Contributing Factors in Moving the Cemetery: Rural Cemetery Movement

Plan for Lincoln Park, north of cemetery grounds, by Swain Nelson.
By permission and courtesy of the Chicago History Museum.

Map of Graceland Cemetery, design by O.C. Simonds.
By permission and courtesy of the Chicago History Museum.
The rural cemetery, in its ideal form, did not appear as a cemetery at all. That is, landscape gardeners like O.C. Simonds, who is largely responsible for the look of Chicago's Graceland Cemetery, had a vision of the grounds having no traditional cemetery features. Rows of graves, separated by gravel alleys, were replaced with gracefully curving ground features, with broad vistas. Areas marking family plots, like victorian era iron fencing and stone coping were discouraged or forbidden.

In Chicago, some of the same men who were designing the new Lincoln Park grounds were also contributing to the designs of the area's first rural cemeteries, Graceland and Rosehill. Swain Nelson, who was hired in 1865 to landscape Lincoln Park, is credited with the original layout of Graceland Cemetery. O.C. Simonds, who designed a Lincoln Park extension, later became the superintendent of Graceland Cemetery.

(Go here to listen to my conversation with Julia Bachrach, the Chicago Park District Historian, about the early landscape features and designs of Lincoln Park.)

When Chicago area rural cemeteries were established, they allowed families the first opportunity to remove their loved ones from the City Cemetery. The opening of Rosehill Cemetery in 1859 also coincided with the ordinance forbidding sales of lots in the City Cemetery. Graceland and the Catholic Calvary cemeteries were established in 1860. Oak Woods Cemetery, located south of the city, was founded in 1855, but apparently did not begin interring within their grounds until the 1860s.

The Rosehill, Graceland, and Oakwoods cemeteries all received bodies for reinterment that had been removed from the City Cemetery. The Trustees of the Graceland Cemetery Improvement Fund graciously allowed me access to their earliest interment records, which detail the dates and the names of those who were removed to their grounds from the City Cemetery. I counted a total of two thousand nineteen individuals whose remains from the the City Cemetery were reinterred in Graceland Cemetery.

Today's Rosehill Cemetery is owned and operated by Service Corporation International, a company with 1,700 funeral and cemetery facilities in North America. SCI also owns Chicago's Oak Woods Cemetery, where the Confederate Mound contains the remains of the Confederate prisoners who were once buried in the City Cemetery potter's field. The staff at the Rosehill and Oakwoods cemeteries must defer to corporate headquarters to answer any questions about their early interment records. After nine months of e-mail, telephone calls, written proposals to the corportation, and a visit to the Rosehill cemetery managers office, I have not yet been able to have anyone tell me anything about the interment records at either cemetery. It is not clear that those early records still exist.
Pamela Bannos © 2021