Living close to Lincoln Park, we enjoy the landscaped gardens, zoo, conservatory, nature museum, theater on the lake, beaches, and recreational facilities. Covering 1200 acres along the lakefront, the public park is bounded on the north by Ardmore, just after the end of Lake Shore Drive, and on the south by North Avenue. Known for its statuary, including Lincoln, Grant, Shakespeare, Goethe, and others, the park also has a mysterious history, and there are curious monuments left behind to remind us that it used to be the only public cemetery in the city in the mid-19th century.
One afternoon, we were on the grounds of the Chicago History Museum, at the corner of North Avenue and Clark Street, and tried to find a remnant of the 1871 Chicago Fire. Geoffrey Baer of Â“Hidden Chicago: Monuments and MarkersÂ” said the melted remains of a hardware store were in the hedges along the semi-circular plaza on the east side of the museum. Unfortunately on that day, the museum was having a special event, and there was a huge white tent held down by thick ropes stretching over the hedges and tied to spikes in the ground. Loud music and people dressed in black emerging from the tent discouraged our treasure hunt.
On North Avenue, we came across a sign that said Â“Hidden Truths: The Chicago City Cemetery & Lincoln Park.Â”Â The reverse side of the sign indicated that Lincoln Park was the site of the City Cemetery from 1843 through 1859 and where more than 20,000 bodies were buried. As the grounds were converted to public park space, the bodies were removed to other graveyards outside of the city. However, according to Pamela Bannos, Northwestern University senior lecturer who worked on the Hidden Truths research project for over a year, about 12,000 skeletal remains are still buried in the park.
Another Hidden Truths sign by the Ira Couch tomb in the back of the Chicago History Museum said Â“This stone vault is the oldest structure standing within the Chicago Fire zone...Varying accounts of the number entombed suggest 7 to 13, or merely Ira alone.Â” Couch was a wealthy hotelier and perhaps the familyÂ’s status could explain the elaborate mausoleum, but not why it was left there.
And yet another sign along the path to the Lincoln Park Lagoon said Â“ChicagoÂ’s early Catholic Cemetery ran from North Avenue south to Schiller St., and Dearborn St. to the lake, now Astor St. Established in 1845, it existed until the 1871 Chicago Fire charred the groundsÂ…Skeletal fragments have been unearthed during construction projects in nearly every decade since the 1890s.Â” Alarmed by the fact that our condominium building could have been part of the old Catholic Cemetery, where there might be skeletal remains in the foundation of our building, we rushed home to do some research.
We looked up http://hiddentruths.northwestern.edu and studied the old maps. We were relieved to discover that where we now live used to be part of Lake Michigan, so the Catholic Cemetery was beyond our reach. However, our neighbors across the street and beyond are not so lucky, but weÂ’re not about to tell them about it.
Amy A. Rudberg works as a freelance writer, editor, and researcher in Chicago. She is currently working on writing and illustrating childrenÂ’s books.