Chicago: Graceland Part 1

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I've long been fascinated with the way cemeteries in cities are set up. Growing up in a small town we had tiny old cemeteries attached to small white churches. The bigger cemeteries were a mixture of neat new rows and toppled stones. When I moved to New York I became interested with the layout of large cemeteries as they were the first rural cemeteries, an idea brought over from Europe, and provided relief from a plague ridden city. It became a place of beauty and prestige where families could take carriage rides, see monuments and have picnics with their deceased loved ones. They went on to inspire public parks such as Central and Prospect Parks. 

When I moved to Chicago I noticed the cemeteries were smaller but landscaped in much the same way. Graceland and Rosehill are the largest cemeteries in the Chicagoland area. In 1860 Thomas Bryan a successful lawyer purchased 80 acres and hired landscape architect H.W.S. Cleveland (designer of Sleepy Hollow cemetery in Concord MA,) to design Graceland to be park-like in appearance. Later William Le Baron Jenney, a renowned architect and "father of the skyscraper" contributed to the design and engineering of it. Jenney passed it on to his assistants who established the firm of Holabird & Simonds and worked on it from there. They were joined by a third partner, and shortly after this Simonds left the firm to focus solely on Graceland. Ossian Simonds was the last architect to work on the cemetery bringing it to what we see today by adding plants native to the area to the landscape design. Graceland is now the most well known cemetery in Chicago and doubles as an Arboretum.

Wandering through the cemetery leads you to the resting places of many great architects, artists, public figures, sports legends, and inventors. I'll lead you down the path to some of my favorites. While I enjoy grabbing maps and finding renowned graves, my favorite thing to do is wander and see where I'm lead to. 

“Eternal Silence” created by Lorado Taft in 1909 for Dexter Graves.

“Eternal Silence” created by Lorado Taft in 1909 for Dexter Graves.

Upon entering the cemetery you may be startled by the haunting sculpture "Eternal Silence" that marks Chicago hotelier Dexter Graves and "500 Chicagoans" on the census taken right before Chicago's incorporation. He moved from Ohio along with 13 families to settle in Chicago. Graves died 16 years before Graceland was created and his body was moved there from the Old City Cemetery where Lincoln Park now exists. That statue was erected in honor of the Graves family whose will enabled the city to pay for the monument. Lorado Taft based it on the original depiction of the Grim Reaper and was inspired by his own ideas on "death and silence." There's a bit of folklore to this sculpture as it's rumored that you cannot photograph it. While I had to a do a bit of editing to get the details, I was able to although the eerie feeling the sculpture gives cannot be captured. The bronze against black granite has been oxidized through time and weather giving it the green hue it is now. Walking by I had the sense that at any moment the eyes would open and he would awaken into a new world.  For a bit of urban legend, it is said that if you stare into the face of the sculpture you will get a glimpse of your own death giving it the nickname "Statue of Death."

Jack Johnson: First Black Heavy Weight Champion of the World

Jack Johnson: First Black Heavy Weight Champion of the World

As a boxing fan I was delighted to come across Jack Johnson's grave. Nicknamed the "Galveston Giant" he was the son of ex-slaves and the third born out of nine. As many children did, Jack only had a few years schooling before he went to work full-time in sculleries and on boats. During this time he traveled to Boston and NY working as a longshoreman. Around 16 years of age he engaged in his first boxing match. The prize was just $1.50 but he saw it as an opportunity to expand and eventually leave his hometown. Jack quickly rose up in the black boxing circuit but his goal was to be heavyweight champion, the title held by white boxer James Jeffries. Jeffries like other white boxers would not fight him. During this time Blacks were prohibited from fighting for heavyweight champion as they were closed off from fair competition. He finally got his chance for the title when champion Tommy Burns, who had recently won it from Jeffries agreed to fight him after being offered $30,000.  This was helped by Richard K. Fox, publisher of the Police Gazette, who said that Johnson deserved a chance. Being that it was the most popular sports paper at that time, it helped the argument. Jack London attended and wrote about the fight including it lasting 14 rounds, only ending when police came to break it up fearing a riot. Johnson was named the winner and continued his taunts and calls. Jeffries was pulled out of retirement to fight once again. Johnson got his wish on July 4, 1910. Jeffries was considered the "great white hope," a term given by those infuriated by the win. Media dubbed it the "Fight of the Century." Held in Reno, Nevada more than 22,000 boxing fans made their way to see it. This became more than a fight for Blacks, Johnson was a hero and a a beacon of hope. Winning this fight would be a huge victory for Blacks especially during this time when segregation and Jim Crow laws were in full force after the 1896 Supreme Court's Plessy v. Ferguson declared it was not unconstitutional. Race riots and lynchings were everyday realities they had to face. Sports were a significant part of American culture. Fifteen rounds later Johnson was declared the winner. Race riots ensued and resulted in the lynching of at least 20 black people after the win. Whites searched for another "great white hope" to take the title from Johnson.

Johnson was a showman. He loved cars and women, and bowed down to no one. He earned $117,000 for that fight and it would be five years before he would hand over the heavyweight title to Jess Willard in a 26-round bout in Havana, Cuba. Johnson was hated for another reason too. He loved to party and he openly had romantic relations with white women. Angered whites actively tried to find a way to stop Johnson. They found it in The Mann Act. The Mann Act was part of social reform that intended to stop prostitution. Often it was depicted as naive white women being lured by immigrants into opium laden prostitution houses. Race mixing was considered immoral. Boxing was also coming under attack during the reform as it was considered a savage sport. This was a weak spot for Johnson. His first wife Etta Duryea committed suicide in his Chicago night club, Café de Champion. After long term depression brought on by the public's hostile attitude, Jack's infidelity and sometimes abusive behavior and her father's death, her depression had become more than she could handle. Three months later he married Lucille Cameron with whom he was having an affair and was under investigation for bringing her across state lines before their marriage.  Cameron's mother had gone to the police and charged Johnson with kidnapping her daughter. She was outraged her daughter was having romantic relations with a black man and accused him of having hypnotic powers to lure women. He was convicted of violating the Mann Act in 1913, but fled to Europe for 7 years. When he returned he served his sentence of 1.5 years. 

As Johnson got older he used his name to keep afloat. He and Cameron were divorced due to infidelity. He married Irene Pineau and they moved to Europe where he told his story in dime museums, played music, made predictions on fights, and did a bit of fighting in small exhibitions. He even took out a patent for a wrench. He also planned to create a boxing school but Hitler's rise to power curtailed it. One of his great loves was the automobile and driving fast. In 1946 he died in an automobile accident. Irene buried him in Chicago with his first wife Etta. After his death she was quoted as saying  she loved him "because he faced the world unafraid, fearing nothing and nobody."

Schoenhofen Pyramid Mausoleum designed by Chicago School architect Richard E. Schmidt.

Schoenhofen Pyramid Mausoleum designed by Chicago School architect Richard E. Schmidt.

Peter Schoenhofen was a well known Chicago brewer. He was part of a group of brewers who transformed production techniques and developed transportation alternatives. The process started in the mid 1800s and by 1900, there were sixty Chicago breweries producing over 100 million gallons of beer per year. "In the basement of the old brewery building is the only artesian well still in existence in the Chicago area. At 1600 feet deep the well is capable of producing one million gallons of water a day for the next 100 years."

The Schoenhofen Pyramid Mausoleum was created in the Egyptian revival style by Richard E. Schmidt out of granite and contains both Christian and Egyptian imagery with the angel and sphinx. The gateways at Karnak provided the inspiration for the door. The imagery contains lotuses, serpents, and bundled reeds. It is considered one of the most famous and photographed mausoleums at the cemetery. 

William Kimball Monument by McKim, Mead & White

William Kimball Monument by McKim, Mead & White

William Kimball started out as a real estate broker in Iowa and liquidated his estates before the Panic of 1857, the first worldwide economic crisis. He moved to Chicago and started the Kimball Piano Company with just four pianos. He quickly rose to success having a store in the Crosby Opera House. The Great Chicago Fire destroyed it and he lost more than $100,000 with the destruction. He moved his location and started to manufacture paints on his own building up to 100 pianos and organs weekly. After his death his son took over the company, and during WWII the Kimball factory produced aircraft parts for military airplane manufacturers, such as BoeingDouglas and Lockheed. After the war, piano production resumed but a series of poor financial choices by W.W. Kimball Jr led the company into decline. An heir to the family bought the company, reformed it, moved it to Indiana, and it once again rose to power and created offshoots into appliances and technological advancement. The piano portion of the company closed down in 1996 but the company still remains in furniture and electronics. 

One of the largest monuments in Graceland, it has Corinthian columns made of white marble. It was erected in 1907 from a design by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. An angel watches over the graves below but much of the detail is worn away due to weather.

George Pullman Monument by Solon Beman

George Pullman Monument by Solon Beman

George Pullman was an Industrialist and creator of the Pullman sleeping car, a luxurious train car designed for comfortable overnight travel. He was the son of a carpenter who created and patented jackscrews while working on the Eerie Canal. After his father's death he took over the business and relocated to Chicago where it was his job to raise building over the Lake Michigan flood plain. As the structure of city building began to advance, Pullman knew he had to create a new business to keep afloat with the changing technology. Railroads and train transport were becoming increasingly popular. Pullman himself rode the railway for business but felt the experience was not pleasurable and became interested in personal transport. He convinced Chicago, Alton and St. Louis Railroad to allow him to convert two of its cars for overnight comfortable travel included private sleeping quarters and good ventilation. They contained fine tapestries and decor. Pullman Sleepers debuted in 1859 and were an immediate success being compared to the luxury of Steamboat cabin travel. 

Always looking for a new endeavor, he became interested in the Gold Rush and relocated to Colorado where he focused on the needs of the miners which gave them hot meals, comfortable sleeping quarters and a place to switch out the crew, animals and supplies before they headed out to the mountains for mining. 

He headed back to Chicago in the 1860s, hiring a replacement for himself in the Civil War so he could focus on business. He worked on expanding the cars and creating his own, the “Pioneer,” invented jointly with Field. The 1865 car contained folding upper berths and extending seat cushions that could be made into extra bunks. The Pioneer was the most famous of these cars even transporting President Abraham Lincoln’s remains to his burial site. Pullman leased these cars to railways and by 1879 had made millions. Pullman also constructed a town made entirely for his employees. What at first seemed publicly ( it was featured in 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition) like a wonderful place to live and work soon showed a darker side. Pullman's original vision was to create place that  hired diverse staff, solved the poverty issue, provided fresh air, housing, and entertainment for those he employed. It was soon discovered that he ruled over the town like a tyrant creating a hierarchal structure. Executives received the best housing, skilled labor received row houses, and unskilled labor lived in tenement buildings. Newspapers and free speech were prohibited within the confines of the town and churches were only allowed Protestant denominations which he charged high rents.

With the economic depression, wages were lowered and people were laid off but the rent, gas, and water bills remained high. The workers called for a strike. The workers were tired of the lack of equalitarianism and the heavy handed control the company used over the workers. They were also not allowed to buy houses. Disgruntled workers met with the American Railway Union (ARU). A grievance committee attempted to meet with Pullman, who refused to recognize them or negotiate  and had them all fired. A strike was called with little to no success. Eugene Debs, the founder of the ARU called on a boycott of Pullman cars on the railways. It affected most rail lines from Ohio to CA and involved over 250,000 workers in 27 states. Violence and rioting ensued, especially in Chicago. Thirty people were killed in the riots and up to 80 million in damages. The federal government stepped in and placed an indictment against Debs, the union, and others who participated in a leadership level as they were interfering with mail cars, impeding service. Pres. Grover Cleveland, ordered 2,500 federal troops to Chicago on July 4, 1894. The strike ended a week later and troops were recalled July 20. Debs was arrested on federal charges and defended by a team including Clarence Darrow and Lyman Trumbull. At the trial, Darrow argued it was the railways that met in secret and colluded against the union. Despite being talk of an acquittal, a juror became ill and the prosecution dropped the charges. Debs went on to the Supreme Court where he was sentenced to 6 months. 

Despite the strike, George Pullman's business thrived and went on to many other endeavors. After his death his body was laid to rest in Graceland where he was buried at night with a lead-lined coffin, then placed in a steel, tar, and cement vault and reinforced with railroad ties. It was then poured over with concrete so that angry labour activists could not exhume, desecrate, or hold the body for ransom.

The monument was designed by Solon Beman and features a large Corinthian column.

Potter and Bertha Palmer's Greek Temple designed by McKim, Mead & White

Potter and Bertha Palmer's Greek Temple designed by McKim, Mead & White

Potter Palmer was best known for his rebuilding and developing of Lakeshore Drive and downtown after the Great Chicago Fire. Starting in NY, he worked as a clerk in a small general store. He worked his way up within two years and from there he opened a store of his own. Upon two failing endeavors he gained financial help from his father and moved to Chicago to open a dry goods store on Lake Street in 1852. Palmer had a different approach to handing his business. He focused solely on women, allowed people to test merchandise, didn't ask questions when someone returned product, and set up pleasing window displays with price comparisons. He also offered sales or bargain deals. He also offered the latest women's fashion. 

Upon failing health and his doctor's urging, Palmer first brought in partners Marshall Field and Levi Z. Leiter, then sold his shares to focus on real estate. He built several buildings along State Street, including the Palmer House Hotel. When the Great Fire of 1871 hit, he lost his buildings and had to borrow 1.7 million with the help of his wife's influence to rebuild. He also helped to develop swampland into what is now known as Lake Shore Drive. 

Palmer's wife Bertha Palmer was impressive on her own. She grew up in Louisville, Kentucky and quickly became popular as she was a musician, linguist, writer, politician, and manager. She married when she was 21 and he 44. She helped her husband with business dealings. She was taken in by Chicago's elite and charmed them with her knowledge and talent. She quickly rose to chairman of the Board of Lady Managers for the World's Columbian Exposition to be held in Chicago two years later. Under her administration, Bertha made sure the accomplishments of women were noticed. Using Palmer’s personal connections with political leaders and royalty, she worked the board to create The Woman’s Building, designed by Sophia Hayden, an architect and interior designer. Sophia and Bertha argued over the donation from the rich as part of the interior design for the building. Sophia feared it would clash with the design. Bertha fired her from the interior and hired Candace Wheeler. Palmer worked closely with curator Sarah Tyson Hallowell on the exhibits and murals that would be exhibited. It contained two murals "Primitive Woman" by Mary Fairchild MacMonnies Low and "Modern Woman" by Mary Cassatt. She also convinced Congress to produce a comparative coin for the Exposition which became the Isabella Quarter. 

Bertha and her husband were avid art collectors and supported artists with the help of Hallowell, who they trusted to pick up on the latest trends. They spent a good portion of their money on decorating the Palmer Mansion, including works by Claude Monet, as well as fine jewels. Bertha was known to travel the world entertaining with royalty and politicians. Her husband was not fearful of her fame and encouraged her to do whatever she desired. She also supported the Jane Adam's Hull House, giving to them financially, and was also a trustee of Northwestern University. As a mother, she supported kindergartens until they were made a part of the public school system and rallied for inexpensive milk to be made available for the poor and for children of imprisoned mothers. She also planned a dinner between workers and capitalists to work on social reform. She received criticism from Mother Jones, saying because Palmer was upper class she did not have the insight to solve the working class problems. 

When Potter died, Bertha took over management of his business, which was worth 8 million, and doubled it. She became interested in Florida and the agriculture there. She became a rancher and land developer focusing on innovative ways to encourage farmers and land preservation. Bertha is buried at Graceland along with her husband in a Greek Temple style monument with twin sarcophagi designed by McKim, Mead & White. The inverted torches on the sides of each, symbolic of death.