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Partisan plots: the history of an Illinois small town’s rival party cemeteries

Local Democrats and Republicans established separate cemeteries in Carlock, IL more than a century ago

CARLOCK, Illinois — While political divisions in America seem deeper than ever today, more than a century ago — legend has it — local Democrats and Republicans established two separate cemeteries in the small Illinois town of Carlock.

“Occasionally we get people who drop in and they say, ‘Where’s that Republican and Democratic Cemetery?'” said historian Nola Marquardt, who volunteers at the McLean County Museum of History.

The partisan plots began as small family burial grounds, until in 1884 Abraham W. Carlock picked out a gravemarker that read, “Here sleeps the old Democrat.”

Meanwhile, the rival Benson family, who were Republicans, had started their own cemetery less than a mile down the country road. 

 “The Bensons truly were, for the most part, Republicans, and we know that Carlock was definitely a Democrat, no question,” Marquardt said.

While the two cemeteries have come to be known for their partisan leanings, Marquardt says back in the 1800s and today, Democrats and Republicans have been known to cross the aisle when they died. 

“In some senses, it’s a myth,” Marquardt said, pointing out that the story of the rival party cemeteries has been exaggerated over the decades.

Nevertheless, the two cemeteries remain a historic curiosity in a divided America, especially around major elections. The so-called Republican cemetery has closed to new burials; the Democratic one is still selling lots.

“So any people who really need to be a Democrat in death, they can come here and purchase a lot and be happy forever after,” Marquardt said with a laugh.

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