The Mysterious Grave Marker of August Boness

A photo of the grave marker of August Boness shortly before the apartment building was demolished.
The mysterious grave marker of August Boness shortly before the apartment building was demolished.

I originally published this story as a three-part blog on Chicago Now which no longer exists.  It has given me the opportunity to combine them into one cohesive story with additions and corrections from the original.

For decades the residents of Justice, Illinois, and curiosity seekers from elsewhere wondered about the grave marker that was found under the foliage near the parking lot of the apartment building at 7889 S. Archer Avenue.    

The apartment building which has since been demolished and replaced with a strip mall was situated in the triangular plot of land that was bordered by Archer Avenue, Oak Grove Avenue, and 79th Street.

I had witnessed the grave marker roughly 12 years ago and found myself very curious as to its origins.  Was there a grave there or was it simply a discarded grave marker that was replaced with a newer one?  Or was it an old sample stone that was stolen and dumped at that location?  

I looked in the trees and bushes that were on the northwest side of the parking area and saw the stone.

The gravestone appeared to be made of limestone and was in the shape of a 3-foot obelisk.  The inscription read, “August Boness GEB. 15. OCT. 1888 GEST. 26. MARZ 1915”

The apartment building at 7889 Archer Ave. in Justice, IL before it was demolished
The foliage at the northwest edge of the parking area that concealed the gravestone.
You can make out the obelisk on the right and the two other base stones on the left.

At first, I thought it was a joke because at first glance the last name appeared as “Bones” but looking a bit closer I could see the double “s”.

It was obviously written in German with GEB and GEST being the German abbreviations for Born and Died and MARZ being German for the month of March.

The inscription was very well preserved for a limestone monument of its presumed age especially if it had been subjected to the elements, but it might have been protected for many years by the foliage surrounding it.   The obelisk was lying on its side next to another block or presumably the base that the obelisk at one time stood upon.

Adding to the mystery was the fact that Bethania Cemetery and Resurrection Cemetery were a stone’s throw from where the marker now stood.

I started the research by contacting the owners of the current apartment building.  The building was owned by Inland Real Estate so I thought I would give them a call.  I asked the woman who answered the phone if they owned the apartment building in question and they confirmed that they did. I then asked them if they knew anything about the grave marker that was under the bushes near the parking lot.  The woman asked around and nobody knew anything about a grave marker but thought it was an interesting story.

There were several individuals named August Boness that turned up on general record searches (birth, death, probate, etc.) but none of the dates of birth or death even came close.

Since Bethania Cemetery was directly across the street, I paid a visit and spoke with the people in the office who were very nice.  The woman in the records office couldn’t find an August Boness in their records and introduced me to the supervisor of the cemetery.  He helped check through the old index card system and could not find an August Boness but did say there were multiple other Boness burials including Frederick, Louise, Theresa, Ernest, Lena, Clarence, Roy, and Liliana Boness.  I guess Boness wasn’t such a unique last name after all.  I asked him about the grave marker across the street at the apartment building and he immediately knew what I was talking about.  He said that the grave marker was placed there as a hoax back in the mid-1990s for a paranormal television series called Sightings.

I thought to myself that it could be possible it was a hoax, but it would be rather hard to fake the look of a 100-year-old tombstone and where would they have gotten the stone?  Did they steal it from an existing gravesite?  I thought that might be a bit much to do, even for a television show.

My next search option was land records and that is where things started to get interesting.  The Property Identification Number for 7889 Archer Ave is 18-27-412-006-0000 and with that or the legal description of the property, I conducted a search on documents filed with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds.  I took a trip to 118 N. Clark Street and proceeded to the basement where the document books are stored.  After a little digging, I found something very interesting.  The triangular parcel of land where the gravestone in question was located was at one point in time owned by none other than The Bethania Cemetery Association.  If one believes the gravestone, Mr. Boness died on March 26, 1915.  At that point in time, Bethania was still the owner of the property.  The interesting part is that the Bethania Cemetery Association sold that property to a person by the name of August Zuelke on February 23, 1916, only 11 months after the death of August Boness!

Sketch of the area of the grave marker showing owners of the properties in 1930. The Zuelke property is circled.

Could that mean that August Boness was buried on the property with the marker under a bush and then forgotten about after the land was sold?  I didn’t think that was likely since cemeteries usually bury individuals starting from the center of the cemetery and then gradually expand outward as land is needed.  They also usually have more land than they need to start with to insure they have space to expand later, so the mystery continued.

I was contacted by Dale Kaczmarek, author, and president of the Ghost Research Society, who was familiar with the stone.  He invited me over to his home and showed me the episode of the Sightings show that the cemetery supervisor had mentioned.  Dale was interviewed on the show which centered around the paranormal experiences of a woman named Valerie Kolecki who lived on the first floor.  Dale confided in me that he was not even aware of the stone until they started filming the episode and to his knowledge, nobody associated with the production had anything to do with the placement of the stone.  That, for the most part, dispelled the “television hoax” theory.

I decided to post some of the information on August Boness to my Facebook group, Chicago History The Stranger Side to see what others may be able to find out.

A person by the name of Tim Martin contacted me and stated that it might be time to create a memorial to August Boness on the website, Find A Grave.  He also said that he had found a death record for him but under a different spelling of the last name.  He found it under August Bornas and it was the same dates of birth and death and the cemetery was listed as Bethania Cemetery.  He sent me a copy of the death record.

Death Record of August Bonas.

I was next contacted by a member of the group, Maryann Felinski, who found a Find A Grave entry for an August Bonas who had the same birth and death dates as the August Boness marker and was at Bethania Cemetery.  Probably not a coincidence!

The stone marker actually looks fairly new and the inscription at the top (it is a dual stone) says Schultz and the two inscriptions on the stone were “Son, Rudolph  September 23, 1915, to June 8, 2001” and next to it “Uncle, August Bonas Oct 15, 1888, to March 26, 1915” the exact dates of birth and death and almost the same name as the mystery stone.

I went to Bethania Cemetery again to get a picture of the stone and to walk the area near the stone for clues.  There were two other people listed on the other side of the stone.  They were listed as Father, Ferdinand Schultz Sr. born Nov. 8, 1875, and died Nov. 9, 1960, and Mother, Ernestina Schultz, born Dec. 3, 1878, and died Apr. 30, 1960.

A picture of the Schultz monument at Bethania Cemetery showing August Bonas.
The opposite side of the above monument showing Ferdinand Schultz and Ernestine Bonas Schultz.

It was all starting to come together fairly quickly now and I could do a little more research to try to come up with more of a story about our mysterious August Boness. 

As I looked further into the Schultz family, I found that Ferdinand and Ernestina (Bonas) Schultz (Yes Bonas was her maiden name!) had come into the U.S. between 1906 and 1908 had resided at 3023 Broad Street in Chicago from 1910 through at least 1940 according to the Federal Census records of those years. They were Russian Germans and appeared to have been married in Russia around 1899.  Ferdinand was doing various odd jobs to sustain the family here in the U.S.

The death record for August Bornas that Tim Martin sent me, states that he was born on Oct 15, 1887, and died on March 26, 1915, and was living at 3023 Broad Street (same address as the Schultz family).  It also mentioned that he was buried at Bethania Cemetery and the informant on the death record was Ferd. Schultz.  It mentioned that August’s father was Chris Bornas and his mother was Caroline Neumont.

In the 1913 Chicago City Directory there was a Natalie Bonas who was listed as the widow of William Bonas and lived at 3332 Archer Avenue.  This was about one-half mile directly west on Archer Avenue from where the Schultz’s lived.  It could have been a coincidence but as I traced the directories forward through 1917, she ceases to be the widow of William and becomes the widow of August in 1915!  To be more specific it actually lists Augusta as the widow of August in the 1915 directory at 3332 Archer Avenue but I believe that could be a typo since she is listed as Natalie again at the same address being the widow of August in 1917.  Also, in 1917 her son Arthur shows up on the directory as living at that address. (One usually had to be working age to be listed in the directory)

After a little trouble, I also found our August Boness (Bonas, Bornas) on the ship manifests.  It seems that he was listed as a 25-year-old farmhand who boarded the S.S. Pennsylvania at Hamburg on May 28, 1913.  He was listed as a German living in Russia and his father was Christoff Bonas.  He was going to visit his brother-in-law Ferdinand Schultz living at 3023 Broad St in Chicago and was 5’ 6” with light brown hair and blue eyes. 

It is merely conjectured at this point, but it seems plausible that William Bonas and August Bonas were brothers and when William died in 1908 it was often tradition for a brother to take care of or marry the widow of his brother.  He came to the U.S. more than likely to take care of Natalie Bonas and lived with his sister Ernestina and her husband Ferdinand about a half mile away from her.  It doesn’t appear that August and Natalie ever actually got married but she might have considered him her husband and that is why she is listed in the city directory in 1915 and 1917 as being the widow of August. 

August Bonas died within two years of coming to the United States from a sub-diaphragmic abscess or infection in his lower abdomen at the very early age of 27.

It later turned out that August Bonas is, in fact, listed in the Bethania Cemetery records online but under a misspelling of the last name.  You can find him as August Barnas showing as being buried on March 28, 1915, and in the same plot as his sister Ernestine and brother-in-law Ferdinand Schultz. 

Screenshot of Bethania Cemetery Burial Search page showing August Barnas and his date of burial and section.

Chances are that even though his grave marker has been a bit restless, August Boness has been resting peacefully since 1915.  His brother William is listed as William Bonnes and is buried in the same plot as his wife Natalie who died in 1949.

The stone can no longer be found on the former site of the apartment.  I was told that a local historical society was interested in the stone but I have not been able to confirm that fact.