Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Touring: Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery

The Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery is a small part of the redevelopment of the old Joliet Arsenal.  In 1940, 450 farms totaling 40,000 acres were taken over by the Federal government to create the Arsenal.  It produced raw TNT, and all kinds of bullets, shells, and bombs during World War Two.  It remained in operation (off and on) into the late 1970s.  After that, until the early years of this century,  the Arsenal was an abandoned EPA "brownfield site."  Although pollution clean-up was not, in itself, a major undertaking, the "attractive nuisance" aspect (bunkers and deteriorating roads) and the sheer size of the place stalled various redevelopment proposals.  Eventually the Federal government bit the bullet (ahem) and did a joint redevelopment project with State and local governments, and private interests, at very low cost to the non-Federal entities.

About 10% of the Arsenal became two industrial parks, one of which is a huge BNSF intermodal freight facility. About 85% of the site is the Midewin Tall Grass Prairie, which is a Federal Park.  It features grasses and plants that were indigenous to the Great Plains before they were farmed.  Trees and invasive species are being cleared out, biking and hiking trails are going in, and storage bunkers and crumbled pavement are being removed.  The remaining 5% of the site is the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.

My neighbor and friend, a Korean War Era veteran, and I visited the Cemetery recently because we hadn't seen it since it was under construction.  The contractors are mostly finished, and the Cemetery is a going concern.  I've never visited Arlington, and do not consider myself especially patriotic or sentimental.  But I found Abraham Lincoln dignified and moving.  It reminds me of the American Cemetery at Colleville, France (the "D-Day Cemetery").

The Entrance Gate, off U.S. Route 53, about 6 miles south of Joliet, IL.

The "Welcome Gate" landscape feature.  The stone used in the Cemetery is indigenous limestone and sandstone, and
 many of the plantings are indigenous species, mirroring the efforts at Midewin Tall Grass Prairie.

The Visitors' and Information Center.  Power lines run along the northern border of the site.  But they are not intrusive.
You tend to forget about them.  If that fails, face south and ignore them.

The "central landscape feature" (all roads meet here) with the emblems of the various service branches
attached to a chest-high semi-circular sandstone wall.

This is one of several large plots that are filling up rapidly, but there's plenty of room left.  My neighbor said he'd read
that there are "up to 10" burials per day at Abraham Lincoln.

A smaller plot with a more intimate setting along a creek bed.

One of several "Committal Pavilions."

A Committal Pavilion surrounded by cremated veterans.

Or ashes can be scattered into a creek bed from a deck adjacent to the Memorial Walk, which has both shade and
benches.  The Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery is park-like and encourages a contemplative stay.

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