The Numbers

In compiling the Numbers section for this Web Site, my intention is to portray a statistical picture of the possibilities of the number of graves that may have been left behind in the City Cemetery. My claim that thousands of bodies remain in Lincoln Park and Chicago's Gold Coast will thus be substantiated. The estimated numbers below, lead to more than ten thousand forgotten graves.

From early 1843, until August 1859, the City Cemetery was the only authorized burial location within the city limits. This municipal graveyard’s land was joined by the Catholic Cemetery’s in 1845, after the Catholic bishop acquired and subdivided that acreage in 1844.

MORTALITY FIGURES________________________________________________________

I found no records of deaths in Chicago prior to 1847, except in the September 17, 1850 Chicago Daily Journal, which said: "Up to 1st Sept, 1847 the deaths were 1,152." I did not count those individual because I do not know how many died between 1843 and 1847, although the number is likely more than half that total.

Chicago Daily Democrat newspaper's annual mortality tallies:
1847:  520
1848:  560
1849:  1519
1850:  1335
1851:  836
1852:  1649
1853:  1206
1854:  3827

Total: 10,452

Chicago Tribune newspaper's annual mortality tallies:
1855: 1991
1856: 1950
1857: 2178
1858: 2019
1859: 1826

Total: 9,964

CITY CEMETERY BURIAL FIGURES______________________________________________

According to Dr. John H. Rauch's 1866 publication, there were 11,341 interments in the City Cemetery from January 1860 through March 1866. This figure does not include his account of 3,871 Confederate prisoners of war who died while being held at Camp Douglas on Chicago's south side and were buried in the cemetery's potter's field between 1862 and 1865. Rauch's total calculation, based on his viewing of the City Sexton's records, amounts to 15,212 bodies buried within that six year period.

January 1860 – March 1866:  Total: 15,212
(This figure does not include the Catholic Cemetery, which had its own potter's field in addition to family lots. Even with the new Catholic Calvary Cemetery of 1860, the old Catholic Cemetery continued its burials until 1866.)


CITY CEMETERY DISINTERMENTS______________________________________________

1867, March 25          Milliman Tract
Removal of 1635 Bodies to Rosehill, Graceland, Oak Woods, and German Lutheran Cemeteries.
Removal of "400 - 500" unclaimed bodies to Oak Woods Cemetery.

2126 graves reinterred in Graceland Cemetery from the City Cemetery, from 1860 through 1882

I viewed the Graceland Cemetery interment books to count their recorded reburials from the City Cemetery. Even though it appears that Graceland received many more early burials than the other cemeteries - nearly twice as many as Rosehill during the Milliman Tract removals - I have allowed the total count to reflect equal numbers, based on the Graceland Cemetery tally. See the listed expenditures for the Milliman Tract disinterments, here.

Even though I counted two thousand one hundred and twenty-six reburials in Graceland Cemetery, I will allow that cemetery an additional thousand graves, for a margin of error. I will allow this same generous total for the other cemeteries, including the much smaller Catholic Cemeteries.

The small German Lutheran Cemetery, known as Wunder's Cemetery, received some reburials. I will allow them one thousand graves.

The Jewish Congregation that owned a 9/10-acre parcel within the City Cemetery grounds removed their own dead in the early years of disinterring. A one-acre parcel can conceivably contain approximately 1500 graves. I will allow that entire number as a representation of the Jewish Cemetery's removals.

Graceland Cemetery: 3000
Rosehill Cemetery: 3000
Oak Woods Cemetery: 3000
Calvary Cemetery: 3000

Wunder's Cemetery: 1000
Jewish Cemetery: 1500


POTTER’S FIELD AND ITS DISINTERMENTS______________________________________

It is likely that the City Cemetery potter's field contained substantially more graves than the family-owned lot area. Families who could not afford an eight-grave plot, or individuals without families, would be allowed a grave in this public burial ground. These graves were often marked with headstones and maintained by the friends of the deceased.

In addition to the individually marked graves in the potter's field, mass-burials were known to have occurred. In July and August, 1854, during the Cholera outbreak, one thousand six hundred and sixty-two deaths were recorded. It is likely that most of these victims were buried in the potter's field.

During the Civil War, when Camp Douglas on Chicago's southside was used as a Confederate prison, nearly four thousand dead rebels were buried in the City Cemetery potter's field. In his book, To Die in Chicago, George Levy surmises that many of those graves were carelessly left behind. See an accounting of the rebel graves within the Potter's Field section of this Web Site, here.

Chicago Tribune, October 2, 1870
No removals have been made from one-half the lots sold by the city, and of the 25,000 bodies in the Potter’s Field, not one has been removed.

Chicago Tribune, September 18, 1872
Removal of the Bodies from the Old City Cemetery.
The Remains of Over 10,000 Dead Persons Still to Be Taken Away.
The work of disinterring commenced on Monday afternoon. Ten men are assigned to perform this duty, and this force is enabled, in the course of a day’s work, to exhume about twenty bodies.

Chicago Tribune, October 13, 1872
Potter’s Field.
Before another Sunday all the dead will have been removed from the Potter’s Field in that part of Lincoln Park lying between Dearborn road and the lake.

Chicago Tribune, August 3, 1873
Upwards of 6,000 bodies, including those taken from the Potter’s Field, have been exhumed, since the Commissioners undertook the work.

The Confederate prisoner dead were removed from the potter's field to Oak Woods Cemetery in 1867.

The other disinterments from the potter's field began in September, 1872. These remains were removed to the County Poor Farm's cemetery. See more about that site, here.

The October 2, 1870, Chicago Tribune article excerpt, above, likely over-estimates the number of potter's field graves.

The September 18, 1872 newspaper article excerpt, very conservatively estimates ten thousand graves. Doing the math, if ten men were figured to remove twenty bodies per day, it would take five hundred days to remove ten thousand bodies. The subsequent article reports the job was completed in less than thirty-two days. Twenty bodies per day at thirty two days, amounts to six hundred and forty bodies.

The Chicago Tribune article from the following year, in accounting for "upwards of 6,000 bodies," acknowledges four thousand graves left in Lincoln Park. The first article, above, more than doubles the number of burials in the potter's field than the second article. The number is likely between the two estimates.


LEFT BEHIND_____________________________________________________________

Lincoln Park Commissioners proceedings minutes, April 28, 1874
The Lincoln Park Commissioners condemned 712 unclaimed cemetery lots to incorporate the land into the park. Most cemetery lots were 9x24 feet, which could contain eight graves. 712 lots could contain up to 5,696 bodies. Many bodies were removed after this date to Chicago area cemeteries.

On January 12, 1903, the Chicago News newspaper, reported that a Park District worker found a chart "stuck in a pigeonhole" in an engineer's workshop. This chart contained the locations of one hundred fifty graves that were removed to an area north of the former Jewish cemetery. This so-called "cemetery in the park" was formed in 1875 to deposit the remains from the graves that were still marked after the lot condemnations and disinterments were complete. See the Hidden Remains section for more about the Cemetery in the Park.

Note: a grave can only be certainly removed if it is marked with a headstone. The 1871 Chicago Fire destroyed many grave markers in the City Cemetery.


Chicago Tribune, April 9, 1866 - excerpt from a letter to the editor, in response to ordinance prohibiting burials:

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.

UNEXPECTED FINDINGS____________________________________________________

Chicago Tribune, November 6, 1899 (regarding the Catholic Cemetery grounds)
"... recent excavations exposed row after row of the heads of coffins in a state of good preservation."

1998 excavation of part of Lincoln Park for the Chicago History Museum parking facility uncovered the remains of eighty-one individuals.

See more evidence of forgotten graves in the Unexpected Findings section of this Web Site.

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