DECATUR — Decatur has its own spooky Halloween stories.
Legends and tales circle around one of the most historic areas in the city, Greenwood Cemetery. However, many believe the scariest parts of the 100-acre landscape are the rolling hills and slim roads winding around concrete mausoleums and tombstones.
Fred Jackson is one of those people. For 16 years, he has been the overseer of the 606 S. Church St. graveyard.
Jackson can’t confirm any of the interesting stories. “But I don’t come out here at night to see anything,” he said. “At night time, it can be scary, but I haven’t seen anything unusual.”
Incorporated in 1857, Greenwood began accepting the bodies of loved ones 39 years after Illinois became a state.
Greenwood Cemetery has been one of the featured stories in books written by author Troy Taylor. Book titles include “Haunted Decatur,” “Dark Harvest,” and “Where the Dead Walk: The Haunted History of Greenwood Cemetery,” a book devoted to the graveyard.
Driving through the cemetery is a history lesson of its own. Millikin, Faries, Mueller and Scovill are names still seen throughout the city. The family mausoleums can be found shortly after entering the cemetery.
“This is where most of all of the street names in Decatur came from,” Jackson said. “It’s kind of interesting that they are buried out here in Greenwood.”
Visitors, many who have traveled from across the country, come to see the stones and pay their respects as if they were family. “When they come into town, they hear about Greenwood Cemetery, and they stop and want to take pictures and come to all the famous people’s mausoleums,” Jackson said.
John Lynn has featured Greenwood Cemetery in his “Dead People of Illinois” presentations. The Decatur graveyard is one of nearly 600 cemeteries he has visited. Lynn’s interest in Greenwood was because it was considered one of the ten spookiest cemeteries in the state. He said he doesn’t necessarily agree with the list. He uses Greenwood information to describe some generalities about all cemeteries, including gated entrance ways, graves, monuments, mausolea, veterans and other special burials, he said.
“When I stopped at Greenwood to take pictures a couple summers ago, I did find it impressively huge, nicely wooded, and was most impressed with the soldier section as well as the general photogenic quality of the cemetery itself,” Lynn said.
The Greenwood Cemetery office has some of the archival material for their famous residents. Most of the history lesson begins immediately upon entering the cemetery. The oldest stone dates back to 1847, according to Jackson. And the cemetery continues to expand.
Greenwood is divided into 21 sections. Section 12 is the special location designated especially for veterans.
When Jackson began working at the cemetery, the stones had had a rash of vandalism. Instead of blocking the entrance, the staff left the large, white, ornate gates open. “It seemed like, when we had the gates closed, people were breaking in,” Jackson said. “We’ve got it back to looking nice.”
Although Greenwood is one of the older cemeteries in Decatur, families continue to bury their loved ones there. “It’s the history of Greenwood,” Jackson said.
And the history continues. Many of the famous families left Decatur years ago, but still pay tribute to their loved ones by sending flowers each year, according to Jackson.
The attraction for the caretaker is the peacefulness among the old trees and sculptures.
“It’s a beautiful cemetery,” he said. “The change of the color of the leaves makes it more pretty out here.”
The only entrance and exit into the cemetery is at the south side. With 100 acres of rolling hills and roads, bikers, walkers and runners have gotten lost.
“And you see people driving in circles,” Jackson said. “They ask how do you get out of here?”
Inside Decatur's Greenwood Cemetery
The resting place of Decatur's famous
SECONDARY OR INSIDE
Contact Donnette Beckett at (217) 421-6983. Follow her on Twitter: @donnettebHR