Contributing Factors in Moving the Cemetery: Sanitary Concerns

When the location of the Chicago City Cemetery was established, the area was miles beyond the town limits. Burials began in 1843, and within a generation, more than half the designated cemetery grounds were filled. By this time, the city's boundaries had expanded to include the area surrounding the City Cemetery, and the land west of the cemetery was becoming residential.

In the early 1840s, various discussions began regarding the health and safety of people living in close proximity to burial grounds. The publication, A Supplementary Report on the Results of a Special Inquiry into the Practice of Interments in Towns, published in 1843, is a thorough report on those issues as relating cemeteries in England. (Click on the title of the publication to go to the Google Books website where you can view the entire book.) Largely dealing with the effects of the miasma emitting from graveyards, discussions among the medical community continued until the 1880s, when that theory was largely discounted.

In 1859, Dr. John H. Rauch wrote a paper about his concerns regarding sanitary health and the Chicago City Cemetery. Although circulated, the paper was not published until 1866. During this complicated time of the transition of the cemetery grounds into a park, Rauch's paper helped to stop the continuance of burials in the City Cemetery. In 1859, an ordinance was passed to stop the sale of cemetery lots. Although sales stopped in May, burials continued within owned lots, as well as in the potter's field, until 1866.

According to Rauch there were 11,341 interments 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 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.

Chicago Press and Tribune, July 27, 1859
(excerpt from article written on the occasion of the opening of the new Rosehill Cemetery)

For some years past there has been a growing feeling that some movement must be made, and was imperatively demanded, in the matter of securing a new place of interment other than the City Cemetery on the Lake Shore. Distant though it was when first set apart for that purpose in the then remote outskirts, the homes of the North Division have now long since overtaken it, and will make that vicinity one of our best and most densely settled suburbs.

A just apprehension and prejudice exists against intramural cemeteries, the last tenements of the dead being in the very midst of the homes of the living, and the peculiar nature of the soil upon which our city is built render the objectionable features incident to such conditions elsewhere, threefold more imminent and serious here. Our citizens, our press, our visitors from abroad all discussed this subject, always with the same result, a change must be sought, another city for our city’s dead must be procured.

Pamela Bannos © 2021