A while ago, there were some acts of terrorism going on, sabotage and finally a war. War means prisoners.
Prisoners had to be housed somewhere.
One of those places was Chicago.
Not the Chicago of today, with wrought iron wrapping around every building, street and vacant lot. Not the Chicago of flowers choking in the median strips, smothered by exhaust. Not the Chicago of the Sears Tower (Willis, who?), John Hancock or Trump Tower.
Rather this is the Chicago of the swamps. This was the Chicago before the Great Fire of 1871, and before a young up-start named George Pullman helped raise the buildings of Chicago out of the muck.
This was wartime Chicago.
A tall, unpopular president from downstate podunk Springfield, Illinois, some Abraham Lincoln guy, was running things — some say into the ground– and the country was at war with itself. The year was 1864.
In what was probably the best unintentional effort at politically burying a politician, a prisoner of war camp was established in the swamps south of Chicago, called Camp Douglas. Stephan Douglas, of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, which catapulted Old Abe into the presidency, was no doubt chagrined. Lincoln and Douglas had battled it out to be president, knowing the country was headed towards civil war. Imagine: fighting for that job?
Douglas had good reason to be bothered. Camp Douglas was a hell-hole, but it was built on then Senator Douglas’ property. Due to disease and overcrowding, over 6000 Confederate soldiers died. How would you like to have your name attached to that, even though those nasty Rebels were the enemy at the time? Another 1500 of Johnny Reb went “missing” from Camp Douglas.
Camp Douglas is a terror haunt everybody in Chicago should visit. Camp Douglas is the site of the largest mass grave in the Western Hemisphere.
There are no fences to see, no wretched prison bunk houses, but the boundaries of Camp Douglas are at 31st and Cottage Grove Avenue. Just south, in Oak Wood Cemetery, is “Confederate Mound”, where the remains of the many dead are buried. Probably one of the lesser visited monuments in Chicago marks the grounds.
For many years, there was an African American funeral home on part of the prison site, and it used to fly the Confederate Stars and Bars in memory of the horrors.
Camp Douglas makes Gitmo (Guantanamo bay prison) look like Club Med.
Yet the history of what happened there should not be so far from the consciousness of the everyday Chicagoan. There may be other civil wars, and other camps.
If there was ever a place for wrought iron and flowers….