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Memories, fond and fearful, dug up at Montgomery Cemetery Walk

John Amen Jeanne Lee costume portray early Montgomery settlers John Lilley his wife Margaret.| Judy Pochel~For Sun-Times Media

John Amen and Jeanne Lee in costume to portray early Montgomery settlers John Lilley and his wife, Margaret.| Judy Pochel~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 8, 2012 11:46AM

MONTGOMERY — How can those who make up a community today learn about those who made up the community in the past?

For the village of Montgomery, the annual Cemetery Walk serves that purpose, and hundreds of people trekked across Riverside Cemetery on a cold and overcast night, to learn the history of those who came before them.

Phoenix Buchanan, a seventh grader, said this is the third year she has been involved with the Montgomery Historic Preservation Commission project.

“I think it is really cool, I like history,” she said.

The first lesson of the night came from residents portraying early settlers John Lilley and his wife Margaret. John Lilley came to the area from Ohio in 1833 when he was told hard workers could get ahead in the area. He met Margaret when she was only 8-years-old when he began working for her father, Daniel Gray.

When Margaret turned 18, Lilley asked Gray to marry his daughter.

The couple had four children. Margaret died when she was only 36 and Lilley married again.

“Grandma” to all

A member of the Historic Preservation Commission, Gloria Brandl, said portraying her own grandmother at the Cemetery Walk was a special honor.

“She made the best vegetable soup with hand-made noodles. I make that now for my own grandchildren,” Brandl said of her grandmother, DeEtta Briggs, who was known throughout Montgomery simply as “Grandma.”

DeEtta Briggs came to be known for her cooking as she ran a boarding house and worked as nanny and housekeeper for the Ericson family.

Charles Briggs first became attracted to DeEtta just before he went to Montana with sheep, returning some two years later asking for her hand in marriage.

Their life together was eventful and tragic, living on the land as they pitched tents on trips to Montana to sheer sheep. Three of their 11 children died young, as did Charles Briggs.

“Grandma” Briggs raised the rest of her children during the Depression by working as a boarding house manager, nanny and remarkable cook.

Brandl said she was blessed with having her grandmother live the last 15 years of her life with her.

“She was just the best cook. She would take flour, eggs and salt and made the lightest biscuits around,” Brandl recalled.

Grisly memories

Last year’s visitors to the Cemetery Walk were treated to Bernard Cigrand’s tales of creating Flag Day. But this year his stories were much more chilling.

Cigrand, a dentist, was involved in not one, but two murder investigations. In the first, Chicago police needed his help with a set of false teeth connected to a murder. He was interviewed several times and was subpoenaed to testify.

The second murder was much more painful and tragic for Cigrand.

Cigrand told visitors his cousin met a charming man who police later learned was a serial killer.

Emeline Cigrand enjoyed bike rides with Henry Holmes to watch the construction of the buildings for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and to eat at fancy restaurants.

Cigrand said his cousin told him she had agreed to marry Holmes — and then she simply disappeared.

Holmes told the family she had married a gentleman that no one had ever heard of. In the end police found evidence that Holmes was guilty in the murders of more than 20 girls and women whose bodies he burned in the furnace in his building. After being found guilty he was hung.

The grisly tale of Holmes and the 1893 World’s Fair is the topic of the best seller by Erik Larson, “The Devil in the White City.”

Debbie Buchanan, executive assistant and staff liaison with the Historic Preservation Commission, said about 300 people turned out for Wednesday night’s walk.

“We are really happy that the attendance was high considering the drizzly day,” she said.

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