Join me on a virtual tour of Chicago’s Northside cemetery corridor. It will help you to understand the growth of burial places along Clark Street, a north-south street and one of the oldest roads in the city. It runs parallel to and not far from the shore of Lake Michigan, extending north into Evanston Illinois where it becomes Chicago Avenue.
Once named Green Bay Road, Clark street roughly follows part of the path of an Indian trail called Green Bay Trail on the way to Green Bay, Wisconsin. It followed glacial ridges, less susceptible to being washed out by flooding. Today, Clark Street and Ridge Avenue remain aligned along those geographical features. European traders traveled between Chicago and Fort Howard at Green Bay, two important trading posts. Finally, the portion within Chicago was renamed Clark Street for George Rogers Clark, an American Revolutionary War soldier.
It was no surprise that this high ground was a logical and ideal place for burials the cemeteries were soon surrounded by a fast growing Chicago.
CITY CEMETERY 1837
We start our cemetery corridor tour at the northeast corner of Clark (Green Bay) and North Avenue (1600 north/16 blocks north of downtown Chicago). the former main entrance of City Cemetery. Visitors once came by horse and buggy or carriage. Horse cars began on Clark St. in 1858. Later, in 1881 the North Chicago Street Railroad introduced cable cars that ran north to Diversey (2800 north) . Chicago had the largest cable railway system in the world operating until about 1906, then replaced by streetcars.
Now part of Lincoln Park, City Cemetery comprised 60 acres and some 20,000 burials. It was also known as Chicago Cemetery, Old City Cemetery, Lincoln Park Cemetery and Protestant Cemetery. By 1855, Chicago was growing quickly around the cemetery and there were health concerns about its proximity to the living. There were several separate sections. A portion of the land, identified as being in the southeast corner, was set aside as a potter’s field, “the very lowest of land, and on the immediate borders of the slough, where the lake water constantly ebb and flows”. The poor were buried at a cost of 1.50 each.
In 1871 the cemetery was a refuge for those fleeing the Chicago Fire. This illustration in Harpers Weekly may be one of the only views of the cemetery.
The potters field section was also used for Camp Douglas prisoners who died of cholera and other diseases. The Chicago Tribune of February 17 1863 states that 640 rebels from Camp Douglas were buried in the “potters field at the old cemetery”. City Cemetery had an interment contract with Camp Douglas to bury prisoners. The camp had a burial ground, but it was inadequate for the number of deaths occurring there. They were removed to Cook County Cemetery at Jefferson (Dunning) some months later.
There was three privately owned sections, the Farwell and Milliman Tracts and a four acre parcel close to the lake shore. In 1850, the Milliman tract was added to the cemetery, at the north end of the cemetery. Soon, new burials were prohibited by an ordinance passed February 13, 1860. An agreement between Rosehill Cemetery (described later in our tour) and the city was made on February 15, 1859, setting aside land to receive burials from City Cemetery. Graceland, Oakwoods and other cemeteries would receive most bodies. Many however, remain under Lincoln Park to this day.
The Couch mausoleum still stands at the northeast corner of the Chicago Historical Society building, about one block north of North Avenue (1600 north), and about one-half block east of Clark Street. The Couch mausoleum is the single largest remaining reminder of City Cemetery. It was constructed under the direction of James Couch about August, 1858. Ira Couch 1806-1857 and his older brother James came to Chicago in the 1830s, a tailor and haberdasher, opened a store of dry goods and clothing, in the late 1830s Ira became the proprietor of the Tremont House at the corner of Lake and Dearborn, one of Chicago’s earliest hotels.
JEWISH CEMETERY AT CITY CEMETERY 1845
In November, 1845, six-sevenths of an acre of were sold to the Jewish Burial Ground Society. The purchase price was forty-six dollars. The early Jewish families in Chicago can be traced to four Jews who arrived in Chicago in 1841. The first house of worship was erected at Jackson and Clark in 1851. The cemetery was finally sold back to the city for $8000 in October, 1882 although the city did not make payment until 1887. Bodies were removed to Hebrew Cemetery on Clark, just south of Irving Park, and to the old Mt. Mayiv cemetery, both described next.
Mount Mayriv Cemetery (Old) 1856 SW Corner Clark (about 900 west) & Belmont (3200 North). Four acres of land were laid out in 1856 on the southwest corner of Clark and Belmont (3200 north), purchased for $2400. 985 bodies were buried here. The cemetery, although unknown to many, is listed in the 1874/78 city directories. In 1889 the bodies were reinterred in the new Mt. Mayriv cemetery.. The Chicago Tribune of October 7, 1900 states “The old Jewish cemetery, at Clark Street and Belmont Avenue, did not escape the spreading-out process of the growing city. The ground formerly occupied by the cemetery is now adorned by block upon block of stores and dwellings. This was, however, possibly the only instance where no bodies remained in the old ground, for every grave was identified and removed to a locality further north.”
Wrigley Field Next we pass by the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. There are unproven stories of the ashes of dearly departed buried underneath home plate. Ashes of diehard Cub’s fans have been scattered at the ballpark over the years.
Hebrew Benevolent Cemetery 3903-31 North Clark Street (Also known as: Jewish Graceland, German Hebrew, Hebrew Benevolent Association, Hebrew Benevolent Society of Chicago .) Directly adjacent to Wunders Cemetery on the north. The very large Graceland Cemetery is on the north side of Irving Park
This is the oldest Chicago Jewish cemetery still in existence. In 1851, the Hebrew Benevolent Society purchased between three and five acres of land, at a cost of six hundred dollars although there are two conflicting accounts relating to the size of the original land purchase. The cemetery opened in the Summer of 1854. The burial society met once a month in member’s homes. In the city directories between 1874 and 1877, there are listings for Chevra Gemilut Chasudim, which means the pursuit of justice, peace, and deeds of loving-kindness..A city directory for 1875‑77 lists Chevra Kadisha Ubikar Cholom.The 1905 Donnelly atlas shows a one acre Hebrew Cemetery separate and apart from the Hebrew Benevolent Association Cemetery. A listing in the 1914 ‑ 15 City Directory shows the B’nai Sholom Temple Israel , the Hebrew Benevolent Society, and the Society of Benevolent and Relief of the Sick. The first interments was Ida Kohn on August 6 1854 and Isaac Rubel. About 1882, many bodies were reburied here from the old Jewish Cemetery in Lincoln Park.
.There are four sections that make up the original Cemetery. Gate 1 at 3931 N. Clark (North Gate)is known as B’nai Zion about 1 acre for Congregation B’nai Zion of Rogers Park, (This gate and gate #4 at 3901 N Clark were incorporated in 1962 as Jewish Graceland Cemetery Co. The two center sections (Gates 2 & 3) are owned by the Hebrew Benevolent Society. Gate 2 is owned by Congregation KAM Isaiah Israel of Hyde Park the oldest Jewish congregation in Chicago.
Wunder’s Lutheran Churchyard 1859 3963 North Clark Street (Also known as: German Lutheran, German Protestant, First Evangelical. St. Paul). Wunder’s has been known by many names: German Lutheran Cemetery of Saint Paul and Emanuel Churches, First Evangelical Congregation of Saint Paul Cemetery, Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel Cemetery, Wunder’s Kirchof, Wunder’s Burying Ground, Lutheran German Cemetery, Rev. Wunder’s Churchyard, Pastor Wunder’s Kirchof Churchyard, and German Protestant Cemetery.
It was founded October 1859 on 4-1/2 acres, named in 1919 after Rev. Heinrich Wunder, (1830‑1913) who was the second pastor of First Saint Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church along with Immanuel Lutheran Church. First Saint Paul’s Church was formed April 9, 1848 by Pastor August Selle. About 43 families worshipped in the Chicago Courthouse and then in a little log hut on Indiana st, just West of Wells. Pastor Wunder was ordained on September 21, 1851.. Early burials were made in City Cemetery prior to obtaining land at its present site. Despite the small size of the cemetery, records indicate over 28,000 burials in a cemetery. A large baby section could accommodate more burials per acre. Pastor Wunder had personally made 4,970 burials by March 1906, according to a news account of that date.
The glass enclosed monument to the Raithel Sisters depict the close bonds between Marie her sister Margaret, (died 1906).. Other notable burials include William A. Wieboldt 1857‑1954, the founder of Wieboldt Department Stores and Charles Kirchoff, son of Fred Kirchoff, an architect who designed the original Water Tower. John Streming, a Chicago fireman was killed at a fire on South Water Street on June 8 1865. His gravestone in German, translate to: “Wanderer, stand still Here rests in God a true husband and father who had to lose his life in his calling as Fireman.” The cemetery has been used as a location for television movies and screenplays.
Graceland Cemetery was established in 1860 by attorney Thomas Bryan, o One of Chicago’s most historic cemeteries it began on 86 acres, in the town of Lake View. Now comprising 121 acres, it is the final resting place of scores of famous Chicago citizens including Governors, mayors, merchants, tycoons, brewers, architects, sports figures, judges and more. Graceland contains unique and exciting architecture, art, and culture. A gothic chapel constructed of red Wisconsin granite was erected by the architectural firm of Holabird and Roche. A crematorium was built in 1893 at a cost of four thousand dollars along with a much larger chapel. Lower rooms are partly underground along with a receiving vault built to hold 298 coffins.
Here you will visit Dexter Graves, (1789‑1844 hotel owner. He and his family have one of the most foreboding bronze monuments “Eternal Silence” sculpted by Lorado Taft in 1909 . There is William Kimball, (1828-1904) founder Kimball Piano and Organ Company, and John Kinzie, (1763‑1828) early Chicago settler and fur trader first white settler of the Chicago who arrived in 1804. After his death, his remains moved quite often. Originally buried at the Ft. Dearborn cemetery, Kinzie’s remains were first moved to the city burial grounds on the north side, then to the lakefront cemetery in what is now Lincoln Park and, finally, to Graceland Cemetery. You will find Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln, and George Mortimer Pullman (1831-1897), Inventor of the Pullman Railroad Sleeping Car.
His family worried that unhappy employees would steal his body so they had an elaborate burial that took two days. A pit was dug the size of a large room and walls lined with 18″ of concrete. The mahogany casket was covered with tar paper and asphalt. Concrete was poured to the level of the casket, and heavy steel rails bolted at right angles to each other over the casket. A final concrete layer finished the job. There are hundreds more notables in this great cemetery. ;
We now travel north to 4901 North Clark Street where Saint Boniface and is also known as Saint Bonifacius Cemetery or German Catholic Cemetery. It was laid out on 36 acres in 1863 and consecrated that same year. The cemetery was named after Saint Boniface, a scholar, teacher, and missionary who for 36 years served the pagan tribes of Germany. Saint Boniface is known as the “Apostle of Germany.” It was the first of the German cemeteries and contains the burials of the builders of the German Catholic community. The cemetery underwent extensive renovation in the 1960’s, with the old gate removed to permit better vehicle passage. Originally on the outskirts of Chicago, it soon found itself surrounded by the city with no additional land available for growth.
It was for this reason that many newer, larger Catholic cemeteries in outlying areas were needed. St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery in River Grove is considered to be the daughter of St Boniface. It was opened in 1901 with 140 acres. Other Catholic cemeteries opened to alleviate space problems were Resurrection opened in 1904 with 425 acres, Holy Sepulchre opened in 1923 with 314 acres, Queen of Heaven with 472 acres opened in 1947, and Maryvale in 1961 with 250 acres. Just these four cemeteries, with a combined size of over 1400 acres provided space as many as 2,000,000 graves plus above ground mausoleum space.
We pass through the Andersonville Commercial Historic District and come to Rosehill Cemetery at 5800 North Ravenswood Avenue. The castellated gothic entrance gate was designed by William W Boyington, four years before he designed the Chicago Water Tower. It was registered as a Chicago Landmark on October 16 1980. Early on, It was served by the Robey Street (now Damen Avenue) streetcar as well as Chicago & Northwestern Railroad, Evanston Division funeral train. This rural cemetery, one of the oldest private cemeteries in Chicago, dedicated July 28, 1859. It is one of only three cemeteries near Chicago organized under a perpetual charter, granted by the Illinois Legislature, which guarantees its absolute permanency. A park section addition of about 30 acres is on the north side of Peterson Avenue.
Originally, the land was originally known as Roe’s Hill was owned by Hiram Roe. It was a high ridge of sand and glacial rock left by the receding Lake Chicago, which preceded Lake Michigan. The land in this area is between two ridges. The Rosehill Spit (in the cemetery) and the Green Bay Road ridge. The area between was a mix of low sand hills and marshland. A creek ran through the area, fed by an underground spring. The cemetery was planned as a landscaped memorial park complete with miles of winding roads and walkways. According to the custom of the time, visiting Rosehill in the second half of the 19th Century was a day-long social event. A trolley car transported people around the grounds.
A beautiful chapel was built in 1899 in memory of Horatio N. May, a coffee and tea and dry goods merchant and one of Chicago’s first paid firefighters. There were three beautiful Victorian frame residences on the grounds, one occupied by the family of a retired lifelong employee of Rosehill. One son was born raised in the cemetery. He tells of playing in the mausoleum, hiding in the air vents and grabbing new employees as they walked by. A deliveryman was reportedly scared so badly that he has to be taken to a nearby hospital. The Rosehill Cemetery Mausoleum built in 1914, contains six thousand crypts on two levels appealing to the elite businessmen of the city who enjoyed the thought of entire family rooms that could be dedicated to their families alone and could be decorated to their style and taste.Two of them men also laid to rest in the building are Aaron Montgomery Ward and his bitter business rival, Richard Warren Sears.
Much like Graceland, here are buried hundreds of the famous, mayors, governors, architects, inventors, senators and businessmen. Among them Oscar Mayer and Ignatz Schwinn; founder of the Schwinn Bicycle Company. There are three separate Jewish burial grounds within Rosehill including Zion Cemetery, Sinai Jewish Cemetery, and the North Chicago Hebrew Congregation Cemetery. Entering Evanston, Clark Street becomes Chicago Avenue and we come to Calvary Catholic Cemetery also known as: New Catholic or, New Calvary at 301 Chicago Avenue. Here the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad funeral train from Wells Street Depot and the Chicago Milwaukee & St Paul Railroad would bring caskets and mourners daily.
Calvary Catholic Cemetery at 301 Chicago in Evanston was formed in 1859 as a rural Catholic Cemetery, on 110 acres. It was opened to replace the overcrowded Catholic cemetery at North and Schiller in Chicago and is one of the oldest in the Archdoicese. The east half of the cemetery was purchased from John Devlin by Bishop James Oliver Vandevelde in 1851 and the West half of forty acres was purchased in 1859 from John O’Leary. On August 15, 1865, the first Catholic mass in Evanston was celebrated in Calvary using a kitchen table for a altar. The priest almost missed the dedication, his buggy mired in the sand of North Shore. The first burial was Daniel Malony on November 16 1859 in section 17‑9‑C. Irish Catholics are the predominant group, but records show that the Indian chief, “Little Thunderer” is also in Calvary. A monument just inside the main entrance was called the clergyman’s circle or “Priest’s Circle”, reserved for clergy. A restaurant serving the cemetery was run by Mr. Dorsey at the southwest corner of Mulford and Chicago avenues. It was rumored that mourners after funerals could avail themselves of spiked hot tea, a flagrant violation of Evanston’s ban on alcohol.
Our final stop on our Clark Street corridor is Ridgeville Cemetery (Also known as: Evanston Graveyard) and once located the northwest corner of Ridge and Greenleaf avenues in a settlement then called Ridgeville. Henry Clarke bought eighty acres of land from the Government on September 28, 1840. He and his wife, Lorinda were granted a land patent on March 10, 1843. Henry Clark deeded approx. one-half acre of this land to the township trustees on December 2 1846, for use as a cemetery and school, described “for the quick and the dead.” The property is described on various documents as being of slightly different size. One document shows .55 acre, 22 rods (363′) by 4 rods (66′). Another document described the property as being forty chains (264′) by 1 chain ‑ 25 links (82.5′). When the city of Evanston was platted about 1853, the cemetery lot fell outside the Evanston City limits.
A log school house and meeting house, used for school, social events, and for Sunday worship. was called the Grosse Point School house, and was built by Samuel Reed about 1841 or 1842. It was believed to be located on the southeast corner of the property. The cemetery was on the rear (west end) of the lot, between Greenleaf and Lee Street. The First Methodist Episcopal Church began here, conducting services at the school house between 1846 and 1855. They shared the building with others including the Baptists and the Presbyterians. Historical accounts refer to parishioners visiting the cemetery after Sunday services to tend to the graves of their loved ones.
Cemetery lots were sold for two dollars each. Each lot would contain space for ten graves. About one hundred burials were reportedly made in the cemetery including the Burroughs, Crains, and Mr. Mann Sr. In 1872 burials were discontinued, (another account states possibly as early as 1860). Ridgeville Cemetery appears on the 1861 Flower map, on file in the Newberry Library, Chicago. By 1890 most bodies were removed to another cemetery not specified in historical accounts. The cemetery had been in such poor condition that the City of Evanston prepared an ordinance declaring the cemetery a nuisance. It was stated that the cemetery had been neglected for many years. In 1900, workers found two skeletons from this cemetery while digging a sewer. Today there is a family residence on the property.
And here ends our cemetery journey of Chicago’s north corridor. Thanks for riding along with me.