City does not expect bodies to be unearthed during Oak Park Ave reconstruction; cemetery once located there


Concerns have been raised that bodies could be unearthed during the planned reconstruction of Oak Park Avenue between Irving Park Road and Forest Preserve Drive due to a cemetery that was once there, but project engineers have expressed confidence that any bodies were removed and relocated from the site decades ago, according to Alderman Timothy Cullerton (38th).

“I don’t think there will be any issue, but if there is, we have a protocol in place,” Cullerton said of the project, which is slated to start Monday, April 27.

Digging on the site will include the use of a ground-penetrating radar, and if bodies are found, the Cook County Coroner’s Office will be contacted and any remains will be handled “with dignity and reburied respectfully” elsewhere, Cullerton said.

Plans call for the street to be improved with gutters, curbs and sidewalks. The northbound lane will be closed to traffic during the project, which is scheduled to end July 27, with traffic being rerouted to Harlem Avenue.

It is believed that bodies were removed from the site during a previous repaving, possibly when the street was first installed more than 50 years ago, Cullerton said.

Oak Park runs through the middle of what was once a cemetery with about 500 graves, according to Northwest Chicago Historical Society researcher Frank Suerth. In recent years other portions of the former cemetery have been used for a parking lot and grass fields.

Oak Park cuts through the Read-Dunning development site, which includes a veterans nursing home that is under construction, a conservation area and variety of other uses.

In 1989, a residential development project on the site was delayed when bodies were unearthed. It is believed that thousands of indigents and mentally ill, presumably patients of the Chicago-Read Mental Health Center, had been buried in a graveyard behind the site of the Dunning Square shopping center at Irving Park and Narragansett avenues. A memorial was later built honoring those who were buried there.