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Historic Chicago cemetery reopens in time for Mother’s Day weekend

The historic cemetery was established in 1853 and is the burial site of several notable Chicago public figures, including Mayor Harold Washington. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

Chicago’s historic Oak Woods Cemetery reopened Friday in time for Mother’s Day weekend, one of the busiest times of the year for many cemeteries.

Mourners have been locked out of the historic cemetery on Chicago’s South Side since May 1 due to severe flooding and rainfall.

“We will have staff on site at the cemetery this weekend to answer any questions about accessing different areas of the cemetery and to provide guidance for visitors,” according to a statement from SCI Illinois Services Inc., which owns Oak Woods Cemetery.

The cemetery said it is not aware of any damage to graves or markers. Some damage to pipes and roads was discovered this week.

The company is assessing damage to the cemetery’s 166-year-old infrastructure but felt it was safe enough to open the grounds, a spokeswoman said.

Several famous Chicagoans are buried at the cemetery, including Mayor Harold Washington and Olympic Games gold medalist Jesse Owens.

The cemetery also includes a controversial Confederate Mound monument, commemorating the deaths of thousands of Confederate soldiers who were imprisoned at Camp Douglas.

Community organizers and activists have called for the mound to be removed as a racist symbol.

The cemetery grounds, 1035 E. 67th St., stretch across 184 acres and were established in 1854, according to the cemetery’s website.

During the closure, the cemetery, upon request, would allow burial ceremonies to be performed and visitors to access grave sites in areas that weren’t underwater, the spokeswoman said.

“Our top concern is the safety of visitors to the park and our staff,” said the company.

Officials from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation toured the cemetery grounds multiple times this month and spoke with cemetery management regarding the ground’s closure.

Agency personnel are expected to return to the cemetery in “near future” and will continue to “monitor the situation”, according to a department spokesperson.