QUEBEC-RESEARCH-L ArchivesArchiver > QUEBEC-RESEARCH > 2005-01 > 1106871317
Date: Thu, 27 Jan 2005 19:15:17 EST
MILES MAUSOLEUM: One of the strangest and most eerie landmarks of
southwestern Illinois is an abandoned mausoleum that looks out from the very edge of
Eagle Cliff towards the distant Mississippi. The view from this towering bluff
is a breathtaking one and to stand in the doorway of the crumbling burial
structure, one has to wonder why the dead would choose to give up such a
vantage point for eternity. Although abandoned many years ago, the mausoleum stands
strangely intact about eight miles north of the small town of Valmeyer, at a
place where Stephen W. Miles started a farm and established a grand estate
like no other in the region.
Stephen Miles was one of the most prominent settlers of southwestern
Illinois. Born in 1795 in New York, he received a liberal education. Miles studied
music and was an accomplished performer on the violin. Although he was not
wealthy when he arrived in Illinois, his resources were far beyond most of the
area settlers of the time. It is said that legends began to be told about the
man almost from the time that he arrived here.
Miles was a veteran of the War of 1812, for which he received land in Monroe
County, Illinois, and he came to Illinois in 1819. He led a large group of
fellow settlers down the Ohio River on flatboats and they landed near
Cave-in-Rock. They brought along many head of livestock and wagons carrying farm
equipment and household goods but once they arrived in Illinois, they were lost.
Trails leading from their landing place to Eagle Cliff were vague, remote and
hard to follow but Miles carefully selected the better parts of the old
trail, linked them with new pieces of road and marked a route that was referred to
for many years as Miles’ Trace.
After establishing a home near Eagle Cliff, Miles began to prosper and soon
owned several thousand acres of fertile farmland in the region. He bought
much of the land at the government office in Kaskaskia and other land came from
his purchase of claims of those who had settled on land and then made
improvements. Tradition has it that these settlers, in conjunction with Miles, would
come into the region and file on land they claimed for military service. The
men would then disappear, sometimes mysteriously, shortly after transferring
their claim to Miles.
Today, only the abandoned mausoleum remains to remind us of the glory of the
Miles estate. An inscription on the large marble panel to the right of the
doorway informs the visitor that it was built by Stephen W. Miles, Esquire, the
son of the elder Miles, in 1858 as a memorial to the Miles family and their
descendants. It was also stated that the mausoleum was to be cared for by the
eldest son of each generation and to hold it “though this succession in
trust for the above family”. However, the bankruptcy of the younger Miles brought
this plan to an end. The vault, which had been built to hold 56 bodies, once
housed only 11 bodies, those of Miles, his two wives and other descendants.
According to local tradition, even Miles’ mistress and some servants were
buried in the tomb.
Back in the early 1960’s, curiosity-seekers who managed to find the
mausoleum where it was hidden in the forest found that vandals had already been at
work here. They had found the place years before and in fact, even at the time
of death of Amanda Wheeler, Stephen’s sister, she stated in her will that she
was not to be buried in the mausoleum. She wanted to be buried in the
surrounding cemetery and to have a sturdy fence erected around her resting place.
According to reports, the vaults inside of the crypt had been torn apart,
scattering marble and broken wood from the caskets on the floor. Visitors found
numerous bones with pieces of dried flesh still clinging to them, cloth from
burial shrouds, bits of glass from the coffins and other assorted debris.
There were many stories of grave robbers who stole jewelry from the bodies that
had been placed in the vaults.
Believe it or not, things got worse. In the late 1960’s, a cult group broke
into the mausoleum and pulled the remaining bodies from the crypt. They
defaced and destroyed the remaining vaults and then pulled the bodies out onto the
ground outside. Attempting to “raise the dead”, they burned the corpses of
Miles and his descendants, desecrating the area forever. Is it any wonder that
the mausoleum has gained a reputation over the years for being haunted?
Since that time, locals and members of the Miles Cemetery Association have
cleaned up the mausoleum and the cemetery on the cliff. They have worked hard
to preserve the site, where the father of the first governor of Illinois is
buried, but they have been unable to discover just how many people are actually
buried in the cemetery. The place is filled with unmarked graves, mostly
thanks to the vandalism of years past. But even a thorough cleaning, and a
federal dusk to dawn curfew, fails to keep all of the problems away. The interior
of the tomb is still often marred by vandal’s paint and by obscure messages
that mean nothing to anyone other than those who left them.
This is a weird and spooky place and even those who do not believe in ghosts
or hauntings will admit that the cemetery, a once small portion of the Miles
estate, still has a mysterious air about it. A number of accounts tell of
shadowy figures that have been spotted on the grounds of the graveyard and weird
whimpers, cries and sobs that have been heard in the darkness. There are
also tales of strange sounds that come from the mausoleum itself, including
voices and anguished moans. I have also been told that mysterious lights have
often been reported coming from the interior of the mausoleum after dark. These
lights have often been seen from the road that runs far below the cliff but
no one has ever been found inside of the crypt or even in the surrounding