Chicago O'Hare to Build Runway on Cemetery Land

The City of Chicago has made a decision to relocate around 1,200 graves to make room for a future runway at O'Hare International Airport. The project, which is part of a multi-billion makeover of the airport, will begin in a few weeks.

The Chicago Tribune reported on February 8th that the city will pay St. John's United Church of Christ $630,000 for a 5.3 acre piece of land situated between two segments of a new runway already under construction.

DuPage County Judge Hollis Webster transferred possession of the 161-year-old cemetery from the church to the city. According to the Tribune "[t]he acquisition was considered one of the last major impediments of the $15 billion O'Hare Modernization Project."

According to testimony, the cemetery opened in 1849 and has averaged around one burial per year for the past 20 years.

Still, the church has long argued against the city's plan, maintaining that the relocation of the graves violates their religious beliefs. Judge Webster ordered that no graves be relocated for at least 20 days incase church attorneys choose to file an appeal.

As of right now, the graves are scheduled to be moved by spring 2011 to allow for the O'Hare runway opening in June 2013. City officials said they would pay relocation costs and work with next of kin to have graves moved to the family's cemetery of choice, within reason.

"We realize relocation is a very sensitive matter and we will continue to proceed with respect and dignity in dealing with the families of those interred at St. Johannes Cemetery," said Department of Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie S. Andolino.

Surviving family members have already relocated around 15 graves to other cemeteries. For more information concerning the relocation process, the relatives of those interred at St. Johannes Cemetery are asked to contact the Chicago Department of Aviation's Cemetery Relocation and Family Assistance Office at (773) 686-5136.
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