Headstones – Chicago

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The town of Chicago was established in 1833, starting with a population of about 200. It was incorporated as a city in 1837 and was the fastest growing city in the world for a long time. Nowadays, more than 2.7 million people reside in Chicago.

There are three large 19th century cemeteries in Chicago which used to be outside the city boundaries: Graceland, Rosehill and Oak Woods.

Graceland is a Victorian era cemetery which was established in 1860. In 1871, bodies were moved to Graceland from Lincoln Park, the city’s cemetery at the time. It was deconsecrated after the Great Chicago Fire. The only mausoleum remaining in Lincoln Park was the “Couch tomb”, where Ira Couch was buried. This may be the oldest preserved structure in Chicago, as everything else was destroyed by the fire. Lincoln Park was subsequently turned into a recreational area.

The landscaping of Graceland was typical for the Victorian era – there was more emphasis on park-like settings with room for picnics, dotted with memorials. Ossian Cole Simonds, a sought after landscape gardener at the time, designed the cemetery.

At Graceland, many tombs of architectural or artistic interest can be found, such as the Getty Tomb and George Pullman’s final resting place. He died in 1897 of a heart attack when he was 66 years old. His family feared that his body might be dug up by his former employees or other supporters, so special precautions were taken to prevent this from happening. His coffin was lead-lined and sealed inside a block of concrete. The pit at his family plot had reinforced concrete at its base and walls, and the coffin was covered with asphalt, tarpaper and more concrete after it had been lowered into the pit. It took two days for the whole burial process to finish.

Rosehill Cemetery is the largest in Chicago. It encompasses an area of 350 acres. Initially, it was supposed to be called “Roe’s Hill”, after the farmer who had sold the land to the city, but a City Clerk made a mistake which turned it into “Rosehill”. The largest mausoleum of Chicago can also be found here. It was dedicated in 1914 and has two levels which are almost entirely constructed of marble. The floors are made of Italian Carrara marble which is of very high quality and has been popular for use in sculpting and buildings. It is quarried in Tuscany, Italy in the city of Carrara and has been used since the time of Ancient Rome. The mausoleum’s rooms feature stained glass windows, some of which have been designed by Tiffany. At Rosehill, around 350 Union soldiers and sailors are entombed as well. Nowadays a Civil War Museum can be found on the cemetery grounds as well; it opened in 1995. Another important memorial at Rosehill is the Chicago Volunteer Firefighter’s Memorial which was erected to honour all firefighters killed in the line of duty.

In 1853, Oak Woods Cemetery was established. It encompasses 183 acres. In 1960, the first burials took place. At Oak Woods, more than 6000 soldiers were buried in a mass grave (the largest mass grave in the Western Hemisphere). A monument lists the names of more than 4000. Initially, these soldiers had been buried at the City Cemetery but were exhumed.

A list of other cemeteries in Chicago include:

Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery
Wunder’s Cemetery
Bohemian National Cemetery of Chicago
Saint Luke Cemetery
St Henry Catholic Cemetery
Irving Park Cemetery
Rosemont Park Cemetery
Mount Greenwood Cemetery
Saint Casimir Lithuanian Cemetery
Lincoln Cemetery
… and many more, including Illinois Pet Cemetery, the oldest pet cemetery in Illinois.

Gravestones and Monuments - Chicago

Gravestone design is a vast field. There are many options to choose from; such as rough or polished surfaces, different materials (for example marble or granite monuments), different colours and sizes and a variety of inscriptions or lettering. In addition to the name of the deceased and the dates of birth and death people often add a personal touch to a monument. This could be a symbol, a verse, a picture or more elaborate carvings.

There are different ways of engraving letters into a grave marker. For example chiseling, where the engraving is chiseled into the stone. Again, there are several ways of doing this – engraved or embossed (raised) letters are distinguished. Sometimes the engraved letters are coloured in, with gold or silver being popular choices for marble memorials.

Another way of working with lettering on gravestones are superimposed letters. Here materials such as bronze, aluminium, lead or stainless steel are used. These are anchored into the memorial with dowels, or sometimes they are glued on. There are many different fonts, colours and materials to choose from.

Another way of engraving a gravestone is done by sandblasting, where sand and compressed air are used. Nowadays gravestones can even be lasered, which is a technique mostly used for very dark grave markers.