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Bohemian National, Rosehill, and Graceland (left to right)

"ETERNAL SILENCE"
Three Chicago Cemeteries

getaway-chicago logo There are countless cemeteries in Chicago, but few as remarkable as Graceland, Rosehill and Bohemian National. The Getaway Guys visited all three in late 2011. The final park-like resting places of Chicago’s luminaries were interesting to visit, but the Guys were more intrigued by the sculpture and architecture of the dead. Sculpture abounds, but architecture in the form of mausoleums is less abundant, due in large part to the cost involved.cemeteries7 The word mausoleum comes from the tomb of the Persian King Mausolus (377-353 B.C.), a massive structure considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In time, using a mausoleum for burial became a trend adopted by the Romans, as seen along Rome’s Appian Way, the biggest and most famous (still extant) being the Emperor Hadrian’s (76-138 A.D.) tomb now called the Castel Sant’Angelo (the fortress of the Pope) next to the Vatican and not on the Appian Way.

For some the subject of cemeteries may seem morbid. Yes, cemeteries are dedicated to the deceased, but they are also devoted cemeteries8to the living, since they are places where those celebrating life can observe in solitude and quiet those who preceded us. From the early 19th century to the early 20th century in America, urban cemeteries were popular gathering spots for leisure pastimes. Public parks were virtually non-existent until the late 19th century, so cemeteries provided a getaway from urban congestion. They were country-like settings in which to hike and/or picnic.

Graceland, Rosehill and Bohemian National were all created around the same time, c.1859. Alarmed about health issues related to Lake Michigan’s water supply, Chicago officials closed “in town” cemeteries and transferred the deceased to the outer reaches of Chicago. cemeteries9And although the city now surrounds Graceland, Rosehill and Bohemian National, the land acquired and developed was considered to be a safe distance away.

Of the three, Graceland is the most celebrated. It was the preferred burial site of Chicago’s elite. Rosehill is equally celebrated, but slightly more egalitarian. Bohemian National was/is in essence an ethnic cemetery, a coveted burial site for Chicago’s large Bohemian population (not the artist type). All three contain mausoleums, but Graceland is distinctive.cemeteries10 Its elite “residents” commissioned architects to design their final resting places, some quite grandiose. Bohemian National contains a welter of funerary sculpture, while Rosehill is represented by both, if in more subdued quantity. By a wide margin, the most prevalent mausoleum architectural style is Classical with columns and pediments aplenty. Second would seem to be Egyptian with pyramidal motifs and sphinxes. Here and there Gothic designs can be found, but not in large numbers. Lastly, there are some Art Deco or Art Moderne mausoleums. Associated with permanence or life in the hereafter, the Egyptian mode seems to make more sense than the Classical with its pagan connotations. The scarcity of Gothic is somewhat surprising. Relevant to religious fervor a la European cathedral design, one might have predicted its favor. The preference for Art Deco/Art Moderne may have been about being “with it,” even in death.

Tcemeteries12cemeteries11he majority of the sculptures found in all three were carved in stone by skilled journeymen stone cutters. At Graceland, Rosehill and Bohemian Nation identical angels (big and small) can be found along with numerous allegorical figures representing grief and hope. More than likely, these “sculptors” used sample books and pointing devices to guide them in producing multiple images of the same subject. Probably many were immigrant Europeans trained abroad. They were skilled, but anonymous. From New England to the South where most prominent American sculptors worked, examples of their funerary endeavors are fairly common. Oddly, despite Chicago’s wealth, few examples by famous American sculptors appear to exist here. Graceland is an exception with a work by Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) commemorating Marshall Field (1834-1906) and “Eternal Silence” by Lorado Taft (1860-1936) for Dexter Graves (1789-1844). The French piece is evocative in its solemnity, but the Taft work is downright spooky and very definitive in its representation of closure. cemeteries13Perhaps not coincidentally, Taft’s representation shares an affinity with Augustus St. Gauden’s Adams Memorial in Washington, D. C. Alan thought “Eternal Silence” by Taft eerie. No kidding! "It is supposed to be," Neil observed.

In terms of architecture and sculpture, Graceland, Rosehill and Bohemian National are unique among Chicago’s many cemeteries. Ignoring death, they are actually pleasant places to visit and filled with interesting information. For a change, Neil and Alan didn’t find much to disagree about, except Alan couldn’t fathom a picnic in such surroundings. March 2012

 

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