Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The History of the 1832 Cholera Cemetery aka the Lake and Wabash Burial Site, Chicago.

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 Asiatic Cholera. The Chicago Tribune of August 8, 1897, described the location as the west side of Wabash, between Lake and South Water Streets. Early reports described the site as being on the same corner as where the Brown & Tuttle's American Temperance House was later built on the same corner of Lake Street and Wabash Avenue.” A later report stated that the "Leander J McCormick Building" was erected on the same corner in 1872.
The Harold Washington City College is on the site of the Cholera Cemetery.
Four steamers, the Henry Clay, Superior, Sheldon Thompson, and William Penn were chartered by the United States Government for the purpose of transporting troops, equipment, and provisions to Chicago, during the Black Hawk War, but, owing to the fearful ravages, made by the breaking out of the 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 of 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.
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 scene so terrific and appalling. 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 here. Reports indicate that a total of 88 soldiers died, and about 72 more were buried at this location. One victim has been identified as 2nd Lt. Franklin McDultie of Rochester, New Hampshire who died on July 15, 1832.

It is unknown if the bodies were moved and where they went to, or if they just built on top of the cemetery.

Today the Harold Washington College is on top of where the Cholera Cemetery was.

Further Reading: The Cemetery History of Early Chicago.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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