Nobody is sure when the crucifix was erected – Teddy Roosevelt was not yet president, by one estimate – but it certainly was showing its century-plus age.
Not anymore. Though it isn’t visible to passersby on Route 351 in La Salle, the crucifix nestled inside St. Vincent’s Cemetery underwent a thorough makeover this month, and Jeff Hayden, for one, has heard plenty of admiring comments.
“Numerous people have driven through the cemetery, and they’re in awe of the way it looks,” said Hayden, a longtime member of the cemetery board. “It’s always been a focal point at the cemetery and more so now.”
Over the past two years, Hayden and other cemetery board members had kept a wary eye on the monument’s condition and began wondering if it could be salvaged, much less restored. As Hayden recalled, rust had built up on the cross, and the corpus had weathered to a point where some of the cast metal had cracked. There was a break in one of the feet along with “a number of small imperfections.”
Heritage Restoration & Design Studio of Peoria was tabbed to rehab the crucifix (cost: $6,500) and set about stripping the iron, sanding the cross and corpus and then priming and painting the monument. Work was completed in a whirlwind nine days ending Oct. 21.
Board president John Duncan said he was pleasantly surprised at the finished product – “almost brand new,” he described it – considering its indeterminate age.
“I wondered how old it was myself, so I got out the minute books, which start in 1907, and I never saw anything in the minutes about building a cross,” Duncan said. “I’m of the opinion it’s probably 120 years old.”
That’s an educated guess because the cemetery is substantially older. The original cemetery was started in 1838 but moved to its current location at La Salle’s north end in the 1850s, at which point many families exhumed and transferred their loved ones’ remains. In 1907, the Vincentians deeded it over to St. Vincent’s Cemetery Association.