BEVERLY — A group of volunteers arrived within hours to clean up a forgotten war memorial Friday upon learning that it was being as an outdoor toilet stall.
"I didn't really realize until I got out there how bad of shape it was in," said Lee Bielecki, a retired Chicago police sergeant from Mount Greenwood.
Bielecki read a story by DNAinfo posted around 9 a.m. about the crumbling monument on the southeast corner of 87th Street and Western Avenue in Beverly. The concrete-and-stone marker stood shrouded in weeds when Bielecki arrived an hour later.
The monument is just a few steps from a bus stop and a recent visit revealed that it was being used by commuters looking for a bit of privacy as they relieved themselves while waiting for the bus.
Bielecki planned to simply remove the weeds around at the monument in Dan Ryan Woods. He also was hoping to clean up the area, plant a few bushes and install some small American flags around the marker. He posted his plans on his Facebook page, 19th Ward News You Can Use.
Soon at least two others joined in the effort that required a reciprocal saw and the removal of 6-7 stumps, said Bielecki, adding that several large bags of garbage were also cleared from the area.
After sprucing up the grounds, snow fence and caution tape was placed around the marker in an effort to prevent others from using the aged slab as bathroom. The cleanup lasted about three hours.
"I respect anybody that serves our country," Bielecki said.
Indeed, a small plaque that reads "Chicago Council of Gold Star Mothers" is all that remains on the monument. Through according to Bielecki, it appears that a larger plaque was once placed on the front of the marker, perhaps explaining its significance.
Sandy Ochsner, president of the northern Illinois chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers Inc., responded Saturday via email saying she's begun researching the seemingly forgotten monument on the Far Southwest Side.
"I have never heard the word 'council' used in reference to Gold Star. We are chapters. That doesn't mean that back in the '30s or '40s that it was not used. I am still looking. It is a shame that it has been let go to that condition," Ochsner said.
She added that Grace Darling Seibold founded the Washington, D.C.-based group that according to its website is made up of, "mothers who have lost a son or daughter in the service of our country."
Siebold's son, George, was killed Nov. 4, 1917. He was deployed to England during World War I and assigned to the British Royal Flying Corps. His wife was living in Chicago when she received a box on Oct. 11, 1918 marked "Effects of deceased Officer 1st Lt. George Vaughn Seibold."
Ochsner theorized that perhaps the marker was meant to keep George Siebold's memory alive.
"So our guess is the monument is related to that," she said.
Local historians and veterans groups were mostly unaware of the monument and its condition until the story broke early Friday. Richard Doyle, a past president of the Beverly-based Windy City Veterans Association, has organized neighborhood events for area vets events since 1982.
"I have been living on the South Side of Chicago my whole life, and I never knew of a memorial at 87th and Western," Doyle said last week.
Despite the recent cleanup effort, the monument itself remains in disrepair, Bielecki said. He believes it will take a significant amount of time and money to bring the marker back to its original splendor.
"That is something that is going to take a fundraiser," he said.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: