Day 301: Graceland Cemetery

Graceland Cemetery, on Chicago’s north side, came about thanks to the closure of the old Chicago City Cemetery around 1870. This earlier burial ground was removed after fears of epidemics and water contamination convinced city leaders that it should be closed down. The City Cemetery was located close to downtown (in fact, exactly where Lincoln Park rests today) and impeded Chicago’s growth. The remains buried here were slowly removed from the burial ground and new cemeteries were established to the north of the city. They included Rosehill Cemetery and Graceland.

Graceland was started in 1860, just one year after Chicago officials announced the closure of the City Cemetery. It was created by real estate developer Thomas B. Bryan and it was located far away from the city proper along North Clark Street. Over the years, a number of different architects have worked to preserve the natural setting of its 120 acres. Two of the men largely responsible for the beauty of the place were architect William Le Baron Jenney and another architect named Ossian Cole Simonds, who became so fascinated with the site that he ended up turning his entire business to landscape design. In addition to the natural setting, the cemetery boasts a number of wonderful monuments and buildings, including the cemetery chapel, which holds city’s oldest crematorium, built in 1893.

Graceland is home to several different tales of the supernatural, including the ominous “haunted” monument that graces the final resting place of former hotel owner and businessman Dexter Graves. Created by Lorado Taft, the artist christened the design “Eternal Silence” but the brooding and menacing figure has become more commonly known as the “Statue of Death”. The figure was once black in color but over the years, the black has mostly worn away, exposing the green, weathered metal beneath.                   Only one portion of it remains darkened and that is the face, which is hidden in the deepest folds of the figure’s robe. It gives the impression that the menacing face is hidden in shadow and the look of the image has given birth to several legends. It is said that anyone who looks into the face of the statue will get a glimpse of his or her own death to come. In addition, it is said that the statue is impossible to photograph and that no camera will function in its presence. Needless to say though, scores of photos exist of the figure so most people scoff at the threats of doom and death that have long been associated with “Eternal Silence”.

Quite Possibly the most famous tales is the spirit of Inez Clark. Inez was just shy of seven years old when she was struck by lightening at a family picnic. Her parents, distraught over the loss, had a life-size statue of the child erected at her grave site. The statue is enclosed in glass, protecting it from the elements. On rainy nights, when thunder is rolling, the statue reportedly disappears from the glass box, and a young girl can be seen roaming the cemetery grounds.

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