Tuesday, August 20, 2013

DeKalb County Cemetery, 1881

Hidden among sprawling shopping centers on Sycamore Road in DeKalb is the DeKalb County Cemetery, a former poorhouse cemetery or "Potter's Field" for the burial of indigent or otherwise unknown people, often transients who were wandering through the county and died. If I hadn't been walking by to explore a nearby trail in a forest preserve, I wouldn't know of its existence. There are many markers with names and dates, and many without. The proximity of this tiny, graceful cemetery and its unremarked-upon history to honking traffic, endless parking lots, and the likes of Michael's Arts and Crafts, Pier One, and Qdoba is striking, to say the least.











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Here's a small article about this cemetery at a site devoted to the history of Poorhouses, "tax-supported residential institutions to which people were required to go if they could not support themselves."

They were started as a method of providing a less expensive (to the taxpayers) alternative to what we would now days call "welfare" - what was called "outdoor relief" in those days. People requested help from the community Overseer of the Poor ( sometimes also called a Poor Master) - an elected town official. If the need was great or likely to be long-term, they were sent to the poorhouse instead of being given relief while they continued to live independently. Sometimes they were sent there even if they had not requested help from the Overseer of the Poor. That was usually done when they were found guilty of begging in public, etc.

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