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A Celtic Cross for Remembrance In Funk’s Grove
In Funk’s Grove, the Funk family cemetery held a secret for almost 150 years. A large grave holds the remains of about fifty unidentified Irishmen who probably died from cholera while laying the railroad tracks that run parallel to Route 66 and modern I-55.  

In 1847, the Alton & Sangamon Railroad (later named Chicago & Alton) began laying tracks from St. Louis to Springfield. By 1853, those tracks had reached Bloomington. Most of the men and boys who labored to make this road for the “iron horse” were from Ireland. They traveled together, shared stories and songs while they worked and shared their meals and living quarters in crowded boxcars. It may have been these crowded conditions that aided the rapid spread of disease that killed many men within just a few days. Small towns nearby were frightened to allow the infectious bodies into their community, but the Funk family invited the railroad to bury the men in their own family plot just north of where the men had died. For years, the grave was covered over and never marked because they had no names to put on it. But on Worker’s Memorial Day, April 28, 2000, the McLean County Historical Society and citizen donations divulged the secret resting place. 

In the Funk family cemetery, they placed a Celtic cross monument to recognize those anonymous men “whose sacrifices opened interior Illinois and made it possible to develop the riches of the land we share today.” You can visit the Funk family cemetery on your journey along Route 66 and pay your respects to those boys who helped pave the way for our future travels. 

As you pass “Men at Work” signs on the highway, remember all the hundreds of hands that helped build this transportation timeline spanning more than 150 years, drove spikes into sturdy oak ties, laid the first concrete lanes across the prairie, grated the roads and painted the lines on the highways crossing Illinois. 

- Excerpt taken from Traveling Through Illinois: Stories of I-55 Landmarks & Landscapes Between Chicago & St. Louis, Cadden, LuAnn & Cable, Ted. Arcadia Publishing & the History Press, 2013.