Grave mapping, flood remedies lead Mooney Cemetery improvements
By KAREN BERKOWITZ email@example.com August 26, 2013 7:30PM
Moraine Township supervisor Anne Flanigan Bassi and landscape architect Nancy Lyons Hannick at Mooney Cemetery on Aug. 21. Drainage issues are being addressed at the historic Highland Park cemetery. | Brian O'Mahoney/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 26, 2013 2:33AM
Mooney Cemetery has been mired in a tangle of flooding and maintenance issues further complicated because its steward, Moraine Township, didn’t know for sure where everyone was buried at the 114-year-old cemetery.
With a recent mapping of graves and vaults, the township has been moving ahead to implement a Landscaping Master Plan for replacing aging trees, beautifying the entrance on Ridge Road and addressing flooding and drainage issues. A deteriorated asphalt driveway has been replaced with permeable pavers that allow stormwater to collect underground.
Next week, volunteers will plant two rain gardens that will help remedy the flooding that has sometimes prevented family members from visiting the resting places of their loved ones.
Over the course of two days — Friday, Sept. 6, and Saturday, Sept. 7 — volunteers will fill the rain gardens at the rear of the cemetery with 700 gallon-sized plants. The cemetery drainage system is designed to divert stormwater collected under the driveway into the rain gardens.
“Logically, people would say, ‘Why don’t we just fill in the low areas?’” said Nancy Lyons Hannick, the landscape architect who completed the master plan.
Lyons Hannick explained that her team documented where there is ponding and pooling, and determined that regrading the site would have covered up some markers.
The planting event also is part of the green industry’s “Come Alive Outside” campaign to encourage outdoor activity and bring children and adults in touch with nature.
The cemetery, located at 1079 Ridge Road in Highland Park, is tucked between Mooney Park and St. Mary’s Cemetery on Ridge Road, just north of Deerfield Road.
According to historical accounts compiled by Moraine Township in 2010, early settler James Mooney first built a log church in 1846 on Green Bay Road and added a cemetery to its grounds. Those graves later needed to be moved as the area developed. In 1899, Mooney’s son John took his family’s remains to his land on Ridge Road. He also allowed other families to relocate to his private cemetery.
In 1908, John Mooney transferred a portion of the property to the Catholic Church for St. Mary’s Cemetery and reserved a piece for the private cemetery. In 1960, an elderly family member, Cecilia Mooney, deeded the cemetery to the care of Deerfield Township, now known as Moraine Township.
Problems with incomplete and inaccurate records have been highlighted in Highland Park News accounts as early as 1951, according to the township.
In January of 2010, the Highland Park News reported that resident Bonnie Ferrara had to bury her father’s remains for a second time after it was belatedly discovered that his grave already was occupied — and had been since 1967. Ferrara first buried her father’s ashes in June, 2009 in the grave next to his son.
Then-Supervisor Mari Barnes explained the cemetery’s records were mostly on typed, undated index cards and sometimes overwritten with undated notations, or contradicted by other, undated index cards.
The incident prompted the township to ask residents with deeds to come forward.
Soon after, the township hired Tim Horsley, an archeological geophysicist, to map the locations of the graves and vaults. With that report in hand, the township has been cataloguing records in a software database to reduce the chance of a mistaken burial.
Still, no one can say with 100 percent certainty that all grave locations are known.
“Between Mrs. Mooney keeping a ledger and Moraine Township keeping index cards, occasionally someone walks in with a deed we may not have known existed,” said Anne Flanigan Bassi, current supervisor of Moraine Township.
Flanigan Bassi said the landscaping improvements and rain garden project demonstrate the township’s commitment to showing respect and care to those buried at Mooney Cemetery.