MILLSTADT, Ill. — It was a late Friday afternoon when a team of men approached a tiny pink casket. One man wiped his forehead. One of them stepped away to light a cigarette. Then, with calloused hands, they gently lowered the child’s body into the ground.
Sunset Gardens of Memory groundskeepers had dug the small burial site on a hill at the cemetery’s special section. This was in an area of the cemetery located in southern Illinois just across from St. Louis. It was for a 3-year old girl who was hit by a bullet.
“It can be stressful sometimes,” Jasper Belt, 26, said. “We have to use little shovels.”
Johnnie Haire, along with other groundskeepers, built a garden for children more than 30 years ago. It was located in a separate area from the unlabeled areas of the 30-acre cemetery, where they used to bury infants. They bought angel figurines and a birdbath. Each one was carefully painted a different shade of brown. Haire wanted the angels black, just like the rest of the children who were laid to rest here.
“This is ‘Baby Land,’” said Haire, 67, Sunset Gardens’ grounds supervisor, as he gestured across the area. “This is where a lot of babies are buried.”
These cemeteries have been honoring those who are too young for a long time. Such special burial sites…