Alton City Cemetery Pt. 1: Elijah P. Lovejoy

I grew up hearing about Elijah P. Lovejoy. I guess that’s because I’m from the Riverbend area.

When I got to journalism school at Eastern Illinois University, I was astounded that no one had heard of him. I get that the average Chicagoan was unlikely to know a lot about the town of Alton, but surely they had heard of this abolitionist, who was, after all, a journalist like themselves. Not so much, apparently.

We were on an Opinion Writing field trip to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2005/2006 when I took several friends on a detour on our way back to Charleston, Illinois. We sat in Robert Wadlow’s chair and visited the Lovejoy Monument, as I had done many times before. But I’d never wandered into the Alton City Cemetery, though, until just recently.

I started at the 110-foot monument, designed by architect R. P. Bringhurst. It was erected in 1897 to honor the memory of Lovejoy, who was the editor of The Alton Observer until his death in 1837, a day before his 35th birthday. Carved near the statue, a quote,

 “I have sworn eternal opposition to slavery, and by the blessing of God, I will never go back.

(Inscription on the Lovejoy Monument in Alton City Cemetery)

Before his death, pro-slavery advocates made a number of attacks on his printing press, trying to quiet the voice of the American abolitionist. Lovejoy was eventually shot and killed by a pro-slavery mob during one of those attacks. According to Wikipedia, he was originally buried in an unmarked grave until 1860, when local newspaper editor Thomas Dimmock located the grave and arranged for a proper marker. Some of his supporters are allegedly buried near him.

This March, I visited his actual gravesite for the first time, and photographed it for my film photography course. There was something special about being there. Today, Lovejoy is considered a martyr for the abolition movement and his gravesite is sacred, especially to a journalist like myself. Even though I no longer work in the field, it was an honor to stand there and reflect on my journey as well as the state of the world today.

Lovejoy’s impact is still a part of the Riverbend. The Telegraph, in Alton, where I worked as a reporter, page designer and web editor for three years right out of college, still bears the image of Lovejoy’s monument on its masthead. A local elementary school is named after him. The library where I studied at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville bears his name as well.

Still, the battle for racial and social justice is an uphill climb and a continuing battle in this community and beyond.