Guess what? There are thousands of bodies under Lincoln Park.

Guess what? There are thousands of bodies under Lincoln Park.

Lincoln Park is one of my favorite places in the city. (The actual park, not the Trixie-filled bars.) There are so many beautiful places to explore. Unfortunately, I seem to have stumbled upon something that is not so beautiful: there are thousands of dead bodies in the park. Since Halloween is just a few days away, that’s the topic of this week’s ‘Did You Know, Chicago?’.

In 1837, The state of Illinois gave Chicago a piece of land outside the city limits to use as a burial ground. This land was located in what is now the southern edge of Lincoln Park. From 1843-1859, it served as Chicago’s City Cemetery, including the family-owned lots, Potter’s Field and the Jewish and Catholic cemeteries.

There were tens of thousands of burials in the cemetery, many due to cholera outbreaks. During a six-day period in July of 1854 more than 200 cholera victims were buried in the Potter’s Field.

In response to the crowded, ugly cemeteries located in cities across the country, a rural cemetery movement began. When Rosehill, Graceland and Calvary Cemeteries were established beyond the city limits, families had the opportunity to move loved ones to nicer grounds.

The most famous early disinternment was of Frances Pearce. She died only a few months before her baby daughter. When they were moved to Rosehill Cemetery, the distraught husband had a statue made of both of them and placed over their tomb in a plexiglass box. It’s said that on the anniversary of their deaths the statue case fills up with a white mist.

So why did the city begin to evacuate the cemetery? A doctor at the time named John H. Rauch began writing papers about the hazards of the cemetery. Because the grounds were so near the lake and below the water table, the bacteria from the bodies was at risk of seeping into the water supply. Another reason is that the city inhabitants were tired of a cemetery so near where they lived, and they decided they wanted a pretty park along the lake front. In 1869, the city officials passed control of the cemetery grounds, along with the northern 50-acres of unused area of the cemetery property, already used as a park, to the Lincoln Park Commissioners.

This is when things start to get fuzzy. Bodies were supposedly moved from 1868-1880s, but with only 10 men working to disinter the deceased, it’s not physically possible that all plots were evacuated. Then, when the Chicago Fire swept through, almost all of the markers in the cemetery were destroyed. The only one that was left was the Couch Memorial, which is still in the park.

Basically, no one is sure how many bodies were left in what is now Lincoln Park. One researcher estimates that there were nearly 10,000 forgotten graves. This includes the nearly 4,000 Confederate soldiers who died at Camp Douglas and were buried in Potter’s Field. It’s thoughts that they’re under what is now the baseball fields.

More proof: In 1998, a part of the park was excavated for the Chicago History Museum’s parking facility and the remains of 81 individuals were uncovered.

Think about that the next time you’re taking a nice stroll through the park.


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