Monday, July 6, 2015

Grave Disturbance in Early Chicago Cemeteries

It always amazes me what a rich resource we have in the genealogy community-- the people who generously share the information they work so hard to find. I am continually on the lookout for information on my Irish Chicago ancestors. Any records of these people from the nineteenth century are a godsend!

A few years back, I heard about the removal of many of the early Irish interred in the late 1800s in the Old Catholic Cemetery in north Chicago to the new Calvary Cemetery. I can’t remember which part of the genealogy community clued me into this resource. Did I hear this from the Chicago Genealogy group on Facebook or the Cook County message board or from one of my dear genealogy friends and mentors? I’m not sure of the origin of this record description, but I do remember accessing some names of the “removed” and writing them down.

As we often do with research, I put this list away and forgot about it.
Recently I have been researching my Carney/Duffy family again and re-discovered this Old Catholic Cemetery Removal list of names.  What a potential goldmine this was. Since recording the names, I have identified more cohort families. I wanted to take a fresh look at the source of this list with the benefit of my additional knowledge. Some questions came to mind:
  1. Where exactly was the Old Catholic Cemetery?
  2. When was it founded?
  3. Why were the bodies removed?
  4. What other persons of interest to me might be listed in addition to those I had listed?
I began investigating. First, I needed to return to the source from which I had copied the names. This was an article “Index to Part I of Removals to Calvary Cemetery,” published in the Chicago Genealogist, the journal of the Chicago Genealogical Society , Vol. 32 No. 2 Winter 1999-2000.  I was very fortunate that a digitized copy of this article was now on the Internet, courtesy of the Newberry Library. (Note that in the digitized list of volumes, there is no table of contents. For that, you need to go to the Chicago Genealogical Society.)

Newberry Library, TonyTheTiger, 2007, 
2.5-2.0-1.0), Wikimedia Commons.
To continue my search at the Newberry site home page, I clicked on the menu tab “Research.” Then I followed these steps: When the menu drops down; click on “Digital Resources and Publications.” Scroll down the page until you see “Chicago Genealogist” and click on it.  When the next page comes up, click again on Chicago Genealogist. In the search box, I typed “Vol 31 No 2.” The next step is to click on the dropdown menu next to “view” and highlight “complete print version.” Then a PDF  of the complete journal contents appears, and you can search the Table of Contents for articles of interest.

As I scanned the Table of Contents, I saw “Old Catholic Cemetery” Records by Helen Sclair. In this article Ms. Sclair answered my first two questions:
Q: Where exactly was the Old Catholic Cemetery and when was it founded?

Ms. Sclair: “In 1843, a cemetery complex was begun near Clark Street and North Avenue. The city of Chicago opened 60 acres for the  ‘City Cemetery’, north of North Avenue and east of Green Bay Road (now Clark Street). The Catholic Church consecrated one block: Dearborn, east to State Street, and North Avenue, south to approximately Burton. Eventually both of these cemeteries would expand, the City’s to 120 acres and the Catholics’ to 5+ city blocks.” (p. 51)

I also learned that from 1858 people began making efforts to stop any more burials and any further expansion of these cemeteries. I presumed that this was because the city was growing and needed the land. A second reason could be that this burial area was very close to Lake Michigan which could cause water issues. But I wanted to make sure that I was on the right track. That’s where my third question came in: Why were the bodies removed? Professor Pamela Bannos answers this question in her website: “Hidden Truths: The Chicago City Cemetery and Lincoln Park”:

One of the most important reasons to move the cemeteries, according to Bannos, was that the land near Lake Michigan was below the water table.

By United States Geological Survey
 [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
 A concern at the time was that bacteria from decaying bodies could contaminate the city’s drinking water. Also when graves were dug, water would often times fill the burial pit. Another reason was that the citizens of the fast growing city decided that building a park (Lincoln Park) for the living could be more advantageous than using the land for housing the departed.

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs:
Photography Collection, 
The New York Public Library. "Lincoln Park, Chicago." 
The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Professor Bannos provides more historical background and maps of the old Catholic Cemetery on the section of her site “Mapping theCemeteries: Catholic Cemetery.” 

Now if asked “How does your country handle the deceased?” many of us would answer that there is great respect for the dead in our culture as evidenced by our funeral system and manicured cemeteries. But if we look a little deeper we find, at least in the instance of the early Chicago cemeteries, that concern for the departed sometimes gives way to the desires and needs of the living. On her site, Professor Bannos provides an eye-opening chronology of what happened to the remains of those buried in these early Chicago graveyards. She does this by presenting news articles from the time period. 
An article from the Chicago Daily Tribune issue of August 15, 1876 “Sad Scenes in a Cemetery”, truly captures the disregard given to the interred in the Old Catholic Cemetery as they are removed “…with a degree of recklessness almost criminal in its disrespect for the dead the laborers employed in the exhumation have scattered the remains of the late lamented all through the field.”

The whole removal process seemed slipshod from the first. Was it known exactly how many bodies were in the cemetery and exactly where they were buried? Was it a case of disrespect, indifference, lack of time, or poor records or a mixture of all three that caused many bodies to be left in their watery graves? What is known is that over the years and even up until this decade, bodies keep appearing when digging is done in the area. These occurrences Bannos has chronicled through more Tribune articles in the section "Hidden Truths: Catholic Cemetery." 

Now that I had learned about the history of the Old Catholic Cemetery, I wanted to return to the list of names of those who were fortunate enough to actually be removed and reburied in Calvary Cemetery. As I looked down the list, I saw the usual suspects: Carney/Kearney, Duffy, Cosgrave (Cosgrove), Devine, McKenna, Ryan, Sweeney, and Ward. This was another indication that these people were part of a community. 

This confirmation of the relationship of these families went along with the new information that I had recently found from studying pre-Chicago Fire maps, the 1870 Chicago Directory and Census and the 1870Chicago Illinois US Census. These records showed that members of the Carney, Duffy, Cosgrove, Devine, Sweeney and Ward families lived near each other on the Near North Side streets of Ohio, Illinois and Indiana.

By OpenStreetMap and edited by w:User:TonyTheTigerOpenStreetMap contributors
 [CC BY-SA 2.0 ( via Wikimedia Commons

On a final note, to get a great narrative and summary of Professor Bannos’ project, “Hidden Truths: The Chicago City Cemetery and Lincoln Park,” check out the article by Jessica Curry “What Lies BeneathLincoln Park” in Chicago Life Magazine.

Categories: genealogy community, genealogy tools

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