Remaining Vestiges: The Graceland Cemetery Wall

In 1875, ten years after the establishment of Lincoln Park, four years after the Chicago Fire, and at a time when the disinterments were presumed completed, there remained cemetery headstones in Lincoln Park, marking graves of individuals who had not been claimed for reinterment elsewhere. Wanting to complete the transition of the cemetery into the park grounds, the Lincoln Park Commissioners removed the scattered graves, with their headstones, to a separate fenced location within the park. A few years later, that Cemetery in the Park was itself incorporated into the park grounds by removing the headstones. See the story of the Cemetery in the Park, here.

As reported in the 1903 newspaper article excerpt at the right, no one seemed to know what became of the headstones when they were removed from Lincoln Park.

In December 2007, while driving through Graceland Cemetery, I noticed an interior boundary wall of a substantially different design than the others. This northern section of the eastern wall appeared to be partially constructed with what look to be tombstones. Many of those tombstones appeared blackened or charred to me. I wondered if these headstones were from the old City Cemetery. I wondered if these stones showed evidence of the Chicago Fire.

My inquiries to the Graceland Cemetery staff led to the presumption that the wall had been built around the time when the elevated train line came through - the date was uncertain. It was supposed that this so-called rubble wall was made from stone copings cleared from the Graceland grounds during landscaping updates. Also, the headstones were presumed to have been removed from Graceland lots that had been upgraded by families, who discarded the old stones.

Even with those suggested explanations, I think it is possible that the wall contains tombstones from Lincoln Park. I can find no other explanation for blackened stones, except that they survived the Chicago Fire. Narrative accounts of the fire describe such damage.

Since the early history of Graceland Cemetery and Lincoln Park, there had been a crossover of landscape designers. Swain Nelson, the first landscape gardener for Lincoln Park is also credited with the original layout of Graceland Cemetery. Ossian Cole Simonds was the Superintendent of Graceland Cemetery from 1881 through 1898. Beginning in 1903, he was a consulting landscape designer to Lincoln Park.

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Chicago News, January 18, 1903

By permission and courtesy of the Chicago Park District Special Collections.

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Pamela Bannos © 2021