Cemeteries command little respect when the “powers that be” want to build or expand an airport. Our departed ancestors are simply “in the way” when we focus on aeronautical progress. The classic and most recent case was the destruction of St. Johannes Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery on the west end of O’Hare International Airport, until a few years ago, at the foot of runway 9-R. There, some 1,400 people and five acres of cemetery of the St. John United Church of Christ in Bensenville, were dug up to expand the “the world’s busiest airport.” Another nearby cemetery, Resthaven, clings to existence.
But this story is about a third, least known cemetery over there by runway 32-R, on the far eastern edge of the airport. It was the first to be removed in the name of progress. Lets look at Wilmer’s Old Settler Cemetery also known as the cemetery for the Evangelical Zions Society of Leyden Township.
Before the construction of O’Hare International Airport, Wilmer’s was located on what was then north side of Bryn Mawr Avenue (5600 north), one-quarter mile west of LaGrange Road later known as Old Mannheim Road (route 12)- 10400 west), before Mannheim Road was rerouted for the airport. Formerly an Indian burial ground, this cemetery was taken over by German settlers. Daniel Wilmer deeded property to the Evangelical Zion Society on March 16, 1880. The warranty deed was filed on September 16, 1885.
And then it was no longer to be. The land was condemned by the federal government by court action on December 12, 1951, for use by the Air Force. It was conveyed to the city of Chicago on August 10, 1960. A deed was dated March 28, 1961. The airport at that time was known as Chicago’s Orchard Airport, (Douglas) and was the site of the Douglas Aircraft Company. On December 12, 1949, the Chicago City council changed the name to O’Hare International Airport.
The cemetery which measured 114 feet by 160.5 feet, was removed by court permission in the April of 1952. The .384 acre cemetery was simply in the path of a proposed O’Hare runway. It is reported that 37 white persons and an unknown number of Indians were buried there. Fifteen bodies were reportedly removed and reburied in Oak Ridge Cemetery at Westmont Illinois in April and June 1952. Still other bodies were removed on April 29, 1952 to Union Ridge Cemetery. According to a sexton of Resthaven Cemetery back then, other bodies were relocated to a common grave at that cemetery, also on O’Hare property. Some Family names include: Wilmer, Franzen, Hachmeister, Schemuller, Berkenmeister, Kleinschmidt, Elfert, and Wicke. Newspaper reports have stated that this cemetery dates to 1820, but this date, other than Indian burials, would seem to be an exaggeration.
Lest you think I make this story up, The cemetery was transcribed by Frederick S. Weiser and Mrs. John G. Moe on September 8, 1951. The reading can be found in the Cemetery Records of Dupage and Cook County, 1952‑53, in the Newberry Library, Chicago. Dr. David Koss has written a paper entitled Lambert Wilmer, His Kith and Kin. Another mention is in a book collated by Jan Steingraber and Joan Huff in April 2009. A copy can be found in the genealogy room at the Arlington Heights Library Other references include the Chicago Tribune for Dec 11 1951 and October 23 1951. A more recent article appeared March 23, 1993| By Jack Houston in the Chicago Tribune entitled “ Nearly Buried – old Cemeteries Endure In Midst Of Urban Sprawl”
And so it goes. Our dead, simply in the way.
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