The idea that there would be evidence of hidden remains seems contradictory by definition. That which is beneath the ground is unknown until it is deliberately, or otherwise, revealed. Included in this section are accounts and other information that have suggested forgotten graves that may remain in Lincoln Park.
The tabs above lead to two specific stories, and a collection of newspaper items referencing abandoned graves. Cemetery in the Park describes the relocation of the remaining marked graves that were abandoned after the disinterments were complete. Farm in the Zoo presents the conversation I had with Dr. Lester Fisher, who was the director of the Lincoln Park Zoo for thirty years. He describes an unexpected finding in 1962.
Other factors that may have lead to graves being overlooked or left in place:
As part of Hidden Truths, I recorded my individual conversations with archaelogists David Keene and Dawn Cobb. Keene headed the 1998 archaeological excavation in Lincoln Park that uncovered the skeletal remains of eighty-one individuals. Now in the collection of the Illinois State Museum Research and Collections Center, Cobb oversees those remains. Both archaeologists told me that the most common reason graves are left behind, is because they can no longer be found. Within the City Cemetery, lot owners were responsible for arranging the disinterments of their own family members. Missing grave markers later prevented the city officials from locating abandoned graves.
The last graves removed from the City Cemetery were in the oldest, southern part of the burial ground. By various accounts, these grounds were not very well-maintained. Many grave markers were made of wood, and it is possible that the older stone markers became worn and broken. Several Chicago Fire narratives speak of the flames destroying the wooden cemetery markers. Some narratives also mention the fire charring and cracking the stone markers and vaults.
When the cemetery disinterments were being conducted, they were executed upon orders from individual lot owners. With the exception of the Milliman Tract, city officials did not administer the relocation of graves. In the case of the Milliman Tract, the marked graves were removed to Oak Woods Cemetery. See that area within Oak Woods today, here. The lots where undertakers buried their charges went unaccounted for, and likely remain in Lincoln Park. As seen in The Cemetery in the Park menu above, in 1875, park officials removed and reinterred the remains from the marked graves in the grounds that were being incorporated into Lincoln Park. In 1883, the park officials removed the remaining markers. In 1903 a park engineer found the map detailing the hidden graves.
By 1851, the City Sexton was unexpectedly finding so many bodies within newly-sold burial lots, that an ordinance was enacted to designate seven 9x24 foot burial lots for their relocations. Seven lots could hold up to fifty-six graves. It is possible that other unauthorized graves were not discovered to be relocated.
Common Council document, September 22, 1851
Order to appropriate lots 759, 760, 761, 762, 801, 802 and 803 in the Chicago Cemetery for the burial of bodies removed from lots not paid.
To follow up on the issue of relocations and abandoned graves, another ordinance was enacted on October 13, 1851:
This ordinance, which described the duties of the City Sexton, began by establishing that henceforth, permits would be required for burials in the City, Catholic, and Jewish Cemeteries.
Chicago Tribune, April 9, 1866, excerpt from a letter to the editor, referencing the ordinance prohibiting further burials in the City Cemetery. The writer speaks of undertakers burying bodies in recently-vacated graves. There was also the problem related to the unauthorized exchange of burial lots:
But there is a class of our citizens who will bring all the influence they can to bear against the passage of any ordinance in conformity with the resolution. I refer to the city undertakers. I am credibly informed that for some time past they have been engaged in buying up such lots as have been vacated by parties who have removed their dead to other cemeteries, and devoting them to public burials, thus setting at naught and avoiding the ordinances prohibiting interments in the public grounds of the cemetery. I am also informed upon good authority that the person in charge of the cemetery grounds, in the employ of the city, has been engaged in the same business. They purchase these lots at prices varying from ten to twenty-five dollars, fill them with bodies at a charge of from three to ten dollars each, and thus make a good percentage on the investment. The majority of the burials lately made in the cemetery has been made by the undertakers. I hope that the committee of the Common Council in reporting upon the resolution of Ald. Proudfoot, will take notice of these facts. Should this cemetery ultimately be vacated by the private lot owners, and their dead removed to other cemeteries, which is not at all improbable, it will then devolve upon the city, at a heavy expense to remove all the bodies so buried by the undertakers.
Whereas, Certain persons are attempting to thwart the city in its efforts to secure an adjustment which will be for the mutual benefit of all parties concerned; therefore,
Resolved, That all persons representing themselves as agents to secure the extinguishment of titles are self-appointed, acting without any authority from the city and with the intention of delaying embarrassing and making money out of the city, without securing any benefit whatever to the lot owners, and all good citizens are earnestly requested to discountenance any and all persons so engaged.
It is not impossible that a few men desiring to speculate in these lots may have considered alternatives a little injured by the act of the Council, passed October 21, 1867, for the purpose of giving the owners of said lots the full benefit of the city’s propositions, but if there are any such we do not know of any medicine or prescription dealt in by corporation that will heal their wounded feelings. In order that the Council may understand the cause of complaint, we submit the preamble and resolution referred to, as the action of the city, October 21, 1867, which we presume gave rise to the communication of Ald. Holden. As we fail to see any necessity for further action of the Council, we most respectfully recommend that the whole matter may be placed on file.
INACCURATE MORTALITY RECORDS____________________________
It will be seen by an account which I have just submitted to the Council that there is a balance in favor of the City and against me of One Thousand and Sixty One Dollars and Sixty Two cents which balance I am at present perfectly unable to pay in consequence of the great expense which I have been at, the past year in building a Vault, Chapel etc, in the City Cemetery. I therefore crave your acceptance of my note for the amount payable in Nine months with interest at the rate of Six per cent per annum.
This excerpt from an article by Dr. John H. Rauch reveals the possibility of more burials within the Chicago cemeteries than the recorded deaths within the city limits.