According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, “In Chicago, the living and the dead have always sought the same space: high and dry land with good transportation.” In the 1830s, the 60-acre City Cemetery and the smaller Catholic Cemetery ran north and south of North Avenue along the Green Bay Ridge in present-day Lincoln Park. In what is called the “Great Removal,’ city officials decided to reinter bodies in more remote locations both because of health concerns and the rising value of real city estate. Calvary, Rosehill, Graceland and Oak Wood Cemeteries were all consecrated in 1859.

West Entrance, Calvary Cemetery

West Entrance, Calvary Cemetery

Calvary is the oldest cemetery established by the Archdiocese of Chicago. Located on the border between Chicago and Evanston, this long, narrow cemetery stretches between Chicago Avenue (a continuation of Clark Street) and Sheridan Road. The two entrance gates are connected by a wide road. A lagoon that once ran through the cemetery was filled in. Many trees were lost to Dutch elm disease in the 1960s.

The residents of Calvary are predominantly Irish Catholic, and many were born in the “Old Sod.” Unlike some other Chicago cemeteries, where religious motifs are relatively rare, in Calvary there is an abundance of crosses, statues of saints, and stained glass windows in the mausoleums.

Calvary is the final resting place for many of the city’s Irish politicians, including five mayors (Dunne, Hopkins, Dever, Kelly, and Kennelly—but not Mayor Richard J. Daley who is buried in the Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois); leading sports figures (White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, Black Hawks owner Frederic McLaughlin, “Little Bob” Figg); captains of industry (lumber magnate Edward Hines, publishers John and Frank Cuneo, Hannah and Hogg of distillery fame, meat packer Patrick Cudahy); the great Irish American writer James Farrell; and, of course, some of our community’s founders, including Philip McGregor Rogers and Patrick Leonard Touhy.

An interesting feature of Calvary Cemetery are the distinctive headstones shaped like tree trunks and stumps. These indicate that the deceased was a member of Woodmen of the World, a fraternal organization founded in 1890. One of its missions was to provide a decent burial for its members, including free headstones .In the 1920s the Society stopped this service because of rising costs and the depression, but some members and lodges continued to arrange for the monuments on their own.

Some of the stones feature the organization’s shield and the inscription “Dum tacet clamat,” which means “Though Silent, He Speaks”. The gravestones were originally intended to be of a uniform design but not all the stone cutters followed the official design and interpreted it in their own way. The headstones vary greatly in size and shape. Some resemble a tree stump, others a stack of cut wood or a tall tree. There are elaborate hand-carved monuments, simple stone markers and stake-type markers driven into the ground.. Many of the stones reflect the personal tastes and occupations of the deceased.

Sometimes they contain items related to the life of the person, such as a fireman’s helmet or a child’s favorite toy.

Some common symbols:
Tree sprouting branches……….Life everlasting
Severed branch………………….Mortality
Tree stump………………………Life interrupted prematurely
Tree trunk……………………….Brevity of life
Leaning tree trunk……………..Short interrupted life

Originally published in the 2009 Founders’ Day booklet