Contributing Factors in Moving the Cemetery

The State of Illinois authorized the issuance of a parcel of land to Chicago in 1837, specifically for use as a burial ground. At that time, the acreage was beyond the town's limits. North Avenue had already been named, and it established the northern edge of Chicago. The City Sexton began burying the deceased in these cemetery grounds in 1843. Chicago's Catholic diocese, having bought some land on the southern edge of North Avenue in 1845, established the Catholic Cemetery and began their interments in that year. (See The Numbers section for an accounting of burials from this time until the cemeteries were closed.)

SANITARY CONCERNS________________________________________

Dr. John H. Rauch's concern that the miasma rising from the cemetery was detrimental to the health of citizens who were by then, living in closer proximity to the graveyard, led to his first paper about the hazards of intramural interments (burial within city limits.) Rauch also, and more forcefully, put forth an argument concerning the City Cemetery's location on the lake shore. He argued that the grounds, being below the water table, made burials unsafe for Chicago residents because of the possibility of bacteria from the dead ekeing into Lake Michigan, thereby contaminating the city water supply. (See more about these sanitary concerns in this article: Nineteenth-Century Medical Landscapes: John H. Rauch, Frederick Law Olmsted, and the Search for Salubrity, by Benj Szczygiel and Robert Hewitt, published in the Winter 2000, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, and presented here courtesy of the Johns Hopkins University Press.)

RURAL CEMETERY MOVEMENT___________________________________

Prior to the cemetery-related health concerns, a rural cemetery movement was already underway. In response to burial grounds becoming crowded as city populations grew, and to the grounds' boundaries becoming encroached upon by city streets and dwellings, the idea of a rural cemetery became a more pleasantly landscaped alternative for the repose of the dead. The first rural cemetery, Mount Auburn, near Boston, was established in 1831.

When Chicago's first rural cemetery, Rose Hill, was established in the town of Lake View in 1859, disinterments began from within the City Cemetery. The following year, Graceland Cemetery opened, along with the Catholic Calvary Cemetery. Each of these new rural cemeteries were more than five miles outside the ciy's limits.

DESIRE FOR A PARK ON THE LAKE _______________________________

In 1863, at the request of Chicago's citizens, the unoccupied northern section of the City Cemetery was established as a park. This area, Cemetery Park, is represented on the historical markers that I have placed in the Lincoln Park landscape as part of this project. A map of Cemetery Park also overlays onto the GoogleTM satellite image on the homepage of this Web Site. In October 1864, Cemetery Park was renamed Lake Park. One year later, after the assassination of the President, the name was changed to Lincoln Park. Although the park's new name honored the slain Lincoln, the reason given for the name change, was that Chicago already had a park named Lake Park. (See the document resolving to name Lincoln Park, here.)

MILLIMAN TRACT ___________________________________________

In 1862, it was brought to the City's attention that a twelve-acre tract of land within the City Cemetery had been acquired illegally by the City in 1850. Various rulings, led all the way to the Supreme Court. Rather than pay $75,000, the city officials decided to evacuate the grounds, and return the land to the heirs of Jacob Milliman, the man who owned the land until he died in 1849. The land had been subdivided and sold as burial lots within the City Cemetery. Evacuation amounted to exhuming the bodies within the six hundred fifty-four cemetery lots that had been sold to families and occupied by their deceased loved ones. An 1867 statement of expenditures showed that 1,635 bodies had been removed from the tract. (Note: 654 cemetery lots could hold as many as 5,232 bodies.)

CHICAGO PARK SYSTEM ______________________________________

Prior to the establishment of the Chicago park system, the City Cemetery grounds were under the jurisdiction of the Board of Public Works. In 1869, the Common Council officially passed the financial responsibility and legal jurisdiction of Lincoln Park from the Board of Public Works, to the new Lincoln Park Commissioners. Known as The Lincoln Park Act, this transference detailed how the park grounds were acquired, and how the remaining grounds, not yet owned by the commissioners, were to be incorporated into the park. (See the entire Lincoln Park Act, here.) The Lincoln Park Commissioners had intentions to convert the older, southern portion of the cemetery into park grounds, but they did not have the funds to pay the costs for the disinterments of the occupants of the graveyard. During this period, landscaping continued on the established park grounds, and the new Lake Shore Drive construction began, connecting Lincoln Park to Pine Street, which would one day be renamed Michigan Avenue. The construction of Lake Shore Drive involved the participation of the Catholic bishop, as the Catholic Cemetery occupied grounds south of North Avenue, on the lake shore. (See details about the Catholic bishop's lawsuits against the Lincoln Park Commissioners regarding his riparian rights, here.)

CHICAGO FIRE _____________________________________________

The Chicago Fire hastened the transformation of what was left of the City Cemetery, into Lincoln Park. For two days in October, 1871, the fire charged through the city's landscape, carrying its destructive force as far north as Fullerton Avenue. The cemetery grounds were ravaged by the flames, and also by the thousands of people who fled north and toward the lake to escape the sweeping blaze. (See narrative accounts of the Chicago Fire as it directly relates to the City and Catholic cemeteries, here.)


By 1877, the Couch Tomb became the last remaining vestige of the City Cemetery.
Pamela Bannos © 2021