Last week, I completed a two-part series on Chicago’s Rosehill Cemetery. On the same day, my husband and I also visited Graceland Cemetery. Having already visited two other large cemeteries on a hot and humid day, I was tempted to call it quits but we pushed on. I knew it would be a long time before I’d have the chance again.
Like most cemeteries, Graceland has a personality all its own and it shines. The landscape has a decided flow to it and the grounds are beautifully kept. There are no rough, weedy edges to Graceland. You can tell they work hard at keeping it neatly trimmed but not to the point of making it look unnatural.
Graceland was established in 1860 when Thomas Bryan, a successful Chicago lawyer, purchased the original 80 acres (located in the Buena Park neighborhood very close to Wrigley Field) and received a perpetual charter from Illinois in 1861. Thomas then chose landscape architect H.W.S. Cleveland to plan the layout.
During my research, I learned that Bryan was duped by the notorious serial killer, H.H. Holmes (who confessed to 27 murders but likely committed many more). Holmes’ story is featured in the best-selling book, The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Bryan purchased stock in Holmes’ bogus A.B.C. Copier Company and ended up losing over $9,000 in the process. Fortunately, Bryan was only a financial victim of the bloodthirsty Holmes and lived
By the time he was hired, Horace William Shaler Cleveland had already established himself as a landscape architect. A native of Massachussets, he and his partner Robert Morris Copeland designed Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. He later went on to design Minneapolis’ park system.
Swedish landscaper Swain Nelson was also instrumental in the early planning stages of the project. William Le Baron Jenney (who is buried at Graceland) and later Ossian Simonds also had key roles. Simonds said, “The great diversity of tastes, opinions, superstitions and prejudices that must be consulted or controlled make cemetery landscape-gardening the most difficult branch of the art.”
If you were mayor or governor of Chicago, if you were not buried at Rosehill, Graceland was where you ended up. Graceland is the final resting place of department store founder Marshall Field, architects David Adler, Bruce Graham and Louis Sullivan (to name a few), and dancer Ruth Page. Railroad industrialist George Pullman and Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion, are also buried there.
One of the more obscure burials at Graceland is Augustus Dickens, brother of acclaimed author Charles Dickens. He died penniless in Chicago in 1866.
While Elvis is nowhere to be found at this Graceland, the place is certainly fit for a king. Or a knight. I’ve never seen one in a cemetery before.
Created by Illinois-born Lorado Taft, “The Crusader” honors the life of Chicago newspaper publisher Victor Lawson, who became manager of the Chicago Daily News in 1876. At the foot of the monument are the words:
Above All Things Truth Beareth Away The Victory
Lorado Taft is credited with another sculpture at Graceland that instantly grabs your attention when you see it. It’s formal title is “Eternal Silence” but some refer to it as the “Statue of Death”.
My first thought was, “This is who Blue Oyster Cult was singing about.”
The bronze monument was crafted in honor of Dexter Graves (1789-1844), who was one of the earliest settlers in Chicago. According to the inscription on the back of the monument, he “brought the first colony to Chicago, consisting of 13 families, arriving here July 15, 1831 from Ashtabula, Ohio, on the schooner Telegraph.”
Although Graves died in 1844, his son Henry did not have the bronze commissioned until near the end of his own life, 1907. Taft completed the sculpture in 1909. The black granite provides contrast for the bronze statue, which is heavily oxidized because of its age. Some say Taft’s own ideas on death and silence influenced him heavily.
It’s not surprising that “Eternal Silence” gets photographed quite a lot. Pictures of it show on on Facebook pages devoted to cemeteries all the time. But now that I’ve seen it up close, I can totally see why.
Across the way from “The Crusader” is the Charles Hutchinson monument. It’s often thought to be for a different Charles Hutchinson (1854-1924), who is buried in another part of Graceland. That Hutchinson was president of the Corn Exchange National Bank, as well as founding member and first president of the Art Institute of Chicago. This Charles Hutchinson (1828-1893) was a businessman with Sweet, Demster & Co.
The artist who created this monument, Alfeo Faggi (1885-1966) was known for his stylized forms and anti-Classical approach to the figure. In other works, he sculpted outside the conventional norms. The central figure of Christ is shown surrounded by four figures and the Cross, visible in the right corner. Faggi also contributed works in this style to the St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Hyde Park.
One of the most stunning monuments at Graceland is for William Kimball, the piano manufacturer. A native of Maine, Kimball moved to Chicago in 1857 and started the Kimball Piano Company with only four pianos. He sold these at a profit and eventually started selling pianos manufactured in the east then shipped to his store.
The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed his business and cost him around $100,000. In 1877, Kimball decided to manufacture his own pianos to keep down the costs. He opened his own factory in 1881 and began churning out around 100 pianos and organs every week.
Across the rear are four Corinthian columns, with two more on the sides. Below, an angel kneels, watching over the two graves beneath the floor. The entire monument is of white marble, and was erected in 1907 from a design by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White.
Sadly, the face of the angel has worn away but the impression she leaves is still great.
I can’t help but wonder what her face looked like when she was installed in 1907. Photo by Chris Rylands.
Next week, Part II of my trip to Graceland will include the story of the father of the American skyscraper and feature an unusual Egyptian pyramid tomb with an angel guarding the door.