'Cemetery crawl' pursues history
BEMENT — For Angie Johnson, a cemetery is much more than a place to bury the dead. It's a treasure trove of information where history can be found and unique stories told.
That's why she spends most weekends traveling to cemeteries to photograph, restore and find some of that lost history. Over the past 10 years, her journeys have taken her to more than 1,400 cemeteries. By the end of June, that passion will have taken her to every county in Illinois.
"It's never the same. I always consider it like a scavenger hunt, because every time you get to one you don't know what you're going to get, you don't know what you're going to find or what interesting things will be there," said Johnson, a Bement resident. "There's just so many neat things about them. There's so much history."
For example, her research found that the nation's first black pastor was buried in Quincy, and that there are two Abraham Lincolns buried in the state — the president in Springfield and his first cousin in Hancock County.
Those who want to share in those historical pursuits can join Johnson in her second annual Cemetery Crawl, which will be held June 7-8 throughout central Illinois. After last year's tour of southern Illinois, this year's free crawl will take participants through Edgar, Clark, Coles, Cumberland, Effingham, Moultrie, Shelby and Christian counties.
Besides trips to cemeteries, the event will include visits to historic sites such as the Lincoln Log Cabin.
The idea of a cemetery crawl came from Johnson's day job at a T-shirt maker near the University of Illinois campus.
"I got the idea from the bar crawl. I thought, 'Why don't we do a cemetery crawl? But with no alcohol,'" she said.
Johnson started taking photos at Illinois cemeteries a decade ago as part of a project that enables people to go online to see conditions of cemeteries, grave markers and monuments prior to traveling to them. Those photos, which include 44 Piatt County cemeteries, are posted on her website, walkamongthedeadgirl.com.
She is also licensed to restore cemeteries, something she did at Peck Cemetery near Cerro Gordo, and she plans to restore eight others this summer.
"The old cemeteries are just falling apart," Johnson said. "The ground is just taking them."
Join the fun
— Those wanting to go on the June 7-8 Central Illinois Cemetery Crawl can email Angie Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Crawls are free, with participants being responsible for meals and lodging.
— Carpooling is encouraged.
Steve Hoffman is editor of the Piatt County Journal-Republican, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit journal-republican.com.