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Hell's Gate Cemetery 1892-1939

In 1892 "Lost Souls Cemetery" was founded by Capt. John Flagg Moorstone, an immigrant from Europe who lost his wife and children on the sea voyage to America. Under an agreement with the state of Illinois, the Captain was to give a proper burial and final resting place to the unwanted persons the state had legal custody or possession of, upon their death. This new state cemetery was to replace the several smaller cemeteries at state run institutions, such as prisons, sanitariums, shelters for abused women, homes for the physically deformed, and orphanages. The Captain received a salary, a fifty acre piece of land, and a private home on the cemetery grounds as payment for his services.

Although the original name for the state cemetery was "Lost Souls", appropriately named for its inhabitants (who were forsaken or abandoned by their families) Governor John Altgeld nicknamed it "Hell's Gate". It was the Governor's belief that "anyone buried in that graveyard could not be a good Christian, so if they're all doomed to an eternity in Hell, then this is the front gate." The Captain did not share the Governor’s judgement of these people. In fact, he displayed an exuberant reverence for each of his inhabitants, often decorating each grave with personal effects that arrived with the body, and writing personalized epitaphs to each person. Some have said that this respect for the dead was borderline infatuation, and unhealthy.

They were right.

Instead of remarrying and starting a new family, the Captain filled his life with the lives of the dead, creating large tombs designed to replicate the deads’ past lives, preserving their bodies, and posing them as if they hadn’t died. It was noted in his personal diary, "as macabre the appearance may be, I simply want to provide a home and a peaceful resting place for my new family." Indeed, they were his new family. In 1920, the Captain was able to convince the governor to award him custody of the dead’s children. Thirty eight children in all were removed from the orphanages and forced to live out their childhood on the cemetery grounds. Home-schooled by the Captain, these children lived an isolated life of forced mourning. It was the Captains wish that they dressed in mourning blacks until they became adults.

"If I could show their [the dead] spirits that I have brought their family here to mourn, they may have peace in the hereafter."

- Excerpt from the dairy of Capt. John Flagg Moorstone

In the long relationship between several Illinois Governors (10 in all) and the Captain, two horrible events cemented the deal between the state and the cemetery. In October of 1916, a German circus came to town. During a break between shows, a clown named Gero snuck behind the tent to have a drink before the evening show. After finishing his flask he noticed a small boy laying in the grass. The child was lifeless and turning blue. In a panic, the clown scooped up the child and carried him to the town square. Gasping for air, alcohol on his breath, screaming for help in German, holding a lifeless boy, and wearing a clown costume, Gero's heroism doomed him. The townspeople mistakenly (but understandably) thought the clown must be guilty of an awful crime, but even so, their violent, mob-fueled reaction is a blight on the name of the State of Illinois. Outraged parents and citizens, already distrustful of Germans thanks to World War I, worked themselves into a bloodthirsty frenzy and attacked the circus. After surrounding the clown tent, trapping all of the clowns inside, the father of the dead boy set fire to the tent. Not one clown survived. The circus manager, afraid for his own life, packed up the trucks and left while the fire raged.

Twelve clowns were killed that day, and it was later discovered that the boy had died from an allergic reaction to a bee sting.

The second event  that wed state to cemetery was in 1932, when a group of women were found chanting and conjuring in the forest. The supersticious townspeople were sure that these women were evil, and a threat to the children of the town. In yet another frenzied moment of fear and paranoia, the overzealous mob strapped these helpless women to trees and burned them alive.

Afraid that public knowledge of these heinous events could embarrass Governors Dunne and Emmerson, respectively, and cost the state development dollars, each Governor asked the Captain to bury the bodies without record or markings. It wasn’t until 1939, when the cemetery was exhumed by order of Governor Henry Horner, that the bodies of the clowns and the witches were found.

The clowns were posed in a circus-like tomb, fully equipped with an operational merry-go-round. The Captain had positioned them as if they hadn’t died.

The witches were arranged in a natural cave, adjacent to the cemetery. When Governor Emmerson asked the Captain to give the so-called witches a "proper burial", the Captain took him literally and, figuring that a pagan faith would want a pagan burial, he did his best to provide them with a final resting place that fit, in his opinion, their true belief system.

Some would say that this was the first step down a very dark path for the Captain.
In addition to the two above-mentioned massacres, rumors persist of the secret burial of murder victims as one of several under-the-table deals between the Captain and several Illinois Governors, although verification of this is proving extremely difficult to come by. Such deals forged a strong trust between the Captain the many Governors who came to and left power during the Captain's reign at HellsGate. His willingness to make unwanted or incriminating corpses disappear without question or trace ultimately meant that the Captain's power in his own little empire went unquestioned and unchecked for decades.

Such was the Captain's reputation as a great friend of the State of Illinois that he was awarded a work detail of prisoners from the Joliet Correctional Facility to act as gravediggers and maintenance men. Of these prisoners, a man named Luther "The Hammer" Head was sent to serve out his remaining sentence on the cemetery grounds. The Hammer, 6'10" tall and 395 pounds, was chained to a shed at the gates of the cemetery to act as guardian.

With the state prison maintaining the grounds of the cemetery, the Captain had more time to dedicate to his studies. And with the new pagan inhabitants, he had a new obsession on which to focus his studies. For many years he had tried to fill his loneliness by paying tribute to the dead. He built tombs to replicate their homes, forced their children to mourn with him on the grounds, and rumors have surfaced that he would act out vengeance in the name of the dead.

But it wasn't enough. The Captain despaired that the dead could not see his monuments to their lives:

"I have called out into the void, begged them to come home, and spilt the blood of those who persecuted my family. Yet, I hear nothing. If I can not find their spirits with my physical efforts, I will take a more spiritual path"

- Excerpt from the dairy of Capt. John Flagg Moorstone

Shortly after writing the above passage, the Captain began studying the occult.

For several years the Captain gathered all that was written on the subject of communicating with the dead. He even went so far as to allow relatives of the dead witches to worship on his grounds. With the mind of a scientist, and the determination of a military captain, he became incredibly well-versed on the subject of magic. Allocating an entire mausoleum to the practice of conjuring and summoning, the Captain spent most of his waking hours in the pursuit of the Dark Arts.

"I feel as if I am consorting with the enemy. Pretending to be one of them, so that I can speak their language. And now I can hear them in the night. I can Hear all of them, screaming in my mind. It is my purpose to guide them here, I only want them to have peace"

- Excerpt from the dairy of Capt. John Flagg Moorstone

Most of HellsGate’s dark history; bizarre tombs, hidden bodies, imprisoned children, and the Captain's study of the Dark Arts would have been kept a secret if not for the sudden and brutal way the Captain died. In October of 1939, the Captain's body was found in one of his tombs, surrounded by symbols of the Dark Arts, and his head smashed in. After the police completed there inspection of the property, then-Governor Henry Horner began to realize what kind of man the Captain actually was. Once again afraid for his own political career, he decided to exhume all of the bodies, send the children to different state orphanages, and construct a large concrete building where the cemetery and funeral home once stood.

In the end, the public never knew that the state supported such a disturbed man, and all 40 years of history was covered up or sent to rest elsewhere. The only mystery left (at least, on public record) was pertaining to the disappearance of the prime suspect in the Captain's murder: Luther "The Hammer" Head was never found.