February 14, 2013 Beecher Herald
Century-old Beecher Mausoleum could be placed on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places this year
by Karen Haave
THE BEECHER MAUSOLEUM has been listed as a Will County Historic Landmark and could soon boast a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, if Sandra Lee Thielman and the mausoleum association have their way.
The century-old Beecher Mausoleum could find its way to placement on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places some time this year.
Already listed as an Historic Will County Landmark, the handsome burial building’s association board members now are pursuing the hard-to-get national designation that will help bring wider recognition, as well as a tax incentive.
Beecher Mausoleum Guardian Angel Association President Sandra Lee Thielman met last week with historic preservation consultant Kurt West Wagner, to inspect the building and to begin the complicated application for national designation.
“Kurt is completing our final application to the National Register,” Thielman explained.
“The application is a little tricky and has to be prepared well. I have already submitted a preliminary application to the State of Illinois. All applications must go through their states first and be approved for submission to the National Register. The State of Illinois has given us approval to submit the final application. Once the final application is submitted to the state, we have to make it through a technical review, then the application is blessed by the state and sent to the National Register.
“It could take just two or three months, or I have heard as long as six- to-eight months, depending on the state’s backlog.
“I have spoken to our state rep about our application and she does not believe there will be any problems.
“So I’m pretty confident we’ll be on the National Register this year.
“What the National Register means to the Beecher Mausoleum is mostly prestige,” Thielman conceded.
“It will bring awareness to the building through the National Park Service. It will also provide what is called a tax incentive to any person or company that preforms work on the building, which is desperately needed.
“The Beecher Mausoleum is already a Will County Landmark, and I have submitted another application to the State of Illinois to be listed on the Ten Most Endangered Landmarks list. This listing will bring awareness through advertising from the State of Illinois.”
Thielman’s enthusiasm for preservation of the mausoleum–built in 1913 at the behest of her ancestors–is evident as she speaks of its past and the efforts to keep it standing.
“Just a little more history,” she said.
“There are over 400 of these historic mausoleum buildings all across our country. Many are in the same position as Beecher. The history tells us that at the turn of the century, the idea of above-ground burial became popular and a mausoleum construction company in Ohio sent salesmen out all across our country to sell the communities on the idea. Many communities just like Beecher embraced the idea and put the gears in motion to build such a building for themselves. They hired an architect, like Cecil Bryan, or Sidney Lovell. They are only two examples of architects who designed these building.
“I have identified 50 historic mausoleums in the State of Illinois alone,” she continued.
“Once an architect was found, a plan settled on and its cost to build the mausoleums (determined), the community would pre-sell the crypt spaces in order to raise the construction cost funds. They would locate a piece of land, mostly inside of community cemeteries, buy the needed land and built the buildings.
“St. Luke’s cemetery was not always St. Luke’s. It was originally the community cemetery and (around) 1902 or 1905, the community asked St. Luke’s to take it over. St. Luke’s is a village church, as it does not have property next to the church for its own cemetery. St. Luke’s took over the cemetery. I’m not sure if it was St. Luke’s who sold the land the mausoleum stands on or not. I haven’t tracked down the original land transaction yet! I do know William Selk (he and his wife are interred in the mausoleum), donated the property that is now Cemetery Drive (the driveway off of Route 1 that leads to St. Luke’s cemetery and the mausoleum).
“The problems these buildings face is the same story over and over again,” Thielman pointed out.
“After the buildings were built, a board was elected to manage the buildings, but in many cases, after the original board members died, many boards did not continue. The funds ran out from general maintenance, vandalism or from the depression or bad investments, etc.
“Many mausoleums were embraced by their communities and cared for, many were absorbed into the village, city or townships and had continued care and were maintained.
“Many, many others were ignored, with the local community saying they were privately owned and it was not their problem, and left to decay from lack of maintenance.
“There are many that have already been demolished. The cost of demolishing these buildings can be extremely expensive. You have to move all the bodies, buy new burial plots for them and the concrete surround that is put in the ground where the caskets are placed.
“With the new Illinois Law brought on by the Burr Oak Cemetery scandal (last year), it is now required that you locate and get the permission of family before anyone can be disinterred and moved. This now adds to the cost. You have to do the genealogy of all the people (and) locate family, if any exists. Many families have simply died out and families will never be found. So many communities are left fighting in the courts trying to get approval to raze these buildings that are in deplorable condition.
“The absolute biggest problem the Beecher Mausoleum and most all mausoleums that are not currently embraced by their communities (is that) those communities that have done the right thing and stepped up to the plate and are taking care of their ancestors, is the lack of funding. There are no grants of any kind for ‘brick and mortar grants’ to repair or maintain these buildings, not at the local, county level, not at the state level, nor at the federal level. There are just simply no funds anywhere, not for mausoleums in need, nor for cemeteries that have been vandalized–like what just happened to the church cemetery in Monee this past year (when dozens of grave markers and headstones were seriously damaged).
“There are townships in our state that have done the right thing and they have elected to add a small tax to the property tax bills in order to collect funds for cemetery care within their township.
“In Wauconda, Illinois the average tax bill for cemetery care is $3, a small amount, but in a few short years, they were able to collect enough funds to hire professional companies to repair or reset broken headstones in their abandoned cemeteries.
“I would like to see our county change and remember those who have come before us and do the right thing by taking care of their grave sites,” Thielman added.
“How we get there from here, I currently don’t know. I do have a few ideas and I know I have a long hard fight in front of me. I am currently in the process of joining forces with other regional Historic Preservationists and we are going to try and find a way to help those in need or to change some laws.”
Some 200 people have been entombed in the Beecher Mausoleum, constructed of fine Bedford stone, with white interior walls and priceless stained glass windows created by Louis Comfort Tiffany.The mausoleum was seriously vandalized in 1937, and the windows were destroyed. The Mausoleum Association will pay $100 for photos or images of the building showing the windows before they were damaged.
The Beecher Mausoleum Guardian Angel Association was formed in 1996 for the purpose of caring for and restoring the Beecher Mausoleum. In 1998, a not-for-profit organization status was granted by the state. In 1999, Will County Historic Preservation Commission approved Will County Landmark status.
Its mission and goals are “to preserve, protect and restore wherever possible the beauty, elegance, durability, strength and sacredness of purpose, as was stated in the Beecher Herald, October 25, 1912, to the mausoleum (and) to return the mausoleum to a useful structure and to once again serve the community it was original built for.
“To preserve the peaceful, sacred setting for all visitors who come to pay respects.
Solicitation of donations. To create a web-site to inform and educate the public and inform the families and descendants of those interred in the mausoleum of our continuing efforts and to give them an opportunity to connect with their history.”
The objectives of the Beecher Mausoleum Assoc. include, but are not limited to, the following: Preservation, beautification and enhancement of the mausoleum. Creating a long-range plan for the mausoleum. To re-form the board of directors, according to the State of Illinois laws, and to return the mausoleum to an operating condition so that it may once again serve the community as it was originally intended.”
Current association board members are: Sandra Lee Thielman, president; Bob Howard, Washington Township supervisor; Paul Lohmann, Village of Beecher president; John Dean, Hack Funeral Home; Lance Saller, Bahlman Oil; and Donald Bahlman, architect.
More information about the Beecher Mausoleum and the Guardian Angels Association can be found on Facebook, or contact Sandra Lee Thielman at: Sandra@beechermausoleum.org; Beecher Mausoleum Association, Guardian Angel Restoration Project, a Will County Historic Landmark, a 501c3 Not-for-Profit Organization; (815) 788-9710 or (815) 728-8318;
mailing address: 7416 Algonquin Road, Wonder Lake, IL 60097.
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