Woodlawn Cemetery

Woodlawn's First Memorial Service

The first memorial service in Illinois, one of the first in the nation to honor those who had died in the Civil War, took place at Woodlawn Cemetery on April 29, 1866. On the previous Sunday, three returning veterans of the Civil War were waiting for church services to begin at the Crab Orchard Christian Church, located southwest of Carbondale. They saw a young woman with two infants approach a small, unmarked grave in the churchyard cemetery, place flowers on it, and kneel in prayer next to it. The veterans then collected wildflowers from fields around the church and put them on the graves of all the dead soldiers in the cemetery.

It occurred to them that the graves of the war dead in Carbondale's Woodlawn Cemetery should also be decorated with flowers, so they arranged with community leaders to have a parade of veterans and a memorial service on the following Sunday, April 29, 1866. When the day of remembrance came, more than 200 veterans gathered at the old "Blue Church" on what is now East Jackson Street. Methodist Minister J.W. Lane stood on the steps to greet them. The Marshall of the Day, Colonel E. J. Ingersoll, and the speaker, General John A. Logan of the Union Army, led a procession to Woodlawn Cemetery.

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Silence fell when the parade came into view of the crowd assembled at the Cemetery. Reverend Lane led the assemblage in prayer. General Logan spoke to his neighbors, saying, among other things, “Every man’s life belongs to his country, and no man has a right to refuse when his country calls for it.” These words and other notes of the day were recorded in a book owned by James Green, sexton of Woodlawn Cemetery and Logan’s first cousin.

Memorial Day

Following the Civil War, General Logan became commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. Impressed by the memorial observance at Woodlawn Cemetery, he signed General Order No. 11, setting May 30, 1868, as Memorial Day. Logan hoped the observance would be “kept up from year to year.” By 1888, Memorial Day became a legal holiday in twelve northern states. Later, it became a legal holiday throughout the country. Woodlawn Cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 19, 1985, and was designated a Carbondale Historic Landmark on March 8, 1994.

Mystery of the Sarcophagus

One of the most intriguing objects in Woodlawn Cemetery is the stone coffin, or the sarcophagus, which sits above ground near the center. According to an article by Frank Weller, published in 1950 in the Southern Illinoisian, a headstone next to the sarcophagus reads, “JW Landrum, Died July 4, 187.., Aged 47 years.” There are a couple of different versions of who is buried there.

The first story is that a young woman from Vicksburg, Mississippi, the wife of JW Landrum, was buried in the above-ground coffin. She was placed there because she did not want to be buried in Yankee soil. Her husband was a Carbondale native and was said to have sprinkled soil from Vicksburg inside her coffin before the lid was closed. The second story is that Lt. Colonel John Mills of the Union Army was supposedly buried there. His family found out that a Confederate soldier was to be buried at Woodlawn, and they had his body removed so that the two soldiers would not occupy the same land.

Carbondale & the Civil War

Although no great Civil War battles were ever fought in Carbondale, the town was pivotal in determining if the southern part of the state would ultimately align itself with the Union or Confederate Army. When the Civil War began, Carbondale was not immune to the pro-Southern sentiment that erupted in Egypt - The tip of Illinois settled by Southerners whose origins were reflected in staunch Democratic loyalties and Negrophobic sentiments. The region’s most prominent political leader, John A. Logan, wavered between support of North and South.

Anti-Negro feelings had grown in Illinois in the 1840s. The law of most significant interest to southern Illinois in 1848 was the Negro exclusion bill, supported by John A. Logan. This bill moved to end Negro immigration into the state. When the vote was tallied, the bill passed 45 to 23. The Senate passed the bill by a four-vote majority. In the 1850s, northern Illinois abolitionists began to demand increased rights for Negroes. Until 1853, the Negro exclusion law was largely ignored but remained in effect until 1863, when it was repealed two years into the Civil War. By April of 1862, Logan moved from a bitter abolition foe to an open advocacy of freedom for the enslaved people.

Memorial to the Freed Slaves

There are several commemorative monuments in Woodlawn Cemetery, including one in the southeast corner to honor the memory of 30 formerly enslaved people buried in an unmarked area of the Cemetery. Their names are unknown. They died of smallpox in 1864, soon after coming from the South to Carbondale. The monument was dedicated at a Memorial Day service in 1983.