Funeral trains serving the Cemeteries

The funeral procession made a statement about status. As years went by, the method of transportation to the cemetery changed, but it usually reflected the status of the deceased. One method before the motorized hearse became common by both the rich and ordinary families, the funeral  operating on rails.


horse-drawnEarly in Chicago’s history, an ordinance prohibited any further burials in what was then within city limits. Most large cemeteries were built just beyond these limits requiring a more convenient method of transportation. One early Chicago city ordinance authorizing the creation of new horse railway lines, predecessors to the streetcar,  required that the railroad keep on hand “a sufficient number of cars adapted to funeral purposes”.


Travel to outlying cemeteries via carriage roads were often poor, especially in bad weather. An easier method for people to reach those outlying cemeteries came in the form of funeral trains on both traditional railroad lines as well as electric rail.

. As railroads grew, these special funeral trains, served all major cemeteries in the Chicago area leaving downtown depots on a daily schedule.

Some funeral trains used regular railroad trackage,  but special spur tracks were also laid directly into many outlying cemeteries.  Specially built railroad cars carried both the coffin and family directly to the cemetery station. Special fares covered the transportation of the casket and the entire funeral party to the cemetery. The casket, for obvious reasons,  was charged a one way fare. The return fare was only applicable for the mourners. One early regulation stated that funeral trains were to have a separate compartment for carrying the deceased. The fee stated was not to exceed $2.00 plus twenty five cents for round trip passage of each mourner.

Chicago and Grand trunk Railway funeral trains left daily the Polk Street Depot daily  To St. Maria (St. Mary’s),  Mt Greenwood  Mt Olivet and Mt. Hope cemeteries. The Chicago and Milwaukee Railroad, (later Chicago and Northwestern) funeral trains left Chicago Northwestern Station  northbound from Chicago daily to Rosehill Cemetery on Chicago’s far north side. The Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad funeral train left daily from Union Depot, Madison and Canal-streets. for both Graceland Cemetery on Chicago’s North side and Calvary Cemetery just past the city limits into Evanston.

The final “L” line, operated by the Northwestern Elevated Railroad Company, began passenger service December 31, 1899. A City ordinance passed July 17 1908 required the line to run funeral trains daily from the North Clark/North Water stub terminal, and its east Chicago Avenue Station.  Illinois Central Railroad left the IC Depot daily to Oakwoods Cemetery on Chicago. In October 1874, the Common Council of Chicago granted right way on certain city streets for The Chicago and Waldheim Railway Company  to connect to Waldheim Cemetery, a line of six miles. It is not clear whether the railroad actually began service. The Chicago, Harlem, and Batavia Railway Co. (predecessor of the Chicago and Northern Pacific RR Co.  owned 7.36 miles of single-track, steam railway from Crawford Avenue (40th Street) and Madison Street in Cicero Illinois, north to Randolph Street, west to Park Avenue, River Forest, and south to Waldheim cemetery.

The Chicago and Joliet Electric Railway Co. Tracks ran past by Resurrection and Bethania Cemeteries for at least mourners.

The Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railway “Chicago’s third elevated railroad franchise was awarded on  April 7 1892 to the Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railroad Company  (also known as the Chicago Elevated or simply the “El”)  . The franchise granted the right to construct a four-branch elevated railroad system between downtown Chicago and the western city limits. It began its electrified rapid transit service in 1895.AEC109atWellsTerminal1907BruceMOffatCollectionWEB(2)

 Funeral Service served Concordia, Forest Home, and German Waldheim, Woodlawn,  and Jewish Waldheim cemeteries. A connection on Garfield Park (West Side) branch to the Des Plaines Station where it connected with the Aurora, Elgin, & Chicago interurban line.   with the Aurora, Elgin, and Chicago Railway.   On June 4, 1906, the joint funeral service was started between the Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railway and the Aurora, Elgin, and Chicago Railway.  Both companies owned and operated their own funeral cars but trackage was shared through 1934. The trains served both Oak Ridge and Mount Carmel Cemeteries. They found that service to the cemeteries was good for business, especially on weekends. Based upon that success, they began also running special funeral trains which would carry both the deceased and the mourners.

funeralThe picture at left shows Metropolitan funeral car #802 at the Laflin Street Station.

Several special funeral cars were placed in service, often converted from existing passenger cars. The most obvious modification made to a regular car was the addition of a  casket compartment. A window on each side of the car was modified to receive the casket. .  Baggage-style doors had been added complete with leaded stained glass windows  It was eleven feet long — large enough to handle two caskets if needed.  The casket compartment floor was covered with green linoleum.

For the comfort of the mourners, traveling to the cemetery with the casket, the modifications  included elegant interior decorations, and the addition of a lavatory and storage closet.  . The hardware for the doors and windows were finished in brass. The passenger compartment was finished in polished weathered oak inlaid with narrow strips of black and yellow. One funeral car was described having a light yellow ceiling.  There were twenty-eight individual rattan chairs.  The floor was covered in dark green carpet. Curtains were installed for some level of privacy.

Since the trains were well above street level, the heavy casket needed to be carried up a flight of stairs.  In 1905 two casket elevators were built to raise the coffin up to the level of the station platform. One was at the Hoyne Station on the Douglas Branch located at 2009 South Hoyne. The second one was at the Laflin Station on the main line of the Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railroad. The Laflin station was just east of the Marshfield Junction where three lines split.

By October, 1907, they were running an average of 22 funeral trains a week. .  In addition to charter service a passenger service was provided by a single shuttle car that met mainline trains in Bellwood.

To meet the increasing demand, the Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railway rebuilt car #756 in 1907 specifically for funeral service, then four more cars were modified with the removal of all advertising signs and the addition of dark green carpets and drapes.  There were at least Metropolitan funeral cars  #756,  #800 and   #802. In addition  there was the Aurora, Elgin & Chicago Funeral Car #10.  There might have been others. For exceptional large funeral parties, additional cars were obtained from the regular passenger fleet.  On one occasion there was a ten-car funeral train.

The entire line was abandoned in 1958 to make way for the Congress Expressway, later renamed the Eisenhower Expressway.

The Aurora, Elgin, & Chicago Railway provided additional service on to Oak Ridge and Mount Carmel Cemeteries. During the winter of 1905/06, built a branch off the AE&C’s line at Bellwood to the Oak Ridge and Mount Carmel Cemeteries  . FuneralServiceMap One funeral notice in 1909, typical of the time,  read in part, “Funeral at the church thence by cars to Mt. Carmel via Metropolitan. Elevated car leaving Grand Avenue station at 10:15AM”


Both the Metropolitan Elevated  and Aurora Elgin, & Chicago’s funeral trains served a single-track branch which opened on March 18, 1906. It ran through Westchester and Hillside paralleling Roosevelt Road and Twelfth Avenue to just west of Wolf Road..  There was a stop at Oakridge Cemetery and a station in Section 40 of Mt. Carmel Cemetery, in the southwest corner of the cemetery.

A  passenger service for visitors to the cemeteries was also run by a single car that met main line trains at Bellwood.

On November 1, 1926 the shuttle car was replaced by a bus running from the newly opened Roosevelt Road station on the Westchester branch.  Direct rail service continued to be provided on major holidays such as Decoration (Memorial) Day and Independence Day for those people wishing to pay their respects.

In 1932, the Aurora, Elgin and Chicago Railway dissolved their agreement with the “L” (by then under the control of the CRT) and funeral service ended. Chicago Rapid Transit system discontinued funeral service in 1932.  The last funeral train operated over the Elevated system on July 13, 1934.  It was a train owned by the, Aurora, Elgin and Chicago Railway.  Funeral trains were a victim of improved paved roads and motorized hearses, (the latter an added source of income for funeral homes).

. Funeral car #756 was renumbered 2756 in 1913 and in 1922, was converted into a mobile employee medical examining station and was last seen in the yard at Kimball and Lawrence on Chicago’s north side. It was scrapped in 1953.. The fate of other funeral cars are not known.

7 thoughts on “Funeral trains serving the Cemeteries”

  1. The Chicago Rock Island and Pacific Railroad also had a funeral stop at 111th Street and Hale Avenue. One of the reasons why there is a large roof extending out over the paved waiting area. Caskets were shipped there to be taken to the various cemeteries further west on 111th Street and 115th to 123rd Streets and even as far as 127th and Cicero. I believe the Ridge Historical Society has at least one historical photograph of a funeral train unloading a casket at the 111th Street station.


  2. I’ve been going through old newspapers on line, and I noticed that the Milwaukee Road also ran funeral trains to Mount Mayriv Cemetery near Addison and Narragansett. For years, the cemetery was surrounded by a high concrete wall, and, a spur line of the Milwaukee Road ran from their main line parallel to Grand Avenue at 6600 W., running up to the Chicago State Hospital at Dunning. The rail spur separated Mount Mayriv and Rosemont Cemeteries along Addison Street, and further up, separated Mount Olive Cemetery. The spur was eventually abandoned, and the land taken over by what is now Zion Gardens Cemetery, unifying Mount Mayriv, Rosemont, and four smaller cemeteries next to Rosemont. As children, we would walk up the cemetery right of way, and were puzzled by an iron gate located the concrete wall about a half a block north of Addison. Since we couldn’t see over the high concrete walls, that was the only place we could actually look into the cemetery. Reading some obits for Mount Mayriv Cemetery today I see that many funerals from the South Side Kenwood Area would actually come up to the Milwaukee Road Station, and a special funeral train would run up to the cemetery. I would imagine that the gate was used to bring the coffin and mourners into the cemetery.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: