This is my new favorite cemetery book. It covers the history of burial in the state of Illinois from the Mound Builders to the modern lawn cemeteries. Along the way, it defines the different materials for marking graves, explores gravestone iconography, and is generally to cemeteries what the Audubon Guide is to birds. This is a perfect beginner book, even if you don’t live in Illinois. It would be a perfect textbook for a cemetery history class.
The only issue one might have with the book is that while it contains almost 300 full-color photos, they are purely snapshots, not artwork. I didn’t find that a drawback, but then I have a couple hundred cemetery books, many of them focusing on the artistry of cemetery landscaping and sculpture. This book serves as a nice companion to those.
I bought it on the basis of a glowing review in the Association for Gravestone Studies Quarterly. It did not disappoint.
You can pick up a copy to entice someone else into loving cemeteries from Amazon: https://amzn.to/337LdaY. Check out the “also bought” links at the bottom of that page. I was surprised to discover that you can get a deal on 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die!
7201 Archer Road
Justice, Illinois 60458
(708) 458-4770 Established: 1904 Size: 540 acres Number of interments: approximately 158,000 Open: everyday 8 am to 7 pm
On the outskirts of Chicago, in Justice, Illinois, lies the massive Resurrection Cemetery.It’s the home of Resurrection Mary.
In the early 1930s, blue-eyed Mary had gone dancing with her boyfriend at the Oh Henry ballroom. After they argued, Mary decided to walk home and cool off.On her way, she was stuck and killed by a car on Archer Avenue. The driver, who fled the scene, was never found.
The first reported sighting of Mary’s ghost was in 1939. Jerry Palus danced with a pretty blond girl, who didn’t talk much, at the Oh Henry Ballroom (named for the candy bar), three miles southwest of the cemetery in Willow Springs. At the end of the evening, Jerry offered her a ride home. On the way to the address she had given him, she vanished from the car.
The next day, when Jerry stopped at the address Mary had given him, her parents told him she had been dead several years.
More than two dozen people have picked Mary up as she walked along Archer Drive. Sometimes she dematerializes from the car as it passes the cemetery.Other times she gets agitated and demands to be let out.Or she flings open her door and races toward the graveyard, vanishing when she reaches the locked iron gate.Sometimes she’s seen on the other side of the fence, walking toward her grave.
If the driver didn’t stop to pick her up, sometimes she’d jump onto the running board. Other times she would run out into the street to flag the car down. More than once, she’s thrown herself into the path of the oncoming car. The driver would feel and hear the collision, but when he went back to help, the body had vanished. People have been seeing a blond girl in a long white dress hitchhike for more than 60 years.
Sightings tapered off in the 1960s.Then on August 10, 1976, the local police got a phone call from a passing motorist who had seen a pale young woman trapped inside the the cemetery.When the cop showed up to investigate, the cemetery was empty.But the center bars of the fence were bent about waist high. A series of indentations, spaced inches apart, looked like fingerprints. The cemetery claimed that a maintenance truck had backed into the fence and bent it, then a repairman had tried to straighten the bars with an acetylene torch. No one bought that explanation.
Graveyards of Chicago says, “Though the cemetery administration had the bars removed and repaired, it is said that the damaged areas will not take paint.”
The free-wheeling phantom known as Resurrection Mary has been traced to a half dozen occupants of this cemetery, all young accident victims buried in the 1920s and 30s. Not all of them named were Mary. The Midnight Society has a really good rundown.
Resurrection Cemetery itself has been described as “sparse, rural, and vast.”However, it’s dominated by the Resurrection Mausoleum, a New Formalist white concrete building that dates to 1969. The building has walls made of dalle de verre stained glass — the largest glass installation in the world.
The glass tells the story of the bible, starting with dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden on into the modern day.It ends with satellite dishes, jet planes, and a mushroom cloud.
It was a gloomy afternoon with a gentle summer rain coming down. I had been doing research at a local library and stopped on the way home to pick up information regarding the history of Rosehill Cemetery for a future project. Once I received the map of grave locations, my head started spinning. Famous Chicagoans were buried all through the place. The draw was irresistible.
Despite the drizzle, I had a glorious time snapping photos. I was about ready to leave when I decided to see if I could get into the public mausoleum. Everything else had gone right, so I figured luck was with me.
The massive door at the main entrance was locked. Undeterred, I drove around the perimeter of the mausoleum, getting out of the car at each door to check, but they were all deadbolted. To my delight, I finally found an entrance at the rear of the structure, complete with red carpet and a door standing open. I locked my purse in the car, slung my camera over my shoulder, and stuck my keys in my pocket. I would only be inside a moment.
As I walked into the mausoleum, eerie organ music greeted me. I decided that I’d rather be thrown out of a mausoleum than locked in one. Going in search of whoever was there to let them know I was inside would be the smart thing to do.
I found Jim, in typical ground’s crew garb, bent over a bench in the office, scribbling something. I made sure to make lots of noise so not to scare him half to death. He was glad I stopped to let him know I was there. He asked if I had seen the Shedd Chapel. When Jim found out that’s exactly what I was hoping to see, he offered to take me on an impromptu tour.
A Muse in Rosehill, photographed by Loren Rhoads.
We traipsed down hallway after hallway, admiring beautiful stained glass windows in each crypt. In Rosehill’s mausoleum, a black marble diamond inlaid in the white marble doorframe of the individual burial rooms indicated genuine Tiffany windows. They were breathtaking.
I don’t know if I’ve seen too many horror movies or what, but suddenly I realized I was alone in a mausoleum with somebody I didn’t know. We had turned so many times, I had no idea how to get out. To make matters worse, I caught Jim checking me up and down. The dialogue in my head rambled between, “Are you nuts?” and “This is so cool!” I tried to enjoy the tour and be social.
It wasn’t long before we walked into the magnificent John G. Shedd Memorial Chapel. The room was decorated exclusively in white marble: walls, benches, even a permanent lectern. A few feet behind the lectern were marble steps flanked by two marble columns topped by urns. A heavy brass gate marked the entrance to the burial room. Peeking through the ornate metalwork, I saw a three-sectioned Tiffany window in breathtaking shades of blue.
After my initial awe, I snapped back to reality as Jim told me photographs were not allowed. Hm, I thought, perhaps I could use my camera to smack him over the head.
Jim suggested how the room must have looked in the past, with mourners dressed in top hats and tails and the women in elegant gowns. This “lowly” gravedigger had the ability to paint a vivid picture and we were swept back to another time. The room seemed filled with a benevolent spirit, but I was nervous. When the moment passed, Jim asked if I wanted to see the burial vault of Richard Warren Sears, the merchandising giant who founded Sears & Roebuck.
Through a dimly lit archway, we walked into a smallish hallway like something out of Dark Shadows. My mind started to get the best of me, alone with this stranger, surrounded by dead people. Dread enveloped me. I was very aware of Jim’s presence and was ready (as I could be) to defend myself if I had to. I figured nobody would ever find my body. Nobody even knew I was at the cemetery, let alone in the mausoleum. I was still wondering how I was brave enough to walk into the mausoleum in the first place. My skin crawled, but I marched on.
We walked to the end of the hall to view the Sears family vault. Sears’ crypt was beautiful, made entirely of white marble with elegant gold writing. It was a fitting resting place for a man of such merchandising vision.
Steps from Sears’ resting place was his own entrance. The door had been designed into the building, so his crypt just happened to be next to it. I could see the road outside through the dead-bolted glass door. I felt trapped.
Sears’ ghost has allegedly been seen in top hat and tails leaving his crypt, heading toward that of his rival in life, Aaron Montgomery Ward. After admiring Mr. Sears’ burial chamber, it was only fitting we see Mr. Ward’s as well. Mr. Ward and his family rested behind an ornate brass gate, which Jim joked needed dusting. Beyond the gate, all you could see was a wall, behind which the residents presumably rested.
By now, many of the crypts looked the same, but Jim insisted I follow him. He wanted to “show me something.” I was terrified as we walked down a dead-end hall. Was this where he put me on the meat hook? Nope, he wanted to show me a delicate pink-flowered Tiffany window. He said he didn’t get down that way to see it often and wanted to share his favorite with me. My heart pounded.
As long as I was around, Jim was determined to show me everything. We glided up an elegant white marble staircase to the second floor. Here, the crypts were oppressive. Behind the iron gates, they looked like jail cells. I kept thinking that any time now, Jim would push me into one of them. He beckoned me to look inside, but I kept my distance. Still, they had character and I was glad to visit them.
I figured the tour should be about over and Jim would return me to the entrance with the organ music. Instead, he had one more stop planned: he wanted to show me the basement. All the horror movies I’d ever seen played through my mind. While my head said, “Don’t do it! Don’t go in there!” my mouth said, “Sure.” Jim happily led the way, while I wondered how long it would be before anybody figured out I was missing. The basement lights were off, but Jim offered to run ahead to snap them on. I was convinced he was going to get a chainsaw. My body could be hidden quite well in the uninhabited vaults here.
Now I know why the blonde in all those B-movies lets the stranger in the house and does all the stupid stuff we, the audience, tell her not to do. I did it, too. After a brief glimpse of the basement, I decided I preferred the first floor and headed back the way we had come. No, Jim had another stairway he wanted me to try. Was this the one where I ended up in the torture chamber? The circular stairway wound through rough-cut rock. I was relieved when we made it back to the first floor.
My tour over, Jim led the way to the entrance with that beautiful organ music. It never sounded so good. Later I realized it was taped, sort of Muzak for the dead.
Back to reality, I was sad to leave my wonderful adventure behind, but couldn’t wait to tell everybody my great story. I thanked my guide for a nice time, but never shook his hand. Only later did I wonder if he was of this world or the next.
This was originally published in Morbid Curiosity #8. It’s reprinted here with Karen’s kind permission.
Karen Kruse is the author of A Chicago Firehouse: Stories of Wrigleyville’s Engine 78. You can order a personalized, autographed copy of the book through her website: www.achicagofirehouse.com.
Her work has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in History.
About the Death’s Garden project:
I am getting ready to finish the Death’s Garden project. If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, please get in touch SOON. I would love to hear from you, particularly if there is one you visited on vacation — or if you got married in one. The submissions guidelines are here.
Exterior of the Lincoln Tomb, postcard postmarked 1909
Oak Ridge Cemetery
1500 Monument Avenue
Springfield, Illinois 62702
Telephone: (217) 782-2717 Founded: 1874 Size: 12.5 acres Number of interments: 5 Open: November through February: Tuesday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
March through April: Tuesday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
May through Labor Day: Monday – Sunday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
September, post Labor Day, through October: Tuesday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Coming up on February 12, 2013: the American Legion conducts a Lincoln’s Birthday Program from 10:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. at the tomb. Other events, including a Boy Scout Sunday and Civil War re-enactors, are scheduled here.
Ford’s Theater National Historic Site in Washington, D.C. The President’s box is draped with flags.
When the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865, not long after Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration, many refused to accept peace. Five days after the Confederacy surrendered, on Good Friday, John Wilkes Booth shot the President in the back of the head. Lincoln died the following morning without regaining consciousness.
Lincoln was the first president to die from an assassin’s bullet. The nation reeled from the shock and mourning gripped the northern states. A funeral carriage delivered Lincoln’s body to the White House, where doctors performed an autopsy and undertakers embalmed his body. He was dressed in the same black suit he had worn to his inauguration.
Lincoln lay in state in the Capitol rotunda from April 19 until the 21st. After that, his casket was escorted to the train, which would retrace the circuitous path Lincoln took when he rode to the White House in 1861. Hundreds of thousands of people saw him lying in state in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, and Chicago, among other cities. Millions more lined the train tracks to watch the “Lincoln Special” pass.
Lincoln’s funeral was celebrated on May 4, 1865, when he was laid to rest in the receiving vault at Oak Ridge Cemetery. Mary Lincoln would have preferred to have had Lincoln buried in the vault which had been prepared for George Washington in the Capitol Building in D.C. or perhaps in Chicago, but Springfield’s businessmen banded together to offer a suitable monument to their hometown hero. They wanted to bury Lincoln on a hill visible from the city’s train station, but Mary had visited Oak Ridge’s dedication ceremony in 1860, while Lincoln ran for his initial term as president. She remembered that her husband told her that he wanted to be buried somewhere quiet. The rural cemetery seemed like the ideal place.
At the end of 1865, Lincoln’s body was removed from the receiving vault and placed in a temporary vault near the tomb. He was moved into the unfinished tomb in 1871, which was finally dedicated in 1874. The 117-foot tomb, designed by sculptor Larkin Mead, was constructed of brick faced with granite from Quincy, Massachusetts. Two sets of stairs lead to a terrace crowned with an obelisk. At the corners of the tower stand four bronze sculptures, each representing one of the four Civil War services: infantry, artillery, cavalry, and navy. The obelisk’s south side features a bronze statue of Lincoln. A bronze reproduction of Gutzon Borglum’s marble head of Lincoln, located in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., stands at the tomb’s entrance.
Linen postcard showing the interior of Lincoln’s tomb after the remodeling in the 1930s.
In 1876, thugs from Chicago broke open the white marble sarcophagus in which the President lay, attempting to steal Lincoln’s body and hold it for ransom. They couldn’t move the 500-pound iron coffin. Pinkerton officers arrested them after they fled the scene.
The interior of the tomb is highly polished marble trimmed with bronze. Lincoln was disinterred and his body hidden several times as the tomb was rebuilt and remodeled. In the end, his coffin was sealed in an iron cage, then sunk into concrete in a vault ten feet below the marble floor of the burial chamber. A massive red granite cenotaph in the shape of a sarcophagus marks the gravesite. Crypts in the chamber’s south wall hold the remains of Lincoln’s wife Mary and three of their four sons: Edward, William (who had died at the White House), and Thomas. The eldest son, Robert T. Lincoln, is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Kodachrome postcard of the cenotaph, surrounded by flags from places where Lincoln’s body lay in state.
The Oak Ridge Cemetery temporary vault, the scene of President Lincoln’s second burial, is located at the base of a hill north of the Tomb. It is also considered a historical treasure now.
Also located within Oak Ridge Cemetery are several War Memorials. These honor citizens of Illinois who served in World War II and the Wars in Korea and Vietnam.
The 365-acre Oak Ridge Cemetery is also the final resting place of 70 other notable historic figures, including labor leaders, poets, four Illinois governors, and Lincoln’s law partner. An audio tour called “Stories in Stone” provides a guided tour of unique monuments from the 1800s. It’s available from the cemetery office at the Monument Avenue entrance to the cemetery.
This is the model cemetery guidebook. It’s generously illustrated by Hucke’s black-and-white photos. (Hucke was the impresario behind Graveyards.com, which unfortunately hasn’t been updated in over a year.)
In this book, the graveyards are arranged by geographic area in listings complete with address, phone number, and founding date. The only thing the book lacks is an overall map of the Chicago area, so out-of-towners like me could maximize their cemetery viewing excursions.
The text on each cemetery ranges over all the topics collected in the book’s subtitle, and includes supernatural actitivies. Co-author Ursula Bielski is a ghost-hunter and the author of Chicago Haunts: Ghostlore of the Windy City. Her extremely readable style makes Graveyards of Chicago as pleasant to read as it is to page through for photographs.
This review originally appeared on Gothic.Net in November 2001.
Click here to sign up for my monthly mailing list, which will keep you up to date on my speaking schedule and upcoming projects. As a thank you, you'll receive "4Elements," a short ebook that showcases one of my favorite cemetery essays, a travel essay, and two short stories, spanning from urban fantasy to science fiction.