Stanley: No place to hang out on Halloween
BY BRIAN STANLEY Life of Brianemail@example.com October 26, 2013 8:50PM
At this cemetery at Stateville Correctional Center, 177 prisoners were buried before it was closed in 1974. | Brian Stanley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 28, 2013 6:44AM
Get the neighborhood bashing out of your system and think about this for a minute.
What’s the scariest place in Will County? Where would you most not want to be on Halloween night?
The Rialto Theatre in Joliet offers regular tours to see its ghosts. The Scutt Mansion resembles Norman Bates’ house when seen from Bicentennial Park. And the spirit of Molly Zelko probably still is looking for the shoes she kicked off on Buell Avenue when she disappeared in 1957.
My vote goes to the resting place of the dead whom you wouldn’t want to have spent time with when they were alive.
A place you wouldn’t want to be in for any reason. A place where body parts remain from some of the evil dead because an arm or a leg was removed while they still were alive ... the cemetery of Stateville Correctional Center.
From 1936 to 1974, any prisoners who died and their bodies weren’t claimed by their next-of-kin were buried at the far south end of the prison property, just across Caton Farm Road from St. Mary’s Cemetery.
Before 1936, they were buried in the “old cemetery” farther back on the property, but the warden thought having a resting place closer to the road would be easier for any family that did visit.
Gravestones for the not-so-dearly departed were made by colleagues at the Joliet Correctional Center down the road. The standard marker listed the prisoner’s name, number and dates of birth and death.
“They’re all buried in a row, so who you spend eternity next to depends on when you die,” said Duke Cartwright, who worked as a guard at both prisons from the 1960s to the 1990s.
There are 176 men buried in the two cemeteries and one woman — Arvira Williams was 24 when she died from tuberculosis at the women’s prison in 1930.
Retired Stateville warden Ernie Morris remembers the time when he walked through each row of the cemetery, armed with a tear-gas grenade gun, while searching for a prisoner who had hidden inside a desk made in the prison’s furniture shop and rode out in a truck.
But Morris, whom infamous killer Richard Speck nicknamed “the godfather,” said the cemetery didn’t get many visitors. The funeral party typically was a pastor, a prison official and three inmates with picks and shovels.
One day in 1968, a prisoner named Charles Smith was working the burial detail, despite saying he was afraid of ghosts, and became more agitated as darkness fell.
“The other two (prisoners) were razzing him pretty good, and the correctional officer either didn’t care or was getting on him, too,” Cartwright said.
Morris said that when Smith got back to his bunk at the prison farm, he found a straight razor and went looking for the guys who had frightened him. He ended up slashing and biting two guards and one inmate before Cartwright and others were able to restrain him.
“I’ll kill all you SOBs before I let you take me back into the cemetery,” Smith said, according to Cartwright.
While Smith’s attack could’ve sent someone else to the graveyard, other forms of cutting sometimes were done at the prison to keep a prisoner from dying.
“The prison had two operating rooms where they did their own surgeries,” Cartwright recalled. “When they took off a limb, they buried it in the cemetery. There’s three or four gravestones that say ‘arm’ or ‘leg.’ ”
There’s no surgery at Stateville anymore, and unclaimed prisoners have been cremated for the last 40 years.
But the ghosts are still there.