Friday, January 11, 2008

Tour: Chicago's Graceland Cemetery

Nestled within the north end of Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood and running centrally through the area up to Uptown you'll find the often overlooked but always in-the-way Graceland Cemetery.

Your guide picked up a book filled with glossy photos of Chicago from the discount rack at Borders during shopping season in order to have more reference books to lend to our frequent Chicago visitors. This particular volume contained a collection of photographs taken of gravesites of famous Chicago founders and residents. This was quite a unique addition to our list of recommended tourist destinations. My interest piqued, doing additional research on Graceland Cemetery I discovered that Graceland his the final resting place for hundreds of notable Chicago historical figures.

One of the most famous and most photographed monuments doesn't even have any names or description on the front of it. If you look on the back of the monument, you'll find that the grave belongs to Dexter Graves. Graves was one of the first settlers who, according to the inscription on the back of the polished black granite slab, “brought the first colony to Chicago, consisting of 13 families, arriving here July 15, 1831 from Ashtabula, Ohio, on the schooner Telegraph.”

Probably the most famous person or family laid to rest in Graceland is Marshall Field and the site of his family's plot. This giant of commerce is commemorated in a memorial created in by the two men who later would be responsible for the Lincoln Memorial – architect Henry Bacon & sculptor Daniel Chester French. Field, who went from store clerk to Chicago’s richest man, developed his famous company into the world’s largest wholesale and retail dry goods enterprise. French’s statue, the sad-faced woman titled “Memory,” holds oak leaves, a symbol of calm courage. The caduceus on the base, the staff of Mercury, is used today mostly to represent medicine. But we are told that here, it stands for commerce. Mercury was the classical god of commerce – as well as of skill, eloquence, cleverness, travel and thievery.

My favorite residents of Graceland are Potter Palmer and Bertha Palmer who are laid to rest in a grand Greek temple. The twin sarcophagi gives a clue to the lavish lifestyle of its occupants. Potter Palmer pioneered customer satisfaction in his dry goods store, with money-back guarantees, merchandise on approval, and attractive store displays. He sold his successful business to Marshall Field and Levi Leiter, and became successful in real estate. (You’ve heard of the Palmer House, no doubt.) McKim, Meade & White of New York designed the temple, as well as Bertha’s parents' French Gothic tomb across the road.

I compiled a list containing 24 pages of Chicago's deceased who's-who. Names tell the stories tied to city landmarks, parks and many streets. Names such as Charles Wacker, John Peter Altgeld, Fred Busse, Timothy Webster, Ida Noyes, Carter Henry Harrison and Henry Brown Clark.

City founding fathers include the above described Louis Sullivan and Marshall Field, John Root, Daniel Burnham, Howard Van Doren Shaw, as well as other skyline shapers including William Le Baron Jenney, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Fazlur Khan.

This is a fantastic history lesson well worth viewing, and it will definitely make the list of "must-see" sightseeing for my out-of-towners from now on.

Continue reading at these great websites:
The Encyclopedia of Chicago
Weird & Haunted Chicago

Update on 1/18: I just found out that walking tours are given on regular dates throughout the year. Check this website for dates and times.