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West Frankfort area, Illinois

West Frankfort area community of Lithuanian miners is unique among such large communities in that it did not establish it sown church, suggesting its heavily leftist leanings.

Still, Lithuanians were keen to lay their dead among co-nationals, so they established at least three Lithuanian cemeteries.

The largest among them is West Frankfort Lithuanian cemetery which is also the best kept one, having its own board. The most impressive sight there are lots of photos of the Lithuanians who are buried there: it seems West Frankfort used to have popular photographers even 100 years ago and most people would put the portraits on their gravestones. Most of the portraits survive well enough to be visible. There is a stone sign near the entrance signifying that its a "Lithuanian cemetery founded in 1914".

Commemorative stone of the West Frankfort Lithuanian cemetery

Commemorative stone of the West Frankfort Lithuanian cemetery

The second largest cemetery is located in Shakerag Rd. near Johnston City. It is called Lithuanian-Masonic Shakerag Cemetery due to a unique arrangement where the same cemetery is shared by Lithuanian miners and non-Lithuanian Freemasons. The Freemason section is a little better kept and some Lithuanian gravestones are destroyed but others remain intact, laden with long Old Lithuanian inscriptions about the life histories of those buried there ("died in a mine explosion" and similar). The cemetery is hard to find as it is separated from the road by private property (which can be walked around, however, although the path is not immediately clear). It should not be mixed with another Masonic cemetery nearby that is easily accessible but has no Lithuanian graves.

Shakerag Masonic-Lithuanian cemetery (view towards the Lithuanian side)

Shakerag Masonic-Lithuanian cemetery (view towards the Lithuanian side)

The third Lithuanian cemetery is located in Ledford near Harrisburg. This Ledford Lithuanian cemetery (also called "Old Catholic Cemetery") barely looks like a cemetery at all: it is just a little-trodden path into the woods and in those woods, you can see numerous overgrown and, in many cases, vandalized Lithuanian graves dating to ~1910s. It takes time to even see most of them (but Harrisburg library has a book about everyone buried in the town if there were newspaper obituaries). The cemetery is long since unused and not mentioned in any sources. There are snakes and ticks in the area.

Ledford Lithuanian cemetery, overgrown with forest

Ledford Lithuanian cemetery, overgrown with forest

Vandalised grave at the Ledford Lithuanian cemetery

Vandalised grave at the Ledford Lithuanian cemetery

In fact, most of the locals at West Frankfort "Destination Lithuanian America" team has met did not know the Ledford cemetery location at all, and none of them knew the Shakerag cemetery. This makes it possible that there are far more such abandoned Lithuanian cemeteries in the area.

Currently, the Lithuanian life of West Frankfort has largely dissipated. As Lithuanians faced discrimination in the beginning due to their unwillingness to join the union strikes, many Lithuanian families did not pass on their language and customs. In the 2018, the only people who "Destination Lithuanian America" expedition discovered as speaking more Lithuanian than a couple of words were in their 90s. West Frankfort (and possibly other of the area's towns) had a Lithuanian Hall where the Lithuanian festivals, singing and dancing used to take place (closed ~1983 as the immigrant generation passed away), however the meager wooden building, now used as storehouse, does not have anything to distinguish its Lithuanian history.

Lithuanian Home of West Frankfort

Lithuanian Home of West Frankfort (now closed)

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