Mapping the Cemeteries: City Cemetery

The City Cemetery, then known as the Chicago Cemetery, had its first fence installed during 1844, as Mayor Augustus Garrett's inaugural address attests, below. In 1852, a new fence was installed around the expanded cemetery area. See that fence, here.

Mayor Garrett's address mentions grave robbing for the first time. This problem, likely occurring in the potter's field, continued throughout the cemetery's history. See more about the City Cemetery grave robbings, including a case involving the City Sexton, here.

During these early cemetery years, the landscape features were in their virgin state. The document to the right, complains about the slough that ran through the cemetery. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a slough as, "A piece of soft, miry, or muddy ground; esp. a place or hole in a road or way filled with wet mud or mire and impassable by heavy vehicles, horses, etc." A.S. Bates, the City Sexton, suggests filling the slough. In the following document, to the right, his request is denied by the city officials. See an illustration of the slough, here.

The two-page document on the far right, creates a visualization through its details about the layout of the City Cemetery. Specifically, the 1847 paper describes a thirty-five foot wide street running through the cemetery, as a narrow continuation of Clark Street into the cemetery. The document details the proposed extension of that street beyond a seventy-foot wide street running east and west, describing it as then following a parallel course to a twenty-foot wide street located east of the bluff within the cemetery. This ordinance created a reconfiguration of the layout of the graveyard, moving some burial lots in the process. Section three of the ordinance forbids the shooting of guns within, or into the cemetery.

During the years 1843 - 1850, bodies were buried in the Original Survey, later known as the Old Survey. In 1846, the first Vault Survey was subdivided. During that same year, Chicago's first Jewish congregation bought land to establish their cemetery on the northeastern edge of the City Cemetery. In 1846, the Jewish Cemetery was far beyond the limits of the city's graveyard.


Inaugural Address of Mayor Augustus Garrett (excerpt)
March 7, 1844
I have the pleasure of congratulating you on the favorable state of the finances of the city. During the past year, the expenditures were swelled beyond the ordinary estimate, by extraordinary causes which could not be obviated. These were for the purchase of hydrants and hose, for building the cemetery fence, the Clarke street sewer, and making crossways...

I regret to say that depredations have been committed, from time to time, by the disinterment of bodies from the cemetery, in the grossest violation of private feeling as well as of public decency. I would urge the most constant vigilance to prevent such occurrences for the future, and the offering of large rewards for the detection of the offenders.

This is an excerpt from Mayor James Woodworth's inaugural address, given on March 14, 1848:
I feel it my duty to call your serious attention to the condition of the cemetery grounds, which I regret to say, are, in a condition incompatible with the desires and character of the People of Chicago. Nothing exhibits in a community more clearly a high state of civilization and morality, than a proper regard for their dead, and no improvement will inspire the stranger with so high a regard for the character of our people as a proper and tasteful adornment of the depositories of our deceased friends; and I hope that immediate measures will be taken for their improvement by a judicious expenditure of the money derived from the sale of cemetery lots. As the debt contracted in the purchase of the grounds, has been entirely discharged, we may hope to realize means from this source sufficient to enable you to effect to a considerable extent the improvement so much desired.

Courtesy of the Illinois Regional Archives Depository.

(copied verbatim)

To the Mayor and Common Council of the City of Chicago         Greeting

Your petitioner

would respectfully present to your hon. Body that the groun lying East of the Vault is nearly all a complete Slough and rendered Entirely useless for any purpose whatever and even worse than useless in as much as the water stands to a considerable depth for a great part of the year, and in as much as the funds belonging to the Cemetery will not for a long time be adequate to the filling of said Slough so as to abate the nuisance and render it useful, your petitioner would ask your attention the following propositions in relation to it which are as follows to wit.

I will fill up said Slough so as to make it fit to be used as a road or Street for the use of the Vault and the Cemetery provided the council will give me a deed of the lots the Vault stands on, and the fractional square joining on the north for a family burial lot, (and for no other purpose) and also a deed of the Slough between Said lots and the twenty foot street running north and south along the east side of the Cemetary.

For particulars as to dimentions See the annexed diagram as Surveyed by the City Surveyor.
Chicago, January 2 1847          A.S. Bates

Courtesy of the Illinois Regional Archives Depository.

Chicago, Jan 29. 1847.

To the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Chicago,
The undersigned in behalf of Com. on Wharves and public grounds, to which was referred a communication of A.S. Bates containing a proposition to fill up the Slough in the Cemetery if the Common Council will deed him the property in the Slough, the lot upon which his vault is located and the fractional square adjoining thereto, having considered the proposition, would respectfully ask leave to report,

That in their opinion there is no present necessity for filling the slough as it is now and has been in a suitable condition for use or at least so much of it is required for any public purpose; that if it should hereafter be thought necessary to fill it up it can be done by the City during the ensuing year at comparatively little expense and the City is already in debt to the Cemetery fund in an amount sufficient to meet the expense.

For these & reasons your Committee are adverse to the proposition and would recommend its rejection.

All of which is respectfully submitted.

R.C. Ross

Courtesy of the Illinois Regional Archives Depository.

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

Sec. 1   That the 35 feet Street in the Chicago Cemetery Commencing at Clark St. & Running North to the Main East & West (70 feet) Street through said Cemetery be extended due North of said 70 feet street to the 2nd east & west alley north of said 70 feet street there to be Extended in a N.Westerly direction parallel with the 20 feet street East of the bluff to the North side of the Cemetery – And that all the lots included in or coming within the limits of the Extension of said street be vacated for the construction of said Street & that any lots sold interfering with the proposed change be received back & that the City Sexton give another of equal value therefore & remove any bodies from the sold lots taken back at the Expense of the City.

Sec. 2   That the lots situated between the said 35 feet Street be Extended & the 20 feet Street north of the 2nd Alley North of the 70 feet E&W Street be vacated and Relaid out by the City Sexton & City Surveyor at right angles with said Streets and of suitable size & with proper Alleys for Vault Lots.

Sec. 3   That said city Sexton and surveyor be directed hereby to lay out a street on the East side of the Slough East of the 20 feet Street above mentioned & that they also lay out such other Straight or Winding Streets & paths & lots under the direction and admin. of the burial ground Committee as shall be considered necessary and ornamental – And that report of such alterations & extensions of streets & changes of lots be made to this Council by same sexton & surveyor without unnecessary delay, & that they also report prices to be charged for the new Vault lots and other new lots which they may lay out as above directed & also names for streets & paths in said ground.

Sec 3.   That ten dollars fine & not exceeding 30 days imprisonment by the County Jail be imposed on any person who shall dig up the ground for Roots or otherwise, or shall shoot a gun within or into the Chicago Cemetery burial ground and cemeteries or in the Catholic burial ground or cemetery adjoining that half of the ground so to be imposed upon parties found guilty of a breach of this ordinance when collected shall go to the informer & half to the Cemetery fund.

Sec. 4   That legal notice of this ordinance be published – and that it be posted on the burial ground fence by the City Sexton.

Passed October 18, 1847
Attest. H.B. Clarke Clerk

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