For the past two and a half years I have been walking the grounds of Oak Hill Cemetery in Hammond, Indiana, researching its history through the internet and public records.
I’ve found nothing new on the subject of Oak Hill Cemetery; nothing worth digging deeper into.
Since my interest in the historic cemetery, Oak Hill Cemetery has seen its share of misfortunes. From trash blowing around the headstones, to fallen limbs atop huge memorial grave markers; it seems nobody is maintaining the grounds. Everything started falling apart for Oak Hill Cemetery’s owner and grounds crew when there was a complaint that there was a pile of headstones and grave markers in the corner of the graveyard right next to a trash bin towards the end of the 20th century.
Just recently, a skull was discovered but the Hammond police report that there was no foul play involved and that they presume it was most likely caused by the former grounds crew when they accidentally unearthed and broke through a casket and exposing its contents. This was most likely caused by an inexperienced grounds crew while removing headstones and other grave markers for some mysterious reason. That incident and why it occurred is still under investigation.
The east end of the cemetery runs along Blaine Avenue which is separated from Oak Hill Cemetery by a set of railroad tracks that are no longer in use. Blaine Avenue runs north/south and the cemetery is on the east side of the street. On the west side of Blaine Avenue are homes that face the cemetery.
“They dug up that poor soldier boy from WWII and those other poor souls and now somebody is going to have to make it right… Oak Hill has a way of making things right… she can take care of herself.”
*Hammond Resident of 40+ years, anonymous
When our brief conversation ended I didn’t know if she was talking about the cemetery or its owner, Teresa Roark. When the elderly lady stated that “Oak Hill Cemetery has a way of making things right; she can take care of herself”, I was confused and lost for words when I heard her say this. Her eyes were fixed on the cemetery behind me when she was explaining things to me – like she was talking about an old, hurt friend.
A Reminiscing Story
She told me that she lived in this house for a long time; grew up in the neighborhood. She lived on Monroe Avenue, right off Cleveland Street when she was younger. She remembered when the railroad tracks that ran between Blaine Avenue and Oak Hill Cemetery were used more frequently, almost on a daily basis, and one day something happened to her when she was walking down Cleveland Street. She was on her way to Lyman Avenue to visit a friend when trains using those tracks made her stand and wait until it ended. Lyman Avenue began off of 165th Street and was just on the other side of these particular railroad tracks.
While she stood waiting, she noticed some girl standing in the cemetery through the spaces of the railroad cars. She couldn’t have been any older than 13-14 years old so she decided to walk closer to the moving train to see if she could get a better look at the girl through the open spaces, but the only thing she could make out was her long brown hair and her plain white gown.
She kept looking towards the end the train to see when the end of the train would come. It was still a good 12 or 15 train cars away, and at the speed of this particular train was going no faster than 5 mph, it’ll be another minute or two before she’ll be able to get a good look.
This wasn’t the first time she seen a train on these tracks before, so it was normal for her to walk all the way up to a moving train; to the point where she could touch them– but being extremely careful, of course. At the last couple of spaces where she could see this girl standing in the cemetery, she was at least a good 30-40’ away from the inside of the cemetery’s fence, just enough where she couldn’t make out any details about her face.
It struck her kind of strange, towards the last couple of spaces through the moving train – where the girls could see each other and how this other girl in the cemetery hadn’t move since this all began. When the second to last space of the train cars came she was as close to a moving train as you could get. The second to the last space came and went and now one more train car to go; one more space.
This is when a cold chill went down my back.
When the last space finally came and enabled her to see the girl in the cemetery before the end of the train – it took her by surprise. The girl in the cemetery was now exactly on the other side of the train! She wasn’t in the cemetery anymore!
“She was 6 ft away from me…she was wearing a pinkish sweater over her plain white gown now…her face was rotted…teeth were exposed…her eyes were large…her hair was still long and brown…”
The woman said she started to run but when she looked back, the girl was no longer there. She didn’t care though and continued running all the way home.
I came back a few days later to ask some follow-up questions, but she told the person who answered the door to tell me that she was done talking about Oak Hill Cemetery and the door was quickly shut.
I walked over to the tracks and looked south and saw how the tracks crossed 165th Street and followed all along Lyman Avenue until 173rd Street. I then looked north and followed the tracks to as far as I could see; the tracks just seem to disappear into the scenery.
I looked back at the cemetery and deep into its beautiful natural landscape. Even though the cemetery hasn’t been properly maintained for so long, the wider beauty it possess is “soul elevating”.
Oak Hill Cemetery is located at the city’s highest elevated point and there is no point higher within the city limits.
Word of Advice
We the residents of Hammond, Indiana have a civil duty to care and maintain of our beloved historical cemetery, Oak Hill Cemetery. There is NO REASON that this cemetery is on the brink of becoming ruins. The founding fathers of Hammond, Indiana are buried there, such as Marcus Towle (one of the first mayors of Hammond) who has a street named after him that’s located in north side of Hammond. Once these problems have been resolved, peace should once again fall over Oak Hill Cemetery and its surrounding residents.
It’s a terrible shame that a historical cemetery such as Oak Hill Cemetery has seen such a terrible disregard. Volunteers from all over the region are making an effort to have Oak Hill regain its respect and its natural beauty.