Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Hello Again!

After a long absence, our blog is back. I hope to share with you regularly news, events, and musings from the Chicago paranormal world. I hope that you will subscribe to Haunting Chicago--and that you will enjoy what we share here. We begin with one of my favorite topics: the graveyards of Chicago.

I was recently asked some questions that really had me thinking hard. "What cemetery in Chicago hold the most historical significance?" was the first question. A doozie, right? I had to seriously ponder this one, and this is what I came up with:

This is a very difficult question to answer. Each cemetery in Chicago has a unique place in Chicago's history, so it's quite hard to choose. Pressed, I have to pick the burial ground of St. James Church at Sag Bridge. The oldest cemetery in Cook County, it was founded in the 1830s but had a long history as a sacred site even before this. The Native Americans are said to have used the area as a sacred ground along this ancient Indian Road (Archer Avenue). Even today, burial mounds dot the area just over the existing woods. During the time of French exploration of the interior, the land hosted a French signal fort, and this is when the first Catholic church stood on the site. Some of the first burials here were of the vanquished workers on the Illinois and Michigan Canal, one of the most important engineering projects in American history The canal workers were mostly Irish immigrants who built the canal up from their Bridgeport neighborhood, and who perished from starvation, thirst, disease and violence along the ill-funded canal-building route.

"What is the most striking piece of architecture you have encountered at a Chicago cemetery?" was the second question. Here's my long-pondered answer:

Another very difficult question. There are so many incredible monuments and mausoleums. When I was a girl I was astonished by the striking and varied family mausoleums at Graceland Cemetery, near my childhood home: the Getty Tomb, with gates designed by architect Louis Sullivan (also buried at Graceland); the Goodman crypt, whose roof is a terrace which overlooks Lake Willowmere; the towering Pullman monument at the pinnacle of a lakeside embankment; the underground tomb of Ludwig Wolf. Today, however, I continue to be astounded by the community mausoleum at Rosehill Cemetery, which houses tens of thousands of crypts on four levels, in a neoclassical fortress. Along with countless individual crypts, the mausoleum also has scores of "family rooms," the final resting places of some of Chicago's most familiar families, including the John G. Shedds. The Shedd room is the centerpiece of a beautiful skylit chapel in the center of the building. The chapel is completel with chairs decorated with marine-inspired ironwork depicting seahorses and shells: tributes to Shedd, who loved the sea and dedicated his namesake Aquarium to the city he loved. The Shedd room is illuminated by a breathtaking window created by Louis Comfort Tiffany. At dusk, the setting sun shines through, making the room look as if it were underwater. In fact, the comunity mausoleum is home to the largest secular collection of Tiffany glass. Many of the family rooms contain one of a kind commissions of stained glass, depicting gentle streams, flowers, sunsets and other Paradisal images. It's a truly awe-inspiring, moving place.

Lastly, I was asked the following: "Overall, Chicago is home to some exquisite places of rest, and their aesthetic ranges from the creepy to serene. What do you tell people who are frightened of these locations?"

This is something I've been trying to answer for most of my life, as I was one of those "odd children" who enjoyed spending time in cemeteries from my earliest years. Drawing others into an appreciation of cemeteries has not been easy. The stigma has, however, been greatly worn down in recent years . . . for most. But for those truly afraid of death, the old reassurance that "death is a part of life" does not offer much comfort, but it's true. And just as death is a part of life, so cemeteries are a part of our culture, our history and our city. Truth be told, cemeteries have always been constructed as much for the living as the dead: as places of beauty and peace and comfort. I would say to please give one of these places a try, perhaps on a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon. Truth be told, cemeteries have always been constructed as much for the living as the dead: as places of beauty and peace and comfort.

(If you are interested in learning more about the cemeteries of Chicago, check out the book I wrote with Matt Hucke: Graveyards of Chicago. Lake Claremont Press, 1999.)