City of Peoria Mayor Rita Ali
Click on the arrow below to listen to the remarks. Audio courtesy of WCBU-FM 89.9. A transcript is below the photo. All photos courtesy of the City of Peoria.
Everyone, please join me in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
You may be seated. Good morning, everyone. Good morning. I want to thank all of you for attending this naming program on such a beautiful day. Special thank you to Peoria Housing Authority under the direction of CEO Armeca Crawford for allowing the use of their property for our program. Thank you also to the Peoria Park District, our community partner for the Freedom and Remembrance Park. And thank you to the members of the mayor’s Summer Youth Program, who under the guidance of Public Works did a fantastic job getting the park ready for today. Special thanks to all of our speakers, who will provide remarks on the importance of the Freedom and Remembrance Park and provide musical tributes. We have the special honor of hosting Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton at today’s event. We thank you for making time once again to visit Peoria for this important day in Peoria’s history. Thank you to the many elected officials in our attendance, and I would ask that you please stand our elected officials. Please give them a hand. Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton loves Peoria so much she comes back even on unofficial occasions because she and her husband love this area. So we may end up adopting you as a Peoria daughter.
What we have learned about this space is astonishing. But thanks to the inspiring leadership of Mr. Bob Hoffer and his team, our earliest neighbors will now be memorialized. The evolution of the closure of Moffatt Cemetery in 1905 to today’s naming of Freedom and Remembrance Park is quite unbelievable. From a family plot for Aquila Moffatt to a parcel he then dedicated to Civil War soldiers to the expanded Moffatt Cemetery Association to the closure in 1905, the abandonment of this site, and the eventual development of the parcels, led to many of our earliest Peorians left to be forgotten as part of Peoria City history.
In 1905, the Peoria City Council ordered the closure of Moffatt Cemetery. Over time, it became a trash dump, an eyesore, and ultimately, a parking lot. This was a disgrace to the approximately 2,600 people buried in Moffatt Cemetery. As mayor of Peoria today, I want to publicly apologize. Apologize for the city’s actions many years ago. I’m sorry for the disrespect and dishonor that was shown to both individuals and their loved ones. And I’m grateful for those that have championed for this worthy Memorial. The city is honored to play a part in this effort.
The name itself Freedom and Remembrance Park reminds us that we are here to remember those who remain but also celebrate the freedom that some achieved or fought for. 52 veterans are known to be interred at Moffatt Cemetery. 49 were Union Civil War soldiers, including Nathan Ashby, who was present at Juneteenth. To commemorate his bravery, the Juneteenth flag can be seen at the park today. Also interred at Moffatt were veterans of the 1792 militia, the War of 1812, and the Spanish-American War. And then there was Nance Legins-Costley. Mr. Adams will speak more at length about Nance. But we all know that she was smart. She was brave. She was a mother of eight children, and she fought for her freedom since she was a teenager. Nance made her own history as the first enslaved person whom Abraham Lincoln helped free in the Illinois State Supreme Court in 1841.
Today, Freedom and Remembrance Park will be a site that will provide education to our community, while acknowledging our local history, but it will also be a long-awaited memorial for these individuals and their families. The American poet and genealogist Laurence Overmire stated, “History remembers only the celebrated genealogy remembers them all.” We have Mr. Bob Hoffer to thank for today because this all started from a request from his wife, Ev; she tasked him with finding her great-grandfather’s grave. And while searching the papers at the Peoria Public Library, he found an old transcript that stated, “Wife had him buried at Moffatt.” Little did Mr. Hoffer know, from that one transcript, he would soon be on a path of unearthing documents that were over 100 years old. And that search would result in bringing recognition to some of Peoria’s first residents. Thomas Bradshaw, Silas Kitt, Maria Henriette Lindiz, DeMorris Nancy Merwin, Anton Schaffer – just a few names of those buried at Moffatt Cemetery – mothers, fathers, children, families, soldiers. Thank you, Mr. Hoffer. Thanks to your hard work. Our earliest neighbors will be forgotten no more.
I encourage you all to visit the park and pause. Think about them. Imagine their stories. I would now like to welcome Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton.