Hidden Remains
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:

MISSING HEADSTONES_____________________________________

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.

INDIVIDUAL EXHUMATIONS_________________________________

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.

More than a year after the letter above was published in the Tribune, a resolution was put forth, warning cemetery lot owners to deal solely with the appointed superintendent of the City Cemetery.

October 21, 1867
Whereas, Equitable and honorable arrangements have been made by the city for the extinguishment of titles in the Chicago City Cemetery, either by returning the purchase money with six percent per annum interest, or by giving lot owners lots of equal size in other cemeteries, and have appointed Joseph H. Ernst Superintendent, who has an office at the cemetery and will faithfully discharge all duties intrusted to him: and

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.

Two years later, the Tribune again reported on confusion relating to the exchange of burial lots.

Chicago Tribune, August 17, 1869, excerpt from article included the publication of the 1867 resolution.
Old Cemetery Lots
Your committee are of the opinion that no general dissatisfaction exists in consequence of any action of the Council in regard to the exchange of cemetery lots. No act of the Council has or could compel the lot owners to vacate their lots against their will, and all that has been done by the committee appointed by the Council to aid in the exchange or purchase of the lots has been in full harmony with the men who owned them.

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____________________________

Overestimations of death statistics imply the possibility of graves that were not accounted for, and may therefore have been left behind.

Courtesy of the Illinois Regional Archives Depository.

Common Council document, March 1852

To the Honorable the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Chicago in Common Council assembled.

As Mr. James Gavin Funeral Undertaker in this City has repeatedly refused to give me the number of deaths in the City, for the last Six months, according to the Funerals which he attended, and as a correct report of the number of deaths in the City is an important item in the statistics of the City, it is advisable that some means or other be taken to compel him to give a correct report at the end of each month of the number of deaths and whether children or adults and also which division of the City the deaths occurred.

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.

I Remain,
Your most obedient Servant,
Augustus S. Bates
City Sexton


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.

Chicago Tribune, June 1, 1870

Until the organization of this board, comparatively speaking, no attention was paid to obtaining accurate statistics with regard to the number of deaths that occurred in his city, much less to ascertain the correct causes of the same. All seemed to be impressed with the idea that it was their duty to report Chicago the healthiest of cities, whether it was or not. It was unpopular to say how many persons died, lest it might interfere with its growth, or the sale of corner lots. From this mistaken idea of benefiting the city, this important duty was allowed to remain in the hands of the City Sexton, who was incompetent to superintend statistics of this character, as he was not able to judge whether the facts reported to him were correct. In fact, the less deaths he reported, the better the public were pleased. Undertakers were depended upon to make returns of not only the coffins sold, but also to report the causes of death. While some conscientiously endeavored to perform their duty, others cared very little about it. In the language of one of the oldest and most reliable undertakers, “Many carried their books in their hats, and did not know how many coffins they sold, much less report the causes of death.” For some time I was laboring under the impression that the register kept by the City Clerk was a transcript of all the interments made in the cemeteries of the city; but, upon investigation, I found that this was not the case, but that it was prepared from the books of the City Sexton, who depended entirely for his record upon the returns of the undertakers. This, in addition to the fact that many applications were made for certificates of deaths of persons who died here, for the purpose of identification and the settlement of estates, which could not be given, simply because there was no record of them in this office. In 1868, 568 permits for burial were issued from this office where no undertaker was employed; and in 1869, 516. For the purpose of ascertaining the exact number of deaths that occurred in October, 1866, I directed an examination of the records of the different cemeteries, when it was found that 355 more interments were made than deaths recorded in this office. It will be remembered that the month of October, of 1865 was the time when cholera prevailed as an epidemic. Noticing that undertakers were seldom employed by the Jews, I found that in 1866 only 12 interments were recorded in the Jewish cemeteries, while 80 deaths occurred. The same ratio obtained as far back as 1845. The certificate of the physician was the exception and not the rule as to the cause of death, and it may be said that we did not know how many died in this city, and in many cases by what disease.

Pamela Bannos © 2021