When we were planing our visit to Chicago, I was hopeful I would visit at least three cemeteries: Rosehill, Graceland and Bohemian National. On the Sunday after we attended Chris’ cousin’s wedding, we headed north of the city and I got to see all of them! Not knowing my way around at all, I was glad Chris was driving.
We only had a few hours to cover a vast amount of territory, so for those who know the place well, I know I missed some of the more famous and eye-catching graves. Believe me, I wish I’d been able to see all of them.
At 325 acres, Rosehill Cemetery is one of oldest and largest in Chicago, chartered in 1859. The name “Rosehill” was actually a mistake. Because of a city clerk’s error, the area previously called “Roe’s Hill” (named for nearby farmer Hiram Roe) become “Rosehill” instead. Roe is said to have refused to sell his land to the city until it was promised that the cemetery be named in his honor.
My theory is that “Rosehill” just sounded better than “Roe’s Hill Cemetery”
Rosehill is the final resting place of several Chicago mayors (including Long John Wentworth), Civil War generals and soldiers, and Charles Gates Dawes, a U.S. Vice President. Icons such as Oscar Mayer, Montgomery Ward and Richard Sears are buried there, too.
Rosehill is located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood and an elevated Metra train line bridge runs right in front of the Ravenswood Avenue entrance. This impressive gate was designed by William Boyington, who also designed Chicago’s famous Water Tower and many other Chicago buildings. The sign on the gate says it follows the castellated Gothic architecture style.
I did notice that the folks at Rosehill want to make sure you don’t stay past closing time and end up locked in. I saw more than one sign making that clear.
A few days after our visit to Rosehill, I read about a guy dubbed “Creepy Clown” that was filmed a month before hopping the 7-foot gate and hanging out just inside the cemetery after sunset. So maybe they’re just trying to give people fair warning.
Once inside (and properly warned), we headed over to some beautiful crypts that surrounded a pond. Chris took some great pictures of the stained glass inside some of them, much better than my iPhone’s capabilities.
Not far from this area is the Horatio N. May Chapel, designed in 1899 by architect Joseph L. Silsbee. He’s noted for having mentored Frank Lloyd Wright and a number of other Prairie School-style architects. The building and the story behind it fascinated me for a number of reasons.
Who was Horatio N. May and how did he get a chapel built for him? Good question! Thanks to Jim Craig and his delightful blog, Under Every Stone, I was able to find that out so I can share the story.
Born in Canada, Horatio May came to Illinois and eventually became a grocer. But his star didn’t rise until he married Anna Lush Wilson in 1882, daughter of pioneer and newspaper editor John Lush Wilson. When May was appointed a Lincoln Park commissioner in 1886, Anna was very pleased. Even more so in 1891 when he was named Controller of Chicago by new mayor Hempstead Washburne (buried at nearby Graceland Cemetery).
Horatio went to the spa town of Bad Nauheim, Germany in July 1898 in hopes of shaking off the lingering effects of the flu. (known as “la grippe” in those days). Despite initial signs of improvement, he died in October and Anna arranged to have his body sent home to Chicago. Abraham Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, was named an honorary pallbearer.
The Mays were admirers of Joseph Silsbee and had hired him to design their Chicago home on N. Astor Street. So when Anna considered how to honor her husband’s life at Rosehill, she went beyond providing a grave stone. She wanted a chapel built in his name and she asked Silsbee to design it.
You can’t go inside the May Chapel unless you request special permission and we didn’t have time to ask. From what I learned later, you can request to use it for a funeral service. And some weddings have been performed there. We did spend ample time looking around outside as there was plenty to take in.
Probably the most peculiar but fascinating area is the back of the May Chapel where the underground receiving vault is located until the hill. You can climb up it and peer down into it through some very old domed windows. I don’t know what you would call them.
As is the case with most receiving tombs at cemeteries, the Rosehill one stored bodies when the ground was too frozen to dig graves. Another reason was when a family mausoleum being built for the deceased had not been finished yet. It was also used to house bodies when the Rosehill Community Mausoleum was being built.
However, I’ve never seen one built into the hill in the back of a chapel like this. The entry is still intact. I don’t know if it still being used. From the look of it, I would say no. At least not for storing bodies/caskets.
Contrary to some reports, Horatio and Anna are not interred with the chapel. But they are buried to the right side of the entryway, with a small slab to mark the graves.
Silsbee also designed a mausoleum for the family of grain merchant and close friend William Bartlett that is on the grounds of Rosehill. Alas, I didn’t get any pictures of it so I am borrowing one from the excellent blog Searching for Silsbee.
Next week, I’ll share about Rosehill’s grand mausoleum and more stories about some of the people buried at the cemetery. I hope you’ll come back for more.
Barb Huyser said:
Back about 25 years ago, I went on a walking tour of Rosehill. At the time, they had a full time historian on staff who conducted the tours. We got to see the receiving vault and the chapel. The historian reported that there was one casket in the vault that had been there since the 1930’s. It was of a woman whose family never signed the authorization for burial. Her identity has since been lost and so she remained there. I don’t know if she’s still there or if they still have an historian, but it was one of the memorable aspects of a fascinating tour.