Former inhabitants of Miles Family Mausoleum quite

By Gus Bode

Editor’s Note:(please print in poem form)

October brings the most macabre

And we would like to share

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A phantom parade, a headless horseman,

So join us if you dare.

Each week we’ll have a cryptic tale

Of gruesome ghouls and fatal desire

Harness your fears, grab your friends

And gather ’round the ol’ campfire.

Eagle Cliff is eerily quiet but its air grows immensely thick with a need for empathy.

A once large and colossal landmark near Columbia, Ill., the Stephen W. Miles family mausoleum overlooks the valley near Dug Hollow, one of the most fertile flood plains of the Mississippi, in Monroe County.

Its grayish stone shined brightly in the morning sun and glistened against the setting ball of energy and the purple dusk of early evening. But colors from a more devilish heat have plagued the family tomb and its small surrounding graves, which humbled a secluded forest on Eagle Cliff – a sacrificial burning of Miles’ remains, along with 10 others buried within the tomb during the ’60s.

Miles, the once prosperous and wealthy landowner, may look upon that atrocity from his favorite spot on Eagle Cliff, knowing his spirit may never rest. His grave will remain forever disturbed.

The prominent and historically noted Miles was remembered for a larger respective feat then his gruesome after-death demise – the prosperous estate on which his mausoleum faces.

Stephen W. Miles, born in 1795 in Cazenovia, New York, received a liberal education. An accomplished performer on the violin, his elegant and intellectual background helped him excel financially when he ventured to Illinois in hopes of creating a “feudal estate.”

After obtaining more than a thousand acres of land in the fertile valley below Eagle Cliff, it was noted we would stand at the point and say, “For miles and miles, it is all Miles’.”

But the story takes a peculiar turn. Although it was noted he bought most of the land from the government land office in Kaskaskia, other land was purchased from the claims of pioneers who entered the land and improved it.

Some of those individuals were in the military, and after they staked their claims, they mysteriously disappeared.

Now only the mausoleum stands, built by Miles’ son, whose bankruptcy disrupted the plan. But the 56-vault housed 11 bodies total, those of Miles, his two wives and other descendents.

Glenn Riebeling, a caretaker of the cemetery, said even Miles’ mistress and some servants were buried within the family tomb. He stumbled across the abandoned mausoleum when visiting his descendents’ graves near the four and one-half acres of land now called Miles Cemetery.

He told how deep within the local forest it was and had noticed its massive presence from the valley. But, eventually learning its historical tale and prominence, Riebeling wanted to help the Miles Cemetery Association and restore it.

He remembers when he was a child the early spots of vandalism and disturbance of the grave, when gangsters would steal jewelry from the bodies from the vault.

But the ’60s was the worst time for Miles and his family, upsetting the vault and its serene atmosphere. He told how “hippies” held a sance on the cold mausoleum floor, later defacing and breaking the beautiful crypts of the marble vaults.

Offering the bodies to their satanic worships, the group drug the decaying family out in front of the building, among the iron gates, and burned the corpses in effigy.

This horrible incident caused locals to cement the mausoleum, sealing the windows and doors off from everyone, especially young folks who would like to party there.

But he noted the party did not stop; graffiti and trash still appear within, despite the federal dawn to dusk curfew for entrance into the cemetery.

Since the Miles Cemetery Association and Riebeling have cleaned the area, many other graves have been discovered and the group has been taking care of the cemetery on the cliff. The father of the first governor of Illinois is said to be buried within, as well as Miles’ descendents.

Harry Reichert, a member of the association, believes there could be more graves. He, Riebeling and others have tried to compile the broken headstones and mark the graves they know.

Reichert said if one digs another grave, he or she may be disturbing a grave that has been used already.

S. W. Miles’ grave and 10 others have already been defaced, the bodies burned in effigy. The majestic marble of the large vault is now covered with markings boasting “4:20” and “Elizabeth was here.”

But Miles was here long before any of the names defacing the mausoleum. Although Riebeling and Reichert have never encountered Miles’ apparition or any of the other bodies from the ’60s sance, the small portion of Miles’ once-large estate still holds a mysterious aura.

Walk past the descendents of Riebeling, past the headstone paved seating area and past the many still upright and piled tombstones of those who have laid in the soft ground of Eagle Cliff for more than a hundred years.

Feel the cemetery’s air sift through the trees and brush past its visitors, reaching for a touch of companionship and empathy for what has happened on these grounds in the past. But the air, still quiet, could be broken in times to come.

Perhaps one could listen to a melodic solo moving over Miles’ violin strings. Perhaps one may hear the fire crackling from the sance many years ago, burning Miles’ and his descendents’ remains. Or perhaps one could view the elusive landowner stand on the edge of Eagle Cliff, pointing to his most prized possession, saying, “For miles and miles, it is all Miles’.”

Reporter Samantha Edmondson can be reached at [email protected]

Facts, events and background came from Glenn Riebeling, caretaker for Miles Cemetery, Harry Reichert, a member of the Miles Cemetery Association and “Legends and Lore of Southern Illinois,” written in 1963 by John Allen of the Area Services Division of Southern Illinois University.

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