Human remains found at Eleven Park construction site

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The Eleven Park soccer stadium would be located on the western edge of the former Diamond Chain site, along the White River. (Rendering courtesy of Keystone Group)

Developer Keystone Group has discovered “fragments of human remains” at the Eleven Park construction site in downtown Indianapolis, on property that was mostly occupied by the city’s first public cemetery in the 1800s.

The remains were found at the north end of the site, a spokesperson for Keystone confirmed Tuesday in an email.

Keystone has begun early construction efforts on the proposed $1 billion development, which is expected to include a 20,000-seat Indy Eleven soccer stadium, at least five 10- to 20-story apartment buildings, a hotel and office space, and a 4,000-seat entertainment venue.

The site was most recently home to the Diamond Chain Co., which operated at the property for more than a century. Its massive plant at 402 Kentucky Ave., built in 1918, has been demolished.

Keystone Group said it “identified isolated areas of interest” at the site in coordination with Zionsville-based archaeology consultant Weintraut & Associates Inc. and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources/Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology, or IDNR/DHPA.

“Weintraut and Associates along with the IDNR/DHPA are conducting a thorough and respectful analysis” of the fragments, the company said in a written statement. “The discoveries are all undergoing and adhering to strict identification protocols. The discoveries will be properly catalogued and subsequently reinterned at the discretion of the IDNR/DHPA and Keystone Group. As construction continues at the site, Keystone Group, Weintraut and Associates, and the IDNR/DHPA will continue to follow the lawful guidelines at both the state and local level with the utmost sensitivity.”

The site selection has been a source of controversy. A portion of the property served as the city’s first public burial grounds, starting in 1821, with that land being named Greenlawn Cemetery in 1860, according to records from the Indiana Historical Society and research by DeeDee Davis, a digital scholarship services specialist at IUPUI’s Herron Art Library. The remains of thousands of Black residents were buried at part of Greenlawn, also known as the City Cemetery and Union Cemetery.

The cemetery, which eventually encompassed most of the nearly 18-acre site, included an area set aside for Confederate soldiers who died at the Indianapolis prisoner of war camp, with a monument erected in 1909 to honor those soldiers. (It was later moved to Garfield Park.)

While most of the  graves were moved to the Crown Hill and Holy Cross cemeteries by the early 1900s, not all of them made it out before the site was sold for redevelopment in 1914—first as a baseball stadium for the short-lived Indianapolis Hoosiers of the Federal League and three years later as the manufacturing facility.

The Confederate soldiers’ remains were moved in 1931, when a Crown Hill plot was dedicated for that purpose.

But records of other remaining graves had slipped through the cracks. In fact, multiple graves were uncovered at the site over the years, often during expansion or remodeling by Diamond Chain. The most recent discovery was in 1999, when two graves were unearthed as part of an effort to accommodate new machinery by lowering part of the facility’s floor.

Some historians have called for a full archaeological dig of the site, while parties representing both the Keystone Group development and the city’s planned adjacent Henry Street Bridge project decided on a plan that includes halting construction when remains are identified rather than searching for remains first. Any remains would be examined by researchers at IUPUI.

Members of the Indiana Remembrance Coalition called on the city to follow a 1923 state law that would have required the city to excavate and remove all human remains before the site could be used for any other purpose. But corporation counsel for the city told IBJ in November that the law no longer holds any weight. It was not codified into the Indiana Code in the 1970s, and any statutes not incorporated into the code were repealed at that time.

The group’s members first raised concerns in May about disturbing the site and restated them Nov. 20 before a City-County Council committee unanimously advanced a tax district proposal that would fund the Indy Eleven soccer stadium. The city also plans to build a bridge in the area by extending Henry Street over the White River.

At the committee meeting, consultant Linda Weintraut of Weintraut & Associates said uncertainty over whether any remains would be found made the current plan more feasible.

“We don’t know if we’re going to encounter none, you know, five, 50 whatwe just don’t know,” she said.

Keystone Group said it was committed to commemorating those who might still be buried at the site.

“Keystone Group views these discoveries as an opportunity to correct past mishandlings by previous ownership and to respectfully relocate and honor what may be found,” it said. “Keystone continues to work with community organizations who look to honor the memory of those who may have been buried at Greenlawn. These discussions are ongoing as the project progresses and an appropriate memorial will be included in project completion.”

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11 thoughts on “Human remains found at Eleven Park construction site

  1. 🥺🤦🏾‍♂️ “the remains of thousands of Black residents”

    For now, I will pass on how terribly this situation has been handled by the State of Indiana & our city county council for over a century…the first 2 words that come to mind as I am typing this post are bigotry & capitalism! 😤

    While I appreciate Keystone halting construction in “isolated areas of interest,” there’s concern about potential burial sites (potentially thousands of black bodies are scattered throughout this development site; not just in a few places that do not push back the development schedule). With public funds involved, I’d urge a comprehensive pause but as a young black man in Indiana, my voice likely will not even be heard, but the importance of respecting historical sites should not be dismissed. Keystone’s commitment to correcting past mishandlings is commendable, but actions will truly demonstrate their commitment!

    1. Of course you have to play the race card. If you’ve followed the story from the beginning, there were all races, all politics, military, non-military, and so on. Focusing in to perpetuate ancient history is not healthy for anyone.
      It sounds like Keystone is committed to making more effort than any other developer ever has before.

    2. Kevin, stop pretending this issue isn’t about the buried remains being 90% Black people! It is racist to deny it!

    3. Randy, research the history of that cemetery a bit more. There’s no racism here and no pretending. Keystone is handling it all in a professional manner. In fact some of my distant indigenous ancestors traveled and lived along White River, you or anyone else has never respected some of their burial grounds, except for collecting arrow heads.

    4. Kevin, Aaron brings up the humiliation by the white people (before any of us) disrespecting the burial grounds of what is now mostly Black people – they moved the white people (I think to Crown Hill) and left the Blacks behind. And you chose to complain that he is “playing the race card”. So don’t pretend your comment isn’t racist. I have lived in Indy for about 20 years, and I can assure you I haven’t disrespected these burial grounds or collected arrow heads.

    5. Kevin P, it is you who have not done adequate research. When the cemetery was closed most of the white persons buried there were reinterred elsewhere, including Confederate POWs. But most of the black persons were not. That’s the true history.

  2. Hasn’t anyone seen the movie Poltergeist? “They moved the headstones, but they didn’t move the bodies.”
    All the remains deserve the respect of proper removal.
    Then there needs to be a massive sage burning.

  3. It’s a farce that all of the bodies were never moved. And if race was a factor (I suspect it was), then it shouldn’t be ignored, and it doesn’t sound like it is. I just suspect there are going to be a lot of work stoppages just like this one.

    I was in a Paris a few years back and ran into an interesting bit of history. For a thousand years Paris has been a city and graveyards surrounding the inner city churches had millions of bodies buried in them over the years. The old custom was that after the body decomposed, a grave would be re-opened and another burial would take place so every gave had multiple set of bones in them. About the time Napoleon came along, this was causing problems. People living near the cemeteries seemed to get sick more often than those living farther away, most likely from ground water contamination. Plus, there was all of this valuable real estate right in the heart of Paris that was being “wasted”. Napoleon ordered all of the bones to be dug up, and they were dumped in underground limestone quarries to the south of the city. Not too long after that somebody figured out how to make money of this by giving tours of these “catacombs”. To make it more interesting than just walking past piles of bones, they stacked them up to make designs using femurs and skulls. You can still visit this today. It’s a pretty gruesome bit of history. So my point is once the families that buried the bodies are gone, bad things happen old cemeteries and the bones get little or no respect.

    Not knowing what might be found, but knowing finding bones could be a very real event, these guys seemed to have reasonable plan. It sounds like the records for this old cemetery are sketchy, and I would believe that given race as factor, records for POC could even be sketchier, there could be a tragedy unfolding here, but it seems there is plan to handle it, but given the past history it might never be completely right. We just have to acknowledge the past mistakes and try to make it right going forward.

  4. The “current day issues” start with the city and state blowing by the old laws because they “weren’t codified”. Politicians on both sides suck at their job and arrived very quickly at an abominable path for the sake of a developer, a TIF district and money.
    These behind closed doors actions, excluding public involvement will bring cities everywhere to their knees. They were ELECTED to represent US. They work for US yet are not held accountable!
    The actions taken on this site are unconscionable. The poltergeist reference is spot on.

    1. So we’re all supposed to follow laws that have been repealed? How does that make sense?

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