Graceland Cemetery: The City of the Dead

 

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Wistfully  reminiscing upon the passing of summer’s forgiving warmth, I am now surrounded by the continually dropping temperatures, gaudy Halloween shops, and falling leaves of autumn’s onset — the transitionary period of nature’s fading youth reminds us that nothing can last forever. In the spirit of nature’s waning vitality, and of the autumnal season’s inclination toward the macabre, I decided to visit one of Chicago’s most haunted (and beautiful) cemeteries.

Cramming myself into a Red Line car headed to the Sheridan stop, I ventured to see for myself the infamous apparitions of Graceland Cemetery on an appropriately overcast Friday afternoon. Armed with nought but a tour map and a backpack full of snacks, I marched through an ornate gate of iron, determined to explore the historical and the supernatural. The thick hush of the air silenced any signs of life from beyond the stone boundaries, and eternally silent residents stared at my living, breathing body in solemn solidarity. 121 acres of graves: an entire city of the deceased lay before me, their tombstones jutting up from the ground to create a skyline unlike any other.

Among the oldest chartered burial sites in Chicago, Graceland has gathered quite the repertoire of ghostly apparitions and supernatural superstitions since its conception in 1860. The grave of the aptly named Dexter Graves, for instance, is marked by the most unsettling statue in the cemetery: “Eternal Silence,” created by Larado Taft. Most visitors today know the monument as “the Statue of Death,” rumored to reveal an onlooker’s demise within the dark folds of the statue’s hooded face. More renowned than the soothsaying envoy of Death, however, is the infamous “Inez Clarke.” Rumors posit that laughter can often be heard around the little girl’s grave, and that her memorial statue disappears during thunderstorms, as Inez fears the crash of the lightning. While the mystery surrounding Inez’s passing intrigues most visitors, the thought of losing a life so young brought my attention to the scores of stones with children’s names on them, some inscribed simply with “Baby” — children too young to have been named. Ray Bradbury’s The Lake propounds on dying prematurely, “…people grow. I have grown. But she has not changed. She is still small. She is still young. Death does not permit growth or change” (Bradbury, 123). Life is determined by our ability to change and adapt — to never stop improving and amending, because death is truly the incapacitation of our inherent malleability. Many historically significant figures buried within the Graceland, such as Marshall Field, Daniel Burnham, George Pullman, among many others, are prime examples of this sentiment, having lived industrious, adaptive lives that changed the world; unfortunately, the opportunity to live such a life was denied to many young bodies that now permanently reside in Graceland.

Examining every headstone and envisioning the life leading to the casket underneath led me to ponder the life I lead right now — the path to my own inevitable headstone… To walk through a cemetery is to face one’s own transience. As I left the thick silence of Graceland Cemetery, I walked as if born anew into the world of the living — everything so vivacious and boisterous, everyone in the city so blissfully unaware that it could all end in a moment. Despite the fragility of mortality, the people of this city continue to change themselves and the world in which they live, carving their legacies into Chicago’s mythos with undaunted vigor. Despite mourning summer’s passing into fall, those outside the cemetery know that warmer weather will come again. (Quinn Rigg/ City of Stories Student)

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