As a Chicago Greeter, I’m always on the lookout for sources of information about the city. My friend Molly recently gave me a newly published one: the coffee-table book Chicago Eternal, featuring graves at 31 Chicago-area cemeteries (32, if you count the Couch mausoleum in Lincoln Park). Assuming that most of the people important in Chicago history are buried locally, Chicago Eternal (Lake Claremount Press, 2018) is a single-volume resource for biographies of our VIPs.
The photography is gorgeous, but my interest is more in the stories. Author Larry Broutman is a scholar (he has a PhD from MIT) and obviously values thoroughness. Even though his career was in plastics engineering, he must enjoy historical research — detailed information accompanies his photographs.
I was aware of many of the subjects, especially those buried in Graceland Cemetery, where I give Chicago Greeter tours. Still, I learned quite a lot from Chicago Eternal. Here’s a sampling.
° When he dropped out of college to work for the Chicago Park District to help support his family, Abe Saperstein (1902–66) dreamed about forming a basketball team with his 5-foot-3 self as point guard. The Jewish Saperstein was destined not to play but to become a leader in promoting African American basketball players. Not long after launching a career as a booking agent for African American leagues, Saperstein founded the all-black Harlem Globetrotters. He is buried in Westlawn Cemetery (page 306).
° Sometimes lost in the telling of the notorious Leopold and Loeb murder case is a strange coincidence: the family plots of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb and their victim, Bobby Franks (1909–24), are all in Rosehill Cemetery (pages 72–73).
° A monument in Waldheim Cemetery memorializes Mike Todd (1909–58), the Broadway and film producer and Elizabeth Taylor’s third husband, but his body was moved from there to a secret site when grave robbers broke into the casket looking for a diamond ring. Todd, whose real name was Avram Hirsch Goldbogen, came to Chicago with his family when he was nine. He launched his show business career with a burlesque attraction at the 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago (page 247).
° Jack Ruby is a familiar name to those of us who were living when John F. Kennedy was shot. The killer of Kennedy’s assassin had roots in Chicago. Ruby (1911–67) was born Jacob Rubenstein to Polish immigrant parents and grew up here. He became Jack Ruby when he moved to Dallas in 1947. Dying in prison four years after killing Lee Harvey Oswald, Ruby was returned to Chicago for burial in Westlawn Cemetery (page 308).
° African American Olympic sprinters Jesse Owens (1913–80) and Ralph Metcalfe (1910–78) placed one-two in the 100-meter dash at the infamous 1936 Berlin Olympics. Owens is buried in Oak Woods Cemetery (page 34) and Metcalfe in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery (page 184).
° President Grover Cleveland came to Oak Woods Cemetery in 1895 to preside over the dedication of the 40-foot column marking the graves of Confederate soldiers who died while imprisoned at Camp Douglas (page 26). That seems interesting to ponder today as we debate the appropriateness of Confederate monuments.
° I remember seeing Cracker Jack in a Chicago History Museum exhibit of Chicago inventions but not the names of the coated popcorn’s creators, German immigrant brothers Frederich and Louis Rueckham. Frederich arrived here first and began selling popcorn. After Louis joined him, they developed their molasses glaze for popcorn. Frederich’s grandson Robert posed with a dog for the illustration on the Cracker Jack box. Frederich (1846–1934) and Louis (1849–1927) are buried in Oak Woods Cemetery (page 40).
° Speaking of treats, Charles F. Gunther (1837–1920) is credited with introducing caramel to the United States as a commercial candy. He learned about caramel on a European trip and started his candy business in Chicago in 1868. Gunther is buried in Rosehill Cemetery (page 75).
° Little Orphan Annie creator Harold Lincoln Gray (1894–1968) reported for the Chicago Tribune before freelancing in commercial art. The comic strip he created in 1924 inspired radio shows, movies, and a Broadway musical. Gray is buried in Oakridge Cemetery (page 300).
° Jack Johnson (recent recipient of a presidential pardon) is not the only heavyweight boxing champion buried in Chicago. Ezzard Charles (1921–75) beat Joe Louis for the worldwide title in 1950. Charles lived in Chicago the last years of his life and is buried in Burr Oak Cemetery (page 18).
° For some reason I’d thought that Oscar Mayer was a made-up corporate name. Oscar Mayer was a real person who immigrated from Germany to Detroit and then came to Chicago. He opened a sausage store with his brother Gottfried, whose name apparently didn’t have the ring of Oscar’s. Oscar (1859–1955) is buried in Rosehill Cemetery (page 74).
° Vocalist Dinah Washington’s career thrived in Chicago jazz clubs. Born Ruth Lee Jones in Alabama, Washington (1924–63) was performing in Chicago by her late teens. Sadly, she died at just 39 of an accidental drug overdose. She is buried in Burr Oak Cemetery (page 18).
° Political activist Emma Goldman (1869–1939) got her wish to be buried in Forest Home Cemetery near the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument honoring the defendants in the 1886 Haymarket Affair (page 270).
° In 1918 a train carrying hundreds of circus performers from Chicago to Hammond, Indiana, collided with a troop train, killing at least 86 circus employees. Many of the deceased were buried in a plot at Woodlawn Cemetery selected by the Showmen’s League of America. Their monument is a stone elephant (page 244).
° American-born Iva Toguri D’Aquino (1916–2006) traveled to Tokyo in 1941 to care for an ailing aunt and was trapped there when the United States declared war on Japan. She refused to become a Japanese citizen but was recruited for a radio program intended to damage American morale. Back in the United States after the war, the “Tokyo Rose” was convicted of treason while denying being disloyal. She lived here after her release from prison. Her ashes were placed under a family headstone at Montrose Cemetery (pages 256–57).
° It’s shocking to see the shamelessness of gangsters’ families. Grandiose monuments mark the graves of Jim Colosimo in Oak Woods Cemetery (page 36), Sam Giancana in Queen of Heaven Cemetery (page 282), and Al Capone (page 292), the Genna brothers (page 294), Dion O’Banion (page 295), Tony Lombardo (page 297), Frank Nitti (page 297), Vincent Drucci (page 298), and Hymie Weiss (page 298) in Mount Caramel Cemetery.
There’s always more to learn about the big city we live in.
Along with newsmakers of the past, Chicago Eternal features ordinary people whose monuments intrigued Broutman. He even has a section on paupers’ graves.
Broutman is working on two more books, Chicago Treasure and Chicago Courageous. He previously published Chicago Unleashed and Chicago Monumental. I’ll have to check those out.
ANTI-TRUMP QUOTATIONS: 15TH IN A SERIES
“A first even in annals of Trump admin: president claiming own staff gave fake and nonexistent briefing.”
— tweet by journalist Susan Glasser about Trump’s claim that the New York Times made up a “senior White House official” for its story about the cancelled North Korea summit