This is an extended version of our interview with Angie Johnson that we featured in the July 2010 issue of the Legends and Lore of Illinois. Download the entire issue by clicking here.
Angie Johnson is a cemetery photographer, ‘find a grave’ contributor, restoration helper, paranormal investigator, traveler to unknown places, and a short Irish redhead that speaks her mind.
When did you first realize that you loved cemetery photography? What about it is so attractive for you?
Since I used to run around naked in them on full moons as a teenager….. What?…..I thought everyone done that!
When I finished doing everyone of them in my county. The feeling of accomplishment and going where no one had been for a long time. I got to where I was enjoying the me time and traveling to new places. The best thing of it all is meeting new people. Farmers, neighbors, kids, older folks, genealogy people…the list goes on. I couldn’t tell you how many times I have met with someone who had a story of the cemetery or memories of being there as a child. It is almost like a light in their eye. It is well worth stopping and talking with others when I reach my destination.
The thing that attracts me the most is that it is like a scavenger hunt every time. No matter what place I am traveling to, I always know I can map out cemeteries on the way. Each and everyone is so different and the things people leave for their loved ones are incredible.
How many cemeteries have you visited? Which ones were your favorites and why?
Well as of right now 550 cemeteries, by the end of this summer I plan on over 600. Mostly in Illinois. I have traveled to Missouri, Indiana, and Ohio. So every year I go a little bit farther. I am nowhere close to my girl Beth out in Ohio. I asked her one time how many she had been to…over 1300. I will reach that also one day and beyond. I think every state should have someone like us.
So far my most favorite has to be Crown Hill in Indianapolis Indiana. You could walk that place for days and still not see everything. The best part of the cemetery is when you go to the top of the hill and see the whole city and the beautiful monuments. Incredible! There are wonderful ones all over, I have been to huge ones and ones with no stones at all. There is a little one down by Alhamabra, Illinois…St. Vincent. My heart was taken when I went back to it. Someone had made beautiful wreathes and hung them on every single stone. This is the real enjoyment I get seeing others take care of the ones that where here before us.
How did you start taking pictures for graveyards.com?
Almost 16 years ago my first daughter passed. I was looking for a site to see the rules of our cemetery. I wanted to be able to do something special out there for her. I never did find our towns cemetery site but I did find graveyards.com Matt had a page where I could submit a picture of our local cemetery. So that is what I did! He thanked me and asked if I had been to any others in my area. If I would be interested in submitting anymore.
Well, 5 years and 6000+ pictures later… here we are! I just recently met up with Matt when I went up to your book signing at Charmers Cafe. Over my first ever slice of Chicago style pizza…by the way it was the bomb! He told me I was his biggest contributor. Another feeling of accomplishment. Not only have I contributed to him, Madison, Douglas, Piatt, Macon, and DeWitt Counties are using my photos for their sites. Hope to help all the counties I have photographed.
Tell us about your work with cemetery preservation and restoration. What can our readers do to help?
I am very serious when I say this. DO NOT DESTROY A CEMETERY EVER FOR ANY REASON!!!!! My teacher John Heider travels around the U.S. restoring older forgotten cemeteries. Every time I listen to him I learn something new. I got to help with restoring Moore Cemetery outside my home town. It turned out incredible! There are so many older folks that have memories of it growing up and family members there. My mother worked for a lady Marvel Cortz. She was so excited to hear that is was being restored. I keep hearing her say let me know when it is done, I want to see it. She passed away a few months before it was done. Our older generation has so much heart for the little things like this. It means way more to them than anyone. I am one of the founders of E.V.P.S. (Eternal Verification Paranormal Society) and we have started a junior group for kids 10 to 18 years of age.
We are giving hands on classes. Jim Heider is going to come teach cemetery restoration. Minda Powers-Douglas is teaching stone rubbings, and I am teaching how to find a grave. Which I am a contributor to Find A Grave and believe everyone should be. What a wonderful site!
The best advice I can give is… if you have a very old cemetery on your property do not move the stones. For many years people did not record burial placements there. Our county got lucky that a small group of people went out in the 70′s and listed everyone row by row. Then published cemetery books. Once you move the stones we they cannot be replaced to original place. Most likely where there are is where they fell. A little dousing and there will probably be the original grave right there. I highly recommend taking John’s restoration classes!
How have you gone about finding lost cemeteries or ones that aren’t listed on websites like graveyards.com?
I always find those easy ones first and save the hard ones for last. Graveyards.com has a lot but the single out county ones normally have some kind of listing of all of them that have been recorded. I go to that county seats library and sit for hours. Coping every piece of information I can find on the lost and forgotten. I spend a lot of time mapping out… god bless Google Earth and GPS. Believe me I used to have to draw my maps out road by road… nothing worse than making a mistake and driving to the wrong place.
Once I know where they are, I go there search for them. Woods, creeks, poison ivy, ticks, corn fields, yep been threw all, even searched for hours. I have a habit of finding the nearest house, they either know or know someone who knows where it is. Then I get the lat. and long. and submit picture to graveyards.com Put it back on the maps no matter what condition, someone’s loved one is still there.
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