Tag Archives: Rosehill Cemetery

Death’s Garden: Mausoleum Walk

Rosehill Lulu002

Lulu Fellows photographed by Mason Jones

by Karen Kruse

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.

Rosehill muse003

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 78You 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.


Death's Garden001About 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.

Guide to the Cemeteries of Chicago

Graveyards of Chicago: The People, History, Art, and Lore of Cook County CemeteriesGraveyards of Chicago: The People, History, Art, and Lore of Cook County Cemeteries by Matt Hucke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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.

The new edition of the book is available on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2O4Jhd9

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

Cemetery of the Week #36: Rosehill Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #36: Rosehill Cemetery

Muse in Rosehill Cemetery

Rosehill Cemetery
5800 North Ravenswood Avenue
Chicago, IL 60660
Phone: (773) 561-5940
Founded: February 1859
Size: 350 acres
Open: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Note: On October 23, 2011 at 1:30 p.m., the Chicago Architecture Foundation leads a walking tour of Rosehill Cemetery. Ticket information is here.

Established in February 1859, Rosehill Cemetery buried its first denizen that same month. Among its permanent occupants lie more than a dozen mayors of the City of Chicago, Civil War generals, and Charles Dawes, U.S. Vice-President under Calvin Coolidge. Others buried in Rosehill include Oscar Mayer, Aaron Montgomery Ward, Richard Warren Sears, the first publisher of Popular Mechanics, the inventor of the duplicating machine, the founder of Goodrich Tires, the creator of Schwinn bicycles, the originator of Cracker Jack, and the 14-year-old victim of Leopold and Loeb.

A promotional booklet for Rosehill Cemetery Company, copyrighted 1913, reports that white roses grew in profusion in the area chosen to become a graveyard; hence, the name. Graveyards.com and other sources contradict this romantic little tale, stating the name came from a mapmaker’s error. The area had originally been called Roe’s Hill, after a nearby tavern-keeper (or maybe farmer — there are several variations). Weighing in at 350 acres, Rosehill remains the largest cemetery in Chicago.

Rosehill’s “castellated Gothic” limestone gateway was designed by W. W. Boyington, architect of the Chicago Water Tower. At the turn of the last century, as many as 40,000 people a day strolled through that gate to picnic and enjoy the scenery.

These days, Rosehill seems to be primarily a forest of obelisks, each competing with the next in size and height and epitaph. The tallest obelisk in Rosehill stands 70 feet high, commemorating Mayor “Long” John Wentworth, a friend of Abraham Lincoln who served as an honorary pallbearer for the president’s casket as it passed through Chicago on its way to Springfield.

A smaller granite obelisk stands on the grave of George Buchanan Armstrong, who founded the railway mail service in the U.S. For the first time, a letter could be delivered across the country using dedicated mail cars, rather than being shipped through Panama or around South America. He died in 1871.

The military plot contains the largest number of Union Civil War soldiers in the Midwest. Elsewhere in the graveyard, separate from the soldiers, stands the “Rock of Chickamauga,” a granite boulder hauled to Chicago from the battlefield in Georgia. It marks the grave of General George Henry Thomas, who held the field during the entire second day of the battle.

The Volunteer Firefighters Monument was the first memorial erected to firemen in the U.S. A replica of it appeared in the movie Backdraft. Old-style firemen’s hats crown the four stone blocks around the original monument. The decorative fencing strung between them is made from old fire hoses. The base of the monument holds four relief panels: one shows four men carrying a ladder toward a multistory building from which smoke roils. It pays homage to the volunteers who died in the 1857 South Water Street Fire.

Lulu Fellows photographed by Mason Jones

Also in Rosehill stands the spectacular monument to Lulu Fellows. A marble statue of a little girl sits protected from the elements inside an aquarium of glass. Small round holes at the foot of the glass box allow condensation to escape. When I visited, callers had slipped dollar bills and silver coins and a small sprig of pink silk flowers inside. The epitaph declared, “Many hopes lie buried here.” Lulu had been sixteen when she died, but the child on her grave looked ten or twelve to me. Her hair hung in a gently curling sheet down her back. A stone locket dangled atop the lace of her bodice. She wore button boots, too.

Commissioned by the widow of Horatio N. May, a coffee and tea merchant, the Romanesque May Chapel’s interior had been designed “on cathedral lines,” using mass and color to impress up to 250 mourners per service. “The need it fills to the living is undying tribute to the memory of the dead,” the 1913 publicity booklet proclaimed. “Every detail is carried out in perfect harmony with the purpose for which it was intended, and the whole produces a feeling of rest and peace.”

The May Chapel as seen from atop the receiving vault

A receiving vault adjoins the May Chapel. “By reason of its perfect system of ventilation,” this vault was considered one of the country’s finest winter catacombs in 1913. A grassy mound covers its exterior. Inside, it contains approximately 300 crypts available to anyone wishing to defer burial “for any reason”: generally, until the spring thaw. In 1913, Rosehill prided itself on its “complete and perfect record of burials.”

In the days before microwave machines were invented to heat through the frost layer, gravediggers took winters off rather than struggle with the rock-hard earth. Therefore, anyone who died in the winter would be transported to the graveyard, then stored in a “receiving” tomb until spring. The earthworks surrounding these communal tombs provided natural refrigeration, staving off decay. After the thaw, niches in receiving tombs would be relieved of their contents one at a time, as graves could be dug. Families held a second service — usually more private — when they finally consigned their departed to the grave.

Many 19th-century graveyards still have buildings set back into the earth, where they once warehoused corpses. Old receiving tombs are often used as garden sheds now, housing lawnmowers and tree-trimming equipment.

When I visited, the underground tomb adjacent to the May Chapel appeared utterly abandoned. The vault’s skylights were sharply pointed prisms of glass, held together by vergrised bronze. The first skylight had slipped from its mooring and listed down the slope. Despite the hazy sunlight glaring off the glass, I struggled to see inside. There were definite niches below, some sealed with white marble tablets, others open.

Useful links:

Rosehill Cemetery homepage

Photos of Rosehill Cemetery

Tour of Rosehill Cemetery

Hauntings at Rosehill

Ghost investigation of Rosehill

GPS information from CemeteryRegistry.us

My review of Graveyards of Chicago