One of three major Victorian cemeteries in Chicago, Graceland Cemetery (1860) is located alongside a railway line that brought mourners and coffins over two miles north from the city-centre, like Brookwood Cemetery in England and Rookwood Cemetery in Australia.
The original eighty-acre site was landscaped as parkland by Horace W S Cleveland (1814-1900), who had also designed Sleepy Hollow Cemetery at Concord, Massachusetts in 1855.
It was enlarged to the north-west and the east by the architect Ossian Cole Simonds (1855-1931), who also designed Lincoln Park on the site of the former City Cemetery which closed after the Civil War.
The Graceland Cemetery chapel, recently restored, was designed by the Chicago practice of William Holabird (1854-1923) and Martin Roche (1853-1927) in 1888.
The 119-acre cemetery continues to operate under the control of the not-for-profit Trustees of the Graceland Cemetery Improvement Fund. It is freely open to the public: http://www.gracelandcemetery.org.
The most haunting of all the magnificent monuments in Graceland Cemetery is the tomb of Dexter Graves (1789 – 1844), with its bronze figure of ‘Eternal Silence’, the work of the sculptor Lorado Taft (1860-1936), cast by Jules Bercham of the American Art Foundry.
Originally the entire figure was painted black, and over the years the metal has oxidised to an eerie green everywhere except the face.
Dexter Graves was a member of an early contingent of Chicago settlers who, according to the inscription at the back of the monument, “brought the first colony to Chicago, consisting of 13 families, arriving here July 15, 1831 from Ashtabula, Ohio, on the schooner Telegraph.” A former tavern-keeper, Graves opened the Mansion House hotel on Lake Street, but died, soon after his daughters Lucy and Emeline, in April 1844.
Father and daughters were interred in the Chicago City Cemetery on North Avenue, and when that cemetery closed they were reinterred at Graceland.
It was Dexter Graves’ last surviving son Henry who, having no immediate heirs, commissioned the monument.
Henry Graves died in 1907, and the monument was in place by 1909.