As we lead up to my favorite holiday, Halloween, it seems fitting to talk about the many Chicago cemeteries. Let’s ponder on some cool reasons for going to visit Chicago cemeteries.
Technically, some of the best Chicago cemeteries are just outside the borders of the city. All cemeteries were transferred beyond the city limits in 1856, due to sanitary regulations. Some of these cemeteries, like Graceland, wound up being annexed into Chicago later on. So it goes!
#1. Clues to the Early History of the City
There are few physical traces of the city’s early history today. For example, Chicago was an important site for the Civil War, but no buildings, bridges or anything really remain from that era. You can, however, see the Confederate Mound in Oak Woods Cemetery. An estimated 6,000 bodies of Confederate soldiers are interred there. Most of them were imprisoned in tortuous conditions at Camp Douglas. I don’t have a picture of it, but imagine an open grassy field with an old cannon and a stone column monument with the ominous words “CONFEDERATE DEAD.”
Think of Jim Morrison and Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. For some, that could indeed be the confederate monument above. Architects venture to Graceland Cemetery for the graves of several famous Chicago architects, such as Louis Sullivan (you can see his work on our 1893 World’s Fair Tour). Because he died penniless, visitors to Sullivan’s grave leave pennies…all over it.
Political and social activists make pilgrimage shortly outside the confines of Chicago to Forest Home Cemetery–previously Waldheim Cemetery–because of the burial place of the martyrs of the Haymarket Riot. I ventured out here with my cousin this past weekend since it was just a quick drive from where she lives in Oak Park.
3. The Cultural Experience
It’s probably not the first thing that comes to mind, but visiting a Chicago cemetery can be a cultural experience. The racial segregation of the city extends to burial places. For example, you’ll find the Catholics together in Mount Carmel, the Jews in a crammed corner of Oak Woods Cemetery, and the Bohemians in the…you guessed it, the Bohemian National Cemetery. It’s interesting to see the various burial traditions of different cultures, such as the Romani people, aka “gypsies,” as from this grave in Forest Home Cemetery. (Just in case there is any sensitivity to posting a photo of it, I have blurred out their names here.)
4. To Honor the Dead
And of course, we visit the cemeteries most of all to honor the dead of our friends and family. Pictured below are the graves of my great-grandmother, great-grandfather, and great-uncle. They’re buried in Mount Carmel Cemetery, which is famous as the burial place for gangsters like Dean O’Banion and Al Capone. These ancestors passed long before my birth, but it’s always an experience to visit the grave of family members and ponder what it would have been like to have known them.
5. Get Spooked
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog post for some spookiness!
–Amanda Scotese, Chicago Detours Executive Director