Meet Me At the Cemetery Gates

There’s nothing like a stroll through a fancy cemetery to remind yourself that life is short and you don’t have enough money to build yourself an obelisk.

                                                    An obelisk. 

                                                  An obelisk. 

While strolling through Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery, you have to wonder how many illustrious folks from the city’s past would scoff at you for daring to dream so small. 

“Obelisks are cute. My tomb’s on a private island. ” 
-Ghost Daniel Burnham

What Ghost Daniel Burnham failed to mention about his final resting place (aside from how he earned it by being one of Chicago’s biggies of architecture and urban planning) is that it’s located in the bosom of Lake Willowmere- a bosom that is decidedly Almost A in comparison to Lake Michigan’s Double D. 

  A glimpse of Lake Willowmere getting upstaged by the Palmer Tomb.

A glimpse of Lake Willowmere getting upstaged by the Palmer Tomb.

Graceland was founded in the late 1860s as the ultimate gated community for Chicago’s high-falutin’ dead. Still active, this home-for-bones has more than lived up to its mission. Chicago architecture and industry bigwigs fill Graceland’s rolling lawns and elaborate crypts. Louis Sullivan, Martin Ryerson, Mies van der Rohe, Marshall Field, and George Pullman are just some of the old salts resting in peace in a landscape designed by H.W.S. Cleveland and O.C. Simonds.

If such names mean nothing to you, don’t let their spirits hear you shrug. These guys and their families dropped serious cash constructing monuments to their own legacies. And pyramid huts don’t come cheap.

  Lake Willowmere, again upstaged- this time by a famous Chicago theatre family.                                          

Lake Willowmere, again upstaged- this time by a famous Chicago theatre family.                                          

   Ryerson’s Pyramid Hut. Hut design by Louis Sullivan of So-So Sully’s Huts-n-Stuff.

 Ryerson’s Pyramid Hut. Hut design by Louis Sullivan of So-So Sully’s Huts-n-Stuff.

  Lorado Taft’s “Eternal Silence” monument for Chicago hotelier Dexter Graves features a specter of death who is actually pretty hot!

Lorado Taft’s “Eternal Silence” monument for Chicago hotelier Dexter Graves features a specter of death who is actually pretty hot!

         

                                                         Trees.

                                                       Trees.

  Dog.

Dog.

                                          View from within the Palmer Tomb.

                                      View from within the Palmer Tomb.

Potter and Bertha Palmer, two of Chicago’s highest of old-timey rollers, take the cake with their funerary finery. Known for once owning and pwning most of State Steet, the Palmers are laid to rest in a pair of neoclassical sarcophagi. Three generations of their family line are laid to rest in the floor beneath them. 

Rule number one of being part of a dynastic family: come first, or it’s floor graves for you.

  My friend Jen stands on three generations of Palmers.

My friend Jen stands on three generations of Palmers.

George Pullman, another poppin’ P name of Chicago history, has a pretty swank grave himself. My friends and I ate chips on it.

  Don’t worry, we cleaned up the chips. 

Don’t worry, we cleaned up the chips. 

Pullman is famous for designing the Pullman sleeper car and a company town from hell.  Three years after a messy strike motivated by Pullman’s anti-labor practices in said town, Pullman died of a heart attack. His family worried that retribution for Pullman’s extortion and cruelty might cut the “P” from the whole “R.I.P.” thing, so they lined his casket with lead and double-dipped it in concrete before topping it with a gloriously expansive memorial bench and- you guessed it -obelisk.

3 Ideas for Family Fun at Graceland Cemetery

Freemason Bingo

How many masonic society symbols can you spot on the graves of Chicago’s forefathers and mothers, foreaunts and uncles?

Find the Awkward Sphinx

Though a cemetery that is still accepting applicants, many of those laid to rest in Graceland were buried in a time where ancient Egypt was all the rage. A very prominent Chicagoan seems to have chosen to have his face etched onto a sphinx. Can you guess who it is?

Eat Chips on George Pullman’s Grave

Just be sure to clean up the chips when you’re done. 

                                          Enjoy your visit. Plan your obelisk. 

                                        Enjoy your visit. Plan your obelisk. 

                                        Enjoy your visit. Plan your obelisk.