Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Cemetery History of Early Chicago.

The locations for the burial of the dead weren't recorded until about 1835. In earlier times, each interment was made on or near the residence of the deceased or near their family's house or property.

Later, the settlements around the Chicago River forks had a common acre of property on the west side of the North Branch, where the dead were buried. Fort Dearborn's dead were generally buried on the north side of the main branch of the Chicago River, east of Kinzie's old house, near the lakeshore. John Kinzie was buried there in 1828.

The Fort Dearborn Cemetery, 
Fort Cemetery, or Garrison Cemetery. (1803-ca.1835)
The Fort Dearborn Cemetery, aka "Common Burial Ground or Garrison Cemetery," can be considered Chicago's first Cemetery. Very little physical description of Fort Dearborn Cemetery is known, but the site was not much more than sand, which shifted with the winds off Lake Michigan. It was difficult, if not impossible, to maintain the graves against the elements. Markers, at best, were probably simple wooden boards or crosses, and many graves were perhaps unmarked.

Cutting through the sandbar for the harbor caused the lake to encroach and wash away the earth, exposing coffins and their contents, which were afterward cared for and reinterred by the civil authorities.

Located southeast of Fort Dearborn, the Common Burial Grounds at Fort Dearborn was located between the road leading to the fort and the west bank of the Chicago River as it flowed southward to the lake, and it was before the channel was cut. According to modern street grids, the Cemetery would have been south and east of the intersection of Lake Street (200 North) and Wabash Avenue (50 East). It was located on what today would be the south end of the Michigan Avenue bridge at the Chicago River (300 North Michigan Avenue, today).

Although there might have been an earlier burial, the first grave at the fort other than Indian burials is that of Eliza Dodemead Jouett in 1805, wife of Charles Jouett (1772-1834), the first Indian agent and government factor at Chicago. Her grave was placed at the entrance to the garden of the fort. Eliza of Detroit married Charles on January 22, 1803, and had one daughter. After Eliza's death, Charles remarried in 1809 and had one son and three daughters with his second wife.

Soldiers and those who died from the Cholera outbreak of 1832 were buried quickly in the Cholera Cemetery.

Cholera Cemetery is discussed a little further below.

On modern-day street grids, Eliza's grave would be in the middle of South Water Street (Wacker Place – 300 North) between Wabash Avenue (50 East) and Michigan Avenue (100 East). Although the special significance of her grave, by its location and identification on the Harrison map (marked in yellow), is not well explained, her death probably occurred before the formal beginning of the Cemetery at the fort.
1830 map drawn by F. Harrison Jr., U.S. Civil Engineer and approved by William Howard, U.S. Civil Engineer. The Fort Dearborn Cemetery is highlighted in green.
The documented history of this Cemetery can best be established when Captain Hezikiah Bradley was sent to Chicago to re‑establish Fort Dearborn after the Massacre of 1812. He returned to Chicago on July 4, 1816.

As is common with very early burial grounds, the exact location is sometimes hard to pinpoint, and accounts differ.

The dead from the surprise Indian attack were not buried. Their bones lay in the sand, half-buried where they were killed, until four years later, in 1816, when Fort Dearborn was reopened. They were reburied at the Common Burial Ground at Fort Dearborn, also called Fort Cemetery or Garrison Cemetery.

One account says that victims were left as they laid near what would now be 18th Street and Calumet Avenue on Chicago’s near south side. The site was described as being on 18th Street, between Prairie (300 east) and Lake Michigan.

A second possible location was by Mrs. George W. Pullman’s house (1729 South Prairie) or the Northeast corner of 18th Street and Prairie Avenue in the South Township Section: SW 1/4 22 Township 39 Range: 14. This is about where the massacre took place and where victims were buried. Another source states that the site was just behind the Pullman mansion. The Pullman three-story mansion was built in 1873 and was valued at $500,000 in 1880 ($13.3 million today), but was razed in 1922.

Another report suggests that the massacre burials were at what would now be 18th street and Calumet Avenue (325 east). Still another source states that the massacre was centered just east of what is now Prairie Avenue between 16th and 17th Streets.

Still another account statesin 18th street, near Fernando Jones house (1834 South Prairie), is a spot supposed to contain the bodies of some two score (40 souls), while for several blocks along the lakeshore, it is said, graves were scraped into the land.

Historical accounts state that his first task was to carefully gather the bones and bury them in what would be later called the Fort Dearborn Cemetery. 

The Fort Dearborn cemetery was most likely closed in 1835 when two regular cemeteries were established near Lake Michigan, at the edges of town. One was located at Chicago Avenue and the other at Twelfth Street (which was renamed Roosevelt Road on May 25, 1919). 

The Cholera Cemetery or the Lake and Wabash Burial Site (1832)
This burial site, now the northwest corner of Lake and Wabash, was used in 1832 to quickly bury soldiers from Fort Dearborn who died of Cholera. The Chicago Tribune of August 8, 1897, described the location as the west side of Wabash (50 East), between Lake (200 North) and South Water Street. 

Early reports described the site as the same corner as where the Brown & Tuttle's American Temperance House on the northwest corner of Lake Street and Wabash Avenue was later erected." A later report stated that the Leander J McCormick Building was built on that same corner in 1872. 
The History of the 1832 Cholera Cemetery, aka the Lake and Wabash Burial Site, Chicago.
Four steamers, the Henry Clay, Superior, Sheldon Thompson, and William Penn, were chartered by the United States Government to transport troops, equipment, and provisions to Chicago during the Black Hawk War, but, owing to the fearful ravages, made by the breaking out of Asiatic Cholera among the troops and crew on board, the Henry Clay and the Superior, were compelled to abandon their voyage, proceeding no further than Fort Gratiot. The disease became so violent on board the Henry Clay that nothing like discipline could be observed. Everything in the way of subordination ceased. 

During the trip, nearly one-fourth of the soldiers and crew contracted Cholera, and several were buried at sea. 
During the trip, nearly one-fourth of the soldiers and crew contracted Cholera, and several were buried at sea.
As soon as the steamer came to the dock in Chicago on July 10, 1832, each man sprang on shore, hoping to escape from a terrific and appalling scene. Some fled to the fields, some to the woods, while others lay down on the streets and under the cover of the riverbank, where most of them died unwept and alone. Eighteen more died and were quickly buried in a mass grave at this site.

In the next four days, 54 more soldiers died of the disease and were also buried there. Reports indicate that a total of 88 soldiers died, with about 72 more buried at this location. One victim has been identified as 2nd Lt. Franklin McDultie of Rochester, New Hampshire, who died on July 15, 1832. Today, the Cholera Cemetery would be under Harold Washington College.

City Cemetery Park
In 1843, a cemetery complex began on the Green Bay Trail Ridge (Green Bay Road; now North Clark Street) at North Avenue and slowly extended north with the 60-acre City Cemetery and south with the smaller Catholic Cemetery.
Chicago City Cemetery
A Jewish Burial Society bought six-sevenths of an acre in City Cemetery in 1846. Four years later, the city added 12 acres to its Cemetery by purchasing the adjacent estate of Jacob Milleman, a victim of Cholera. 
Built in 1858 for Ira Couch, costing $7,000, at the south end of Lincoln Park. The other above-ground tombs were removed, and all other bodies were reinterred shortly after the Cemetery was closed in 1869.
Citing the proximity of the burial grounds to the city's water supply as hazardous to public health, Chicago's sanitary superintendent, physician John Rauch, requested the abandonment of the city cemetery as early as 1858. Burials continued until 1866 when Chicago lost a lawsuit filed by the Milleman heirs, who claimed $75,000 was owed to them due to the mistake-ridden sale of 1850. The city chose to move the bodies to private cemeteries located outside of the city limits and return the land to the heirs. 

The Great Removal began. City Cemetery bodies were wagoned to Graceland, Oakwoods, Rosehill, and Wunder's cemeteries. The Roman Catholic choices were Calvary in Evanston and St. Boniface in Chicago. Jews had moved their burial ground to Belmont and Clark in 1856. 
Rosehill Cemetery Entrance, Chicago, Illinois (chartered February 11, 1859).

Chicago city government attempted to prohibit any new burials within the city of Chicago throughout the late nineteenth century. Yet, as the city annexed additional land, it contended with existing cemeteries inside its limits. Graceland, for instance, was situated two miles north of the city until the significant annexation of 1889.
Graceland Cemetery
The state of Illinois protected these private cemeteries from city bans on burials. Still, Chicago exercised some control over its extension by passing an ordinance in 1931 that made it unlawful for cemeteries to expand or change their boundaries without a special permit." 

An account of the laying out, by the town authorities of Chicago, in 1835, of two cemeteries, one on the Northside and one on the Southside. The Protestants used the Northside cemetery, while the Southside cemetery became the first Catholic burial ground in the city. 

No interments were made in the Southside grounds after 1842. In about 1847, the city authorities reinterred the bodies from the burial grounds in the Lincoln Park tract, known as Chicago Cemetery. The Chicago Cemetery tract contained 3,236 burial lots and was designated the "Milliman" tract under the old survey. By a decision of the Illinois Supreme Court, the city lost the title to the Milliman tract and the Common Council, in 1865, ordered the vacation of the parcel, authorizing lot owners to exchange their lots for lots in any of the new cemeteries, of equal size and of their own selection Graceland, Rosehill, and Oakwoods had, by this date been established. 

When the time allowed (two years) for the city to vacate the tract of land, the deadline expired. A special committee was appointed by the Common Council, consisting of Aldermen Woodard, Wicker, and Lawson, who selected about two hundred lot-owners who had not made any selection and could not be found. The committee selected lots of equal size and in the best obtainable location in that part of Oakwoods known as the "Third Division, Section B," where the bodies were reinterred in precisely the same order as they had been in the Chicago Cemetery. The city holds the title to the whole tract purchased in Oakwoods, and any of the exchanged owners were given the privilege of obtaining a deed to the new lot upon executing the release of the old one. After several years of litigation, the portion of the old Chicago Cemetery included in the present limits of Lincoln Park passed under the control of the park commissioners. Joseph H. Ernst, of No. 271 North Avenue, was the sexton of the Chicago Cemetery for several years and was charged with the bodies' exhumation.

The Jewish Congregations had a cemetery five miles north of the city on Green Bay Road (now North Clark Street). They formerly had a plat of ground in the Chicago Cemetery, and the Hebrew Benevolent Society established a burial ground here in 1855. The grounds are high, overlooking the lake, and contain several fine monuments. Sinai and Zion's congregations also had an extensive plat reserved at Rosehill Cemetery Company, chartered on February 11, 1859.

Wunder's Cemetery was founded in 1859 and was initially called The First German Lutheran or The Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery. The German Lutheran Cemetery was incorporated in 1912. On October 19, 1919, it was renamed Wunder's Cemetery Association to honor the Evangelical Heinrich' Henry' Wunder, pastor of First Saint Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church. Members of this congregation, jointly with First Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church, were elected as the Directors of Wunder's Cemetery Association.

Graceland Cemetery was founded in 1861 by Thomas B. Bryan, who purchased eighty acres of land, five and a half miles from downtown, on rising ridges near the lakeshore. 

Oakwoods Cemetery lies three and a half miles due south of the city limits. It is reached by the boulevard drives through North Park, and Illinois Central Hyde Park trains stop at 67th Street, from whence a broad walk leads to the cemetery entrances. The Cemetery was laid out in 1864.

Forest Home Cemetery lies on the banks of the Desplaines River, four and a half miles west of Chicago, on Madison Street, and was founded in 1876.
Forest Home Cemetery. Circa 1890s
Waldheim Cemetery is directly opposite Forest Home Cemetery, to the south, between Harrison and Twelfth Streets on the Desplaines River. It is owned by a corporation re-organized in 1881 under the law 1879.
German Waldheim Cemetery. Circa 1890s
St. Boniface, a German Catholic Cemetery of about thirty acres, is located on Green Bay Road, three and a half miles north of the city (now North Clark Street). 

Calvary Cemetery was the favorite burial place of the Irish Catholic Churches. It lies nine miles north of the city near Evanston. It was consecrated shortly after the opening of Graceland Cemetery in 1861. However, before this, some of the bodies taken from the consecrated ground in the old Chicago Cemetery were reinterred here.

The early places, say up to the late 1840s, have been abandoned, and the deposits all removed to newer grounds provided by several cemetery associations of the city.

In 1893, the cemeteries east of the Desplaines River were in the Chicago City Directory. They are listed under their known names:
  • Anshe Maariv' Jewish' Cemetery. (N. Clark Street  and Belmont Avenue .)
  • Austro-Hungarian, [Waldhelm] Cemetery. (10 miles west of City Hall)
  • Beth Hamedrash 'Jewish' [Oakwoods] Cemetery. (67th St. and Cottage Grove Ave.)
  • B'nai Abraham' Jewish' Cemetery. (Near Waldhelm)
  • B'nai Shalom' Jewish' Cemetery. (N. Clark St. and Graceland Ave.) 
  • Calvary Cemetery. (9 miles north of City Hall)
  • Cemetery of the Congregation of the North Side. [Waldhelm]
  • Chebra Gemilath Chasadino Ubikar Cholim. (N. Clark St. near Graceland Cemetery)
  • Concordia. Cemetery. (Near Forest Home Cemetery, Oak Park)
  • Forest Home Cemetery. (Madison St., and Desplaines River, Forest Park)
  • Free Sons of Israel' Jewish' Cemetery. [Waldhelm]
  • German Lutheran Cemetery. (N. Clark St. and Graceland Ave.) 
  • Graceland Cemetery. (Clark St. and Irving Park Road) 
  • Hebrew Benevolent Society Cemetery. (Near Graceland Cemetery)
  • Moses Montefiore' Jewish' Cemetery. [Waldhelm]
  • Mount Greenwood Cemetery. (California Ave. and 111th St.)
  • Mount Hope Cemetery. (California Ave. and 115th St.)
  • Mount Olive Cemetery. (Narragansett Ave. and Addison)
  • Mount Olivet Cemetery. (California Ave. and 111th St.)
  • Oak Woods Cemetery. (67th St. and Greenwood Ave.)
  • O'Haney Emunah' Jewish' Cemetery. [Waldhelm]
  • O'Haney Shalom' Jewish' Cemetery. {Unknown}
  • Rosehill Cemetery. (Peterson and Ravenswood Aves.)
  • Sinai Congregational' Jewish' Cemetery. {Unknown}
  • St. Boniface Cemetery. (N. Clark St. and Lawrence Ave.)
  • Union Ridge Cemetery. (Higgins and Normandy, Norwood Park)
  • Waldheim' Jewish' Cemetery. (Roosevelt Rd. and Desplaines River, Forest Park)
  • Wunders Cemetery. ( 2280 N. Clark St., at Irving Park Rd., Chicago)
  • Zion Congregation Cemetery. (Peterson and Ravenswood Aves.) 
These were additional cemeteries east of the Desplaines River in the 1911 Chicago telephone directory. They are listed under their known names:
  • Bohemian National Cemetery. (Crawford Ave, North of Foster)
  • Elm Lawn Cemetery (Office: 172 East Washington, Chicago)
  • Elmwood Cemetery (Office: 293 North Carpenter, Chicago)
  • Mount Auburn Cemetery (Between Oak Park & Ridgeland Aves. near 39th St., Chicago)
  • Mount Mayriv (64th and Waveland Ave., Chicago)
  • Norwood Park Cemetery (Office: 84 La Salle St., Chicago)
  • Oakridge Cemetery (Office: 160 W Washington St., Chicago)
  • St. Adelbert's Cemetery (Milwaukee Ave., Chicago)
  • St. Lucas Cemetery (40th [Pulaski] and Foster Aves, Chicago)
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 


  1. I went on a nature hike at Oak Forest Hospital,(159th & Cicero) and learned of the burial of thousands on the grounds. There's going to be another tour next month about it.Is there somewhere to research more?

    1. Another large burial site near Irving Park Road and Oak Park Avenue, where the Cook County Insane Asylum (aka 'Dunning' and later Chicago-Read Mental Health Center) was located. Construction still turns up unrecorded graves. Search the DRLOIH for details.

    2. The Story of Chicago's Dunning Asylum. A 'Tomb For The Living.'


  2. A terrific post, Neil. Thank you.
    Winnie Bowman

  3. What do you know about O'Haney Emunah 'Jewish' Cemetery & O'Haney Shalom 'Jewish' Cemetery? How did two 'Jewish' cemeteries wind up with the same Irish name?

  4. A wonderful post of these amazing cemeteries. Thank you for so much information in this article.

  5. My question is about Concordia burials. I have 5 family members who should be there based on death records. The burials are 1900-1936. They don’t show up there or in any other Cook county cemetery. I’m familiar with the Eisenhower expressway. We’re they lost or just unmarked??
    Thanks! Ann

  6. Ihave a strong memory from the 1940s of a small cemetery at the corner of Pine Grove and Grace St., next to (or at least very near) a Christian Science Reading Room on Grace. I can't seem to find any record of it, but I passed it nearly every day as I walked from my family's apartment on Waveland east of Pine Grove to my grandparents', on Pine Grove north of Sheridan.


    1. You are refering to the Anshe Emet Synagogue Memorial Park Cemetery, 3760 North Pine Grove Avenue, Chicago.

  7. I'm looking for the remains of a Polish relative buried, according to Chicago death records, in May of 1891 in the St. Stanislaus Cemetery. St. Stanislaus Kostka Church was (is) located on lots "near Noble and Potomac Streets". I've not found any information on this cemetery and it's likely relocation, perhaps to Niles, IL? Have you come across this cemetery in your research?

    1. St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Church at Noble St. and Potomac Ave. (773) 278-2470. I was told that they did not have a cemetery. As you know, Google is no help either.

    2. I believe I found the cemetery. It is a section of St. Adalbert's Cemetery. I found an old text regarding the purchase of the land by the St. Stanislaus Kostka church. The map of the St Adalbert's cemetery shows the section next to "Circle 2".


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