Elaborate headstones in Chicago IL mark the graves of famous entertainers, gangsters, business people and everyday folk. The major cemeteries are Rosehill, Burr Oak and Mount Carmel. It might sound ghoulish to spend an afternoon exploring a cemetery, but the cemeteries are serene with beautifully laid out gardens. Many of the monuments are works of art. It's a history lesson to locate the many famous burial spots.
Rosehill Cemetery is 350 acres of beautifully laid out grounds in the Victorian style. It is filled with eccentric, intricate and elaborate monuments for Chicago's upper crust. Things to see start right at the start of your trip to the cemetery. The entry gates and administration building are on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, looking like they belong on a fort or castle. Just a few of the famous people include Avery Brundage, the president of the U.S. and International Olympic Committees for decades; several mayors and congressmen; the victim of the murderous duo Leopold and Loeb; and John D. Hertz, the founder of the rental car agency. The most famous headstone belongs to Lulu Fellows, not famous in life but often visited in death. She was sixteen when she died. Her family put up a full size marble statue of her to mark the tomb. She sits forever, calm and wistful, a book in her lap. The inscription reads "Many hopes lie buried here."
The Burr Oak Cemetery is the home to African Americans from the Chicago area. Players of the Negro Baseball League, the Civil Rights movement, and a number of musicians are buried here. Probably the most famous is Emmett Till, one of the early martyrs in the fight for civil rights. This is the resting place for singer Barbara Acklin, blues guitarist James Kokomo Arnold and trumpeter George Sonny Cohn. World Heavyweight Champion Ezzard Mack Charles and baseball player Jodie Edwards are also in Burr Oak. To learn more, click for more information.
Almost all the famous Chicago gangsters are buried at Mount Carmel, the Catholic cemetery, reflecting the Italian and Irish heritage of many of them. Though great enemies in life, Charles Dion O'Banion and the Genna brothers are buried across from each other. The marker most people want to see is Al Capone's, the most famous gangster of 1920s Chicago. The headstone is quite plain but it has flower bushes all around it. Most people think they were planted to hide the notorious name.
Most modern headstones are flat to the ground. This makes it easier for the groundskeeper to keep the lawn cut and the area tidy. The usual custom today is to simply list the name of the deceased and date of birth and death. A word or two about their role, like father, brother, son, is often included. Occasionally a line from the Bible, a saying that reflects an important feature of their life or a humorous remark is carved on the monument. One example is, "I'd rather be golfing."
Tombstones are made from a variety of materials. Sandstone is popular because it is easy to engrave and resists weather extremes. For decades marble was the material of choice for people who could afford it. It comes in a wide range of shadings and is extremely durable. Granite is very common because of its affordable price, but it can be difficult to inscribe. Slate is expensive but lasts for centuries. It resists weather changes and seldom cracks.
In earlier decades headstones usually extended vertically above the tomb. Tablets were the most common. In the form of a tablet with a rounded top, they were installed at the head of the plot. Most had engravings of ivy, an angel or garlands of flowers. Obelisks were more elaborate and marked the tombs of influential people. They had four sides crowned with a pointed top, pointing to the sky. Other markers were slanted or flat. The most expensive had sculptures or even small temples built over the grave.