• Bodies in the Dead House
  • 1866 Vault & Dead House Ordinance
  • 1870 Order to Remove the Dead House


The term Dead House was used until the 1880s to describe what we today refer to as the City Morgue. The City Cemetery's Dead House sometimes accumulated bodies to the degree that citizens complained about the odor of decomposition. This communication is from June 1866.


Communication from Alderman Proudfoot

           I would bring to the notice of the Council the fact that the bodies of them upon whom inquests have been held are deposited in the Dead House in North Chicago and are then left until a load (as it is termed) has accumulated to be carried out to the place of interment; thus a body may lie there for 5 or 6 weeks while the load is accumulating; It is hardly necessary to state that the stench is sometimes intolerable, and only this morning a person passing within twenty rods of it could not fail to observe it. I would therefore offer the following resolution.       Resolved that the Board of Police Commissioners are hereby instructed to give directions to the proper officers that each and every body carried to the Dead House, shall be removed for interment immediately after the inquest.

L. Proudfoot

[Note: 20 rods equal 110 feet]




(copied verbatim)



To the Hon Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Chicago in Common Council assembled:

The undersigned would respectfully represent that there is great and frequent complaints made by Citizens of the North side on account of the large number of bodies that are suffered to accumulate in the vaults situated within the City limits.

It is also a matter of much complaint that such bodies or many of them are suffered to remain in the vaults for weeks and months together. And that a terrible stench arises and goes out therefrom to the great danger of the health of the residents in the vicinity.

Believing that such things ought not to be permitted the undersigned herewith submits an ordinance to prevent this unwarrantable abuse, which he hopes the Council will pass without delay.

Iver Lawson


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An Ordinance prohibiting the depositing of Dead Bodies beyond a certain period in the Vaults and Dead Houses in the Cemeteries within the City.

Be it ordained by the Common Council of the City of Chicago:

Sec. 1         That hereafter no dead body or bodies shall be permitted to remain in any of the Vaults or Dead Houses in any Cemetery within the limits of the City of Chicago for a longer period than five days.

Sec. 2         That if any undertaker or other person having charge of any corpse shall permit the same to be or remain in any such vault or dead house as provided in Section One for a longer period than five days he shall be liable to a fine of not less than twenty five dollars not exceeding one hundred dollars for each and every offense.

Sec. 3         The owners or party having charge of such vaults or dead houses shall be subject to the same penalties as provided in Section Two, if they shall suffer or permit dead bodies to remain in such vaults or dead houses for a longer period than five days.

August 23, 1870

Courtesy of the Illinois Regional Archives Depository.


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