Mystery tombstones came from state hospital

Sunday, October 29, 2006

By STEPHEN ELLIOTT

The (Moline) Dispatch & The Rock Island Argus

EAST MOLINE, Ill. -- A plastic bouquet of flowers marks a flat stone surrounded by grass in Resthaven Cemetery.

The stone has the number 18 engraved on it along with the name "John Doe" and "1930."

Someone didn't forget John Doe.

A soft summer rain caresses the quiet cemetery grounds, surrounded by pine trees and a white wooden fence. The sign out front says "No Trespassing -- State Property."

Joline Bennett of LeClaire knows this cemetery well.

She also knows the mystery behind hundreds of tombstones buried about a mile west in the back yard of an East Moline home. Bennett grew up in that home, where tombstones now make a backyard patio and surround parts of the home's foundation.

Bennett said they came from Resthaven Cemetery in the late 1950s. Both she and her brother, Harry Turrell, remember when they were made available to the public.

"When my parents purchased the home in the early 1950s, that was when this was the state mental hospital and the state farm was here," Turrell said. "My dad and I actually got the tombstones."

His sister said an employee of the mental hospital made the tombstones available to anyone.

"I'm old enough to remember the stones being put in the car and the trunk sagging," Bennett said. "They were replaced by headstones that were put into the ground for easier maintenance."

East Moline Correctional Center Warden Gene Jungwirth said records are limited at the prison, which replaced the mental hospital in 1980. He said the Illinois Department of Corrections maintains Resthaven Cemetery.

The hundreds of tombstones that were made available to the public in the late 1950s are probably part of other backyards and patios in the Quad Cities. The replacement stones at the cemetery are flat and simple -- a name, date of birth, date of death, and a number indicating where it stands in the row.

Local historian Judy Belan said the graves also signify another aspect of people who lived at the mental hospital.

"Many of those [residents] who were put up there that were perhaps not really mentally ill," Belan said. "They were alcoholics or even just had some kind of mild developmental problem we would treat today. You could go there if you were eccentric. One could go before a judge and have a spouse committed."

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