I love walking through cemeteries. How creepy, you probably are thinking, but it’s true. Not during the night, I will admit, that’s a little sketch, but strolling through a historic cemetery on a nice day is one of the most interesting things you can do to really get a sense of a place’s origins. Oh, look! A huge moselium with the last name of the street I live on, maybe that’s where it comes from! Probably. Graceland Cemetery is that place for Chicago, a 119 acre space that holds the graves of many of Chicago’s greats embossed by gravestones, statues, and memorials.
Graceland Cemetery was established as a private cemetery in 1860 by a successful Chicago lawyer. Originally a mere 80 acres, the grounds were managed by a board of prominent Chicagoans. These wealthy Chicagoans purchased large plots of land for their families, beginning the cycle that gave the cemetery the nickname the “cemetery of architects.” Landscape Architect H.W.S. Cleveland designed the space in a style reminiscent of Victorian parks without plot boundaries, while landscape architect Ossian Simonds added native plants to enhance a pastoral landscape.
Do you love to find out who those streets you wander down everyday are named after? Maybe that is just one of my dorky attributes, but William Kimball (a traveling salesman), Charles Wacker (chairman of the Chicago Plan Commission), John Kinzie (first permanent white settler of Chicago), and John Peter Altgeld (lawyer, judge, and former governor of Illinois from 1893-1897) are all buried at Graceland. Or what about all those bigwigs who left their mark all over our beautiful city? Marshall Field, Daniel Burnham, George Pullman and Cyrus McCormick are all there too, some with huge monuments and statues commemorating their efforts. Potter Palmer, of Palmer house fame, sold his successful dry goods store to Marshall Field and eventually became a real estate mogul; and is buried their with his wife.
Other notable Graceland residents include Augustus Dickens, Charles Dickens’ younger brother, and William Hulbert, the founder of the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs. His big carved baseball memorial reminds visitors of his importance in the beginnings of professional baseball, notably with the Chicago White Stockings.
If you are afraid of haunted places, well, you probably aren’t a lover of cemeteries to begin with. It is said that Graceland is haunted by a six-year-old girl named Inez Clarke who died when she was struck by lightening at a family picnic. A life-size statue of the girl sits within a glass box to commemorate her life, but many groundskeepers have reported the statue to be missing at night, only to find it returned the next day. It is also said the ghost of the girl reportedly plays in the cemetery during thunderstorms.
The cemetery is open to the public to visit year round. It is currently operated by the Trustees of the Graceland Cemetery Improvement Fund, a not-for-profit trust which maintains the grounds. A trip to Graceland is well worth it to wander among the graves of the men and women who shaped the Windy City.
For more detailed biographies of any of the people listed in this article, or to find out more about visiting Graceland Cemetery, visit their website.
Location: 4001 N. Clark Street
View Graceland Cemetary in a larger map