The 1998 Excavation










David Keene, President and Senior Archaeologist at Archaeological Research, Inc.
In 1998, the Chicago Historical Society began construction on its new parking facility. Located north of the museum, across the LaSalle Drive extension, the northern half of the parking area is bi-level, with half of the parking spaces located underground.

In accordance with the Human Skeletal Remains Protection Act, the Chicago Historical Society hired David Keene's company, Archaeological Research, Inc., to conduct shovel tests of the soil before construction began. Written history largely claimed that the grounds were free of graves. On the other hand, Chicago Park District sewer and water line trenches had unearthed skeletal remains at diferent times over the years. Keene found bone fragments in some of the tests that sampled soil from six-feet underground. Believing the area to be substantially cleared of graves, the excavation began under the guidance of Keene's firm. The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency issued the permit for the excavation.

The skeletal remains that were found during the excavation were marked and gathered. Because the bones were more than one hundred years old, under the Human Skeletal Remains Protection Act, they were sent to the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, where they became part of the State's collection of artifacts.

Once in Springfield, the bones were catalogued by students from the Illinois state universities. Upon completion, it was found that the museum had received partial skeletons representing eighty-one individuals.

In addition to the eighty-one partial skeletons found in Lincoln Park, the 1998 excavation revealed a Fisk Metallic Burial Case containing a well-preserved corpse. I recorded my conversation with David Keene where he described his process in finding the final resting place for this early Chicagoan. As part of this process, Keene transferred the iron coffin into an extra-large modern casket.

My recorded conversations with four individuals regarding information presented on this page are presented below. The Museum of Funeral Customs, in Springfield, Illinois, has two iron coffins on display. I spoke with Jon N. Austin, the Executive Director of the museum about these burial cases. Dawn Cobb is an Archaeological Research Associate at the Illinois State Museum. Russell Lewis, Executive Vice President and Chief Historian of the Chicago History Museum, spoke with me about this project and the 1998 excavation.
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David Keene recorded and narrated this video of the removal of the iron coffin from Lincoln Park. He graciously allowed me to present it as part of this Hidden Truths project.

David Keene © 2009







I met Keene at his office, where I recorded our conversation about his archaeological experiences in the Chicago area. He explained aspects of the Lincoln Park excavation. He also spoke about his work on the Dunning cemetery project, an area where individuals were reinterred from the City Cemetery potter's field. As part of our conversation, Keene described the ordeal he faced in trying to properly reinter the iron coffin from Lincoln Park.

The conversation is 37 minutes long.
The story of the iron coffin begins at the 18:50 mark of the recording.

Listen online, or download the audio file.

Jon N. Austin is the Executive Director of the Museum of Funeral Customs in Springfield, Illinois. We met
at the iron coffin display in the museum, where we discussed Fisk Metallic Burial Cases. We also talked about funerary customs during the 19th century, and the age-old fear and fallacy of being buried alive.

Go here for a separate page with accompanying images, or listen to the conversation on this page.

The conversation is 24 minutes long.
Listen online, or download the audio file.
I met with Dawn Cobb, a biological archaeologist, and an Archaeological Research Associate at the Illinois State Museum. We met at the ISM's Research and Collections Center in Springfield, where I recorded
our conversation about the protocol for disinterring remains from abandoned cemeteries. We also discussed the list of the skeletal remains, representing eighty-one individuals disinterred from Lincoln Park in the museum's collection.

The conversation is 28 minutes long.
Listen online, or download the audio file.
Russell Lewis, Executive Vice President and Chief Historian of the Chicago History Museum. We had a conversation about this project and spoke generally about Chicago historic research. We also discussed the 1998 excavation in Lincoln Park during the construction of the museum's parking facility, and he told the story of John Laline, whose skeletal remains are in the collection of the Chicago History Museum.

The conversation is 30 minutes long.
Listen online, or download the audio file.
Pamela Bannos © 2014