Forest Preserve crews in suburban Oak Forest have run into a problem – some of the land the county bought to expand the forest preserve district overlaps with the old potter’s field (cemetery for unclaimed bodies), which was in use mainly from 1912-1940, when the county had stopped using Dunning as the main Potter’s field and started using Oak Forest, southwest of Midlothian. The last burial took place there in 1971, far later than some of the news stories are implying. It stands around 159th and Cicero on the grid. It was formally known as Cook County Cemetery late in its era; the county stopped using the term “potter’s field” in the 1950s.
Space there ran out in the early 70s, after which grounds in Archer Woods became the Potter’s Field for a while. Prior to Dunning in the 1870s, the Potter’s Field had been about where the Lincoln Park baseball fields are now. Bodies were buried in simply pine coffins with numbers stenciled on them so they could be removed if the family wanted them put in another cemetery, at least within the first ten years or so. After that, they would have deteriorated enough to be hard to identify.
As of a 1929 Tribune article, it was estimated that about 16,000 graves were at Oak Forest, with another 4-6 being added every day, on average (though shipments came from the morgue every other week). Most were in the “main field” at the time, though several hundred each were in the Catholic and Lutheran sections, which were maintained by members of those faiths. When bodies were not identified in the morgue (but not dead of anything contagious), they would be held for about 15 days. Coroner’s staff was said to take exhaustive notes about distinguishing marks and descriptions of bodies that could not be identified and kept in the vault at the coroner’s office, and well into the late 20th century it was said that very good records existed. Whether they’re still available is probably anyone’s guess; the info in the articles above makes it sound like they can’t be found. A 1984 Trib article said that the names of the buried were in nine oversized books at the Oak Forest Hospital’s office of public information. At the time, it was said that families were still having bodies disinterred to be reburied elsewhere once or twice per year.
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