

Contact reporter Sara Machi on Facebook and Twitter.

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