Depending on how well you know me, you may or may not be aware of my aesthetic inclination towards the macabre. Generally speaking, I prefer my art creepy, surreal, and often of German Expressionist extraction. Hanging in my apartment is one Czech woodblock print of weeping nuns, and an etching waiting to be hung on the wall depicts the figure of Death looming over a sleeping man. Similarly, I have what some people consider to be a strange affinity for visiting cemeteries. Funerary art and iconography fascinates me, and I genuinely enjoy visiting cemeteries of different eras to study how people memorialize the dead. During my travels, I often seek out interesting or historically significant burial grounds, and just like with my ongoing church exploration project, I treat my hometown no differently.
An interest in cemeteries is one of the things that Katherine and I have long had in common. We made an effort in college to visit at least one St. Louis area graveyard a year, and when we came to Chicago during Spring Break of our senior year, I took Katherine to see Graceland Cemetery, where all the wealthiest Chicagoans of the Gilded Age are buried. Marshall Field and his descendents are there, along with the Palmer family of hoteliers and the Armour meat-packing heirs. This was a group of people who was accustomed to the best in life (as my visit to their neighborhood church bore out), and their taste for luxury carried over to their wishes for the afterlife as well. It's one of the most architecturally important cemeteries in America, and I highly recommend checking it out even if cemeteries aren't ordinarily your thing. The History Museum offers tours, and there is also a helpful guidebook you can purchase at the cemetery itself.
Rosehill is Chicago's other great historic graveyard, as it contains the final resting places of some of Chicago's earliest citizens. Their remains were moved to Rosehill after the Great Chicago Fire, when the city decided to tackle the public health threat posed by having its existing cemeteries along the edge of the lakefront (the source of all the city's drinking water), in the area that is now Lincoln Park, by moving all human remains further northwest. As a result, Rosehill features graves, tombs, and other monuments that are of astonishing age given the relative youth of the city in general.
The gate to Rosehill was designed by William H. Boyington, the same architect who created the Chicago Water Tower. It was added to the U.S. Register of Historic Landmarks in 1975.
Due to its age and the time of its construction, Rosehill is the final resting place of the largest number of Civil War veterans in the Chicagoland area.
One of my favorite monuments at Rosehill featured these two dogs, one at attention and one taking a rest. I don't know if the couple buried here were avid dog lovers or if their choice was motivated by a different type of symbolism, but I thought it had a great deal of charm and personality.There aren't quite as many locally famous people buried at Rosehill as there are at Graceland, but the cemetery does boast a few big names: Jack Brickhouse, Oscar Mayer, Aaron Montgomery Ward, Burr Tillstrom of Kukla, Fran, and Ollie fame, former Vice President Charles G. Dawes, and a number of obscure former Chicago mayors. Not too shabby...
As the largest cemetery in Chicago, it took us the better part of the day to traverse Rosehill's extensive grounds, so after we'd worked up a sufficient appetite, we headed back downtown for the requisite deep dish pizza experience at Giordano's. Truly, no visit to Chicago is complete without the pizza, and even for a local who experiences deep dish on a semi-regular basis, taking out-of-towners to eat it never seems to get old. In this case, the long wait time works in your favor, as it gives you ample time to rest from a long day of local tourism and enjoy unhurried conversation with your guests. Besides, with the day I've scheduled for tomorrow, we're going to be glad we took it easy this evening...