DIGGING DEEPER: Bringing grace back to Graceland Cemetery

Updated: Aug. 11, 2022 at 10:00 PM CDT
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QUINCY (WGEM) - In 2019, we introduced you to Quincy’s Graceland Cemetery. It was overgrown and unkept, and the owners told us then that it was no longer operating as a cemetery.

Three years later, we’re following up, talking to neighbors, reaching out to the owner and seeing if there have been any changes.

Since May, in a three-month investigation that has taken some different turns, WGEM News identified concerned neighbors and one man who is trying to bring some grace back to Graceland.

For the hundreds of drivers who pass Graceland every day, most probably don’t even give it a second look.

Just a few steps off Maine Street, behind a lawn that can sometimes resemble a pasture, there are thousands of graves.

Nearly 200 years of history lay in Graceland. Some graves are grown over. Some headstones are seemingly tossed aside.

Mike Witt lives in a neighborhood bordering Graceland. He and others have concerns, and they’d like to help.

“I wish someone could take control of it and clean it up,” Witt said.

Witt’s pleasant, well-kept street seems a world away from the neglected cemetery, but in reality, it’s just a few yards.

When asked if he would bury a loved one in Graceland today, Witt said, “No, you wouldn’t be able to find them in years to come.”

But the reality is that others do have loved ones buried here.

Some graves are nearly unrecognizable and grown over. Headstones have sunk into the ground.

A familiar name

It’s hard to tell how many might be covered with grass or debris; the only plot records burned years ago when the cemetery office caught fire.

However, there is one grave, decorated with teddy bears and toys, that will catch your eye as you enter Graceland. If you’ve been around Quincy long enough, you’ll recognize Alan Madden’s name on the tombstone.

“Alan went to the same school I did, which was Washington School,” Chris Prewitt said.

Alan was murdered by his mother and her boyfriend in 1981.

His sisters grew up out of state, and Alan didn’t have family here. Over the years, Chris Prewitt has become caretaker of the grave.

“We started doing this about 15 years ago,” Prewitt said. “I try to come out on every major holiday such as Christmas, his birthday and the anniversary of his death”

But taking care of one grave, led to other thoughts, and an apparent need was all around. Graceland had fallen on hard times.

Prewitt said there are others who help out with Alan’s grave, too.

The same owner

Prewitt said he doesn’t get out here as much as he once did, and he believes the cemetery’s owner is doing what he can. Prewitt said he knows the owner really well.

WGEM News reached out to the owner and even went to his house. Property records show David Eversden still owns Graceland, just as he did in 2019.

Back then, Eversden told WGEM News he was no longer selling plots, and it wasn’t operating as a cemetery.

However, there have been burials and headstones set since 2019.

Quincy Planning and Development Director Chuck Bevelheimer said the city has done its due diligence, and they have years of documentation asking the state to get involved.

“We have contacted the Illinois Oversight Board for Cemeteries and complained to them multiple times,” Bevelheimer said. “Now I would say they have taken better care of getting it mowed in recent time. Unfortunately, it is not being maintained like most would expect a cemetery to be, trimmed and the brush cut back.”

Bevelheimer said he wishes the state board was more responsive.

“We have not gotten a very good response back from them,” he said. “I can understand if the public is frustrated, but at the same time the city has a public cemetery, Woodland Cemetery, and we really aren’t in the business of maintaining cemeteries.”

If the city took on a property this large, Bevelheimer said it would knock a hole in the nuisance abatement budget, which is primarily used for single-family home properties that are about a quarter of an acre. Graceland is much larger, and he says the city is not equipped to manage it.

‘Still loved and missed’

Neighbors told WGEM News that Eversden’s grandson is now in charge of upkeep at the cemetery.

Prewitt said if more people knew the cemetery is in need, he believes they would be willing to lend a helping hand.

“I think so,” he said. “I think if they really knew he needed a helping hand, it wasn’t that he was neglecting it, it was that he needed the resources to take care of it.”

Prewitt’s hopes he can help find resources to make a difference for the 2,400 souls buried here.

Alan Madden would have celebrated his 47th birthday this week. Prewitt and others organized a clean-up effort for Graceland in Alan’s honor.

“I think he’d be overwhelmed knowing he is still loved and missed,” Prewitt said.

Prewitt said he has had contact with one of Alan’s sisters. He said she and other family members thought about moving Alan to a grave closer to their homes out of state.

However, when she saw how the grave was decorated, Prewitt said she told him that she believes Alan is right at home here in Quincy, where he is supposed to be.

Related: Odd Fellows look to take over Graceland Cemetery

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