After I finished visiting Walter at his studio, I was ready to head to nearby Bluff City Cemetery. It was a cold day with occasional flurries but the roads were in great shape for a driver like me not used to icy conditions.

Located about 40 miles west of Chicago, Elgin’s Bluff City Cemetery (BCC) has an interesting background because it is the third municipal cemetery in Elgin’s history. Before that, the Channing Street Cemetery located nearby had been the site of local burials. The land for BCC was formerly owned by the Gifford family and then the Whitcomb Family. Albert Marckhofff, the first sextant, laid out the first 12 sections, planted the trees and improved the land. I should add that the city of Elgin itself is located in adjacent Kane County while BCC is located in Cook County, Ill.

This picture of the Bluff City Cemetery gates was taken by the Elgin History Museum, when weather conditions were much more pleasant than the day I visited.

Because the Channing Street Cemetery was reaching capacity, they moved the graves from there to the new Bluff City Cemetery, which currently covers 108 acres and contains more than 72,000 burials (according to Elgin’s web site). I think that 72,000 burials figure is a capacity number since Find a Grave lists about 32,000 actual memorials. The new cemetery was dedicated on Sept. 8, 1889. So when you see a grave marker with a date before that, be aware that they used to be at the Channing Street Cemetery.

I learned that if there were no family members to pay the cost of moving the graves back in the 1880s, the remains stayed at Channing. That cemetery was officially closed in 1945 and two years later, the city declared all remains had been removed. But when the foundation for Channing School was dug in 1968, many remains surfaced during the digging and were brought to Bluff City for re-burial in a common grave.

A black granite marker now memorializes those souls that were once left behind. It was a project undertaken by author/historian Steven Stroud, who died in April 2019.

A Grand Receiving Vault

BCC’s large receiving tomb was built in 1903, that date is at the top. It was used to temporarily store bodies in the winter months when the ground was frozen so hard it was difficult to dig. From some postings on Reddit, I learned that they’ve opened it up during tours for people to look inside. You can find pictures here. From what I can see, it could hold at least 50 bodies at a time.

Bluff City Cemetery has a handsome receiving vault.

I have a soft spot for receiving tombs since I don’t see many of them in the South. It doesn’t usually get cold enough to warrant their construction. They served a useful purpose then that is now taken care of by refrigeration.

Gates of Bluff City Cemetery’s receiving tomb.

Death of a Mortician

Located not far from the BCC’s receiving tomb is a mausoleum that I noticed had some lovely stained glass inside. While the deceased passed away in 1950, I thought the stained glass was fairly classic in nature.

Born in Wisconsin in 1873, Fred Norris worked as a mortician in Elgin, Ill. for about 50 years. According to the book Elgin: Days Gone By (written by Elgin’s then-mayor E.C. Alft), Fred initially partnered with local mortician James Palmer. In 1915, Norris purchased a limousine hearse, the first in the city, and erected Elgin’s first “funeral parlor” at 226 East Chicago Street. When expanded and remodeled in 1926, it was said to be the largest in Illinois. Later known as Norris Mortuary, in 1935 it was the first building in Elgin to be air conditioned.

The bodies prepared by Elgin undertakers like Fred were often interred in Elgin-made caskets. Elgin Silver Plate Company, a casket hardware producer, was founded in Elgin around 1892. In 1926, the company was acquired by the Western Casket Hardware Company (founded in 1903) . Around 1928, the company’s production line was expanded to metal caskets, which more and more became the main product of the firm. For that reason, the company’s name was changed to Elgin Metal Casket Company.

After World War II, the company concentrated on manufacturing metal casket shells which it distributed through an organization known as Elgin Associates, which completed the casket shells with handles and/or interiors. In peak years, the company shipped up to 70,000 throughout the country. President Calvin Coolidge is buried in one and in 1963, Elgin provided the casket in which President Kennedy’s body was taken from Dallas to Washington, DC.

Fred Norris served the Elgin community as a mortician for about 50 years.

Fred married Blanche Crank in 1906 and they had two children, Russell and Dorothy. Fred and Blanche had divorced by 1930. Fred and the children lived at the funeral home according to the 1930 U.S. Census, a common practice in those days. Russell followed in his father’s footsteps and was a funeral director in the Elgin area for many years.

It’s possible that Frank was cremated and his ashes are inside the urn but I don’t know for sure.

Mystery of the Angel

Not far from the Norris mausoleum is a monument of an angel bearing a cross known as the Hendee-Brown monument. Vermont native Huldah Standish Washburn Hendee came to Illinois from Vermont sometime after 1850 with her husband, Homer, who was a farmer. Homer died in 1865 and is buried in New York. Huldah died at the age of 80 in 1874. Because of that date, I’m guessing she was initially buried in the Channing Street Cemetery and moved when BCC opened.

The Hendees and Browns were of modest means as far as I know. How could they afford such a grand monument?

Huldah’s daughter, Annette, married Samuel Brown in 1842. The only information I could find about Samuel was that (according to the 1880 U.S. Census), he traveled for a grocery store. The couple had one daughter, Hattie, who was a school teacher who married Arthur Curtis. Arthur is listed in the census once as a tinsmith and later as a radiator repairman.

What puzzles me is that I’m not sure how a family that appears to be of humble means paid for such a grand monument, which I believe was likely placed after Annette or her husband Samuel died. Annette died in 1903 and Samuel in 1896.

The book Elgin: Days Gone By notes that it was made of Italian marble and that “after it was placed on the Hendee-Brown plot, it was shipped to Paris for an exhibition at the expense of the Italian government.” A 1993 Chicago Tribune article stated that it’s made of pink granite and weighs 10,000 lbs.

A History in White Bronze

I am a huge fan of white bronze monuments (actually zinc) and I found one at Bluff City that I fell in love with. The Scofield family did what they could to record their history on one large white bronze monument. On it are the names of several Scofields, yet only three are buried at Bluff City.

There many names on the Scofield monument but not all of them are buried beside it.

A native of South Westerlo in Albany County, N.Y., David Chicester Scofield was born in 1803. He married Sally King in 1826 and they had seven children together (including a set of twins) before she died at the age of 33 in 1842. While her name is on the monument, she is buried in Mexicoville, N.Y. Their son, Reuben, who died in 1847 at the age of 7 is buried beside her. His name is also on the BCC monument. Their daughter, Louise Scofield Herbert, who died in 1866, buried in Roseburg, Oreg., is memorialized on the BCC monument.

David moved from New York after Reuben’s death and settled in Elgin, hoping to purchase land to start a tree nursery. At age 50 in 1854, he married 27-year-old Emily Larkin. He and Emily had one son, Frank, in 1855 but he died at the age of 9 in 1865. I suspect his grave was moved from Channing Street to BCC after it opened. Emily was active in church and missionary causes, especially the Christian Temperance Union.

The roots of the Scofield family history is summed up on one of the many panels.

The Scofield family’s history is detailed on their white bronze monument.

Other names on the Scofield monument are granddaughter Flora Scofield, the daughter of David Scofield’s son Lewis, who died in infancy. Emily Scofield, David’s second wife, died in 1884 at the age of 57. David would die in 1891 at the ripe old age of 87 having outlived both wives and a number of his children. Son Lewis died in 1905 and is buried in the BCC plot while daughter Charlotte died in 1905. She is buried in Florida with her family.

The doves on the Scofield monument are still intact.

The Scofields lived in a Romanesque Revival-style mansion on 50 N. Spring St. for several years. It was eventually purchased in 1892 for $12,000 by Samuel and Alfred Church, stepsons of Gail Borden (who was a man despite the feminine-sounding first name). The Church brothers wanted to memorialize their stepfather, who invented condensed milk. They donated the mansion to Elgin with the stipulation that it would always be known as the Gail Borden Public Library. The library was later moved to a new larger building in 1968 but the mansion still stands today. I believe a restaurant operates out of it now.

Undated postcard of the Scofield mansion, which became the Gail Borden Public Library in 1894.

A Curious Footnote

In doing research on the Scofields, I tried to find an obituary for David that might sum up his professional achievements. The only article I could find was this one, which while noting his nursery-owning history, ended by questioning the deceased man’s sanity. I have no idea if the issues regarding Scofield’s will were ever satisfactorily settled. The fact that Emily was deeply involved in missionary causes suggests his bequests were in keeping with her wishes when she was still alive. I’m wondering if adult children Charlotte and Lewis were unhappy about that.

This article from the Dec. 2, 1891 Belvidere Standard suggests that D.C. Scofield’s sanity may have been in question at the time he wrote his will.

There’s a lot more ground to cover at Bluff City Cemetery so I’ll be back with more soon.

On Sept. 22, 1877, Fredericka Geister accidentally fell into an uncovered cistern at her home. She was found much later, deceased. Her name is the only one on this family Geister monument. Fredericka was only 50, and the wife of successful entrepreneur and local alderman C.H. Geister. The couple had no children.