A Walk on the Quiet Side: Spirits of Rosehill Cemetery Tour

By John Fitzgerald

On Saturday, June 9, after a dreary, rain-soaked morning when the spirits were willing but the sunshine was weak, an eager group met to take the Spirits of Rogers Park/West Ridge at Rosehill Cemetery tour. Indefatigable and resourceful guide Glenna Eaves led twenty-plus tour takers on a 3-hour walkabout of selected grave sites of local notables.

The tour began with an orientation and history of the cemetery itself, summarized in a well-researched pamphlet that also documented the stories of the dozen individual or family grave sites highlighted on the tour.

Rosehill Cemetery was created by the City of Chicago just before the Civil War to inter corpses moved from Lincoln Park to remote and less expensive land located far to the north of the rapidly developing urban center. At 350 acres, it was the city’s largest cemetery, and its location adjacent to new railroad tracks made it readily able to receive transported remains. It was named Rosehill after the former owner of the land, Mr Roe, who had farmed the elevated acreage.

As the weather brightened, the tour visited grave sites with prominent Rogers Park and West Ridge names.  

First came the Farwell brothers known for their activity in real estate development, philanthropy, politics and even the early women’s suffrage movement, all in the latter half of the 19th century.

Next came the Lunt brothers who also were successful businessmen and real estate investors. Orrington Lunt was instrumental in the founding of Northwestern University while brother Stephen was a speculator whose house, built in 1872, stands to this day at 1900 W Lunt, his namesake street.

Also lending their name to a Rogers Park street were the Pratt brothers. Like the Farwells and Lunts, the Pratts came from New England to settle in opportunity-rich Chicago. The Pratts are recognized as the first settlers of Evanston where they ran a farming and timber operation. Not as wealthy as the previous sibling pairs, the Pratts nonetheless had the foresight to invest in the Rogers Park Land Company, long before there was much actual development in the area, and so became part of neighborhood history.

The tour then visited the resting place of noted horticulturist John Ure. After a distinguished career in park planning and botanical work he gave land for the community’s northern boundary street and named it after his son Howard.

Next we stopped to learn about Sarah Marshall and her children, who lived along the Indian trail to Green Bay on “the Ridge,” the earliest area of Rogers Park to be settled.  The Marshalls were among the few women of the period about whom we have any information. Their lodgings were near what is now 7356 N Ridge. Their neighbors and latter-day kinsmen, the Kyles, were captains of sailing vessels on the Great Lakes. 

As the tour progressed, we viewed varied styles of cemetery monuments and architecture, such as Celtic crosses, glass-enclosed statuary, obelisks and urns, many draped with the veil of death. We noticed walls and strong fencing designed to protect the park-like space. A graceful doe enlivened the walk as we passed ex-Mayor of Chicago “Long John” Wentworth’s phallic tribute to his own memory and marveled at the inspiration still to be found in the more restrained memorial to women’s rights advocate Frances Willard, the Evanstonian suffragist who founded the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement.

A highlight was our visit to the Pollard Family plot. This accomplished family produced several generations of significant men and women who remain remarkably unheralded in the community, perhaps because they were African-American. The family patriarch, John Pollard, was born to free blacks in Virginia in 1846, a time when whites in that state, in fear of Nat Turner-inspired slave insurrections, were becoming increasingly harsh. As a boy, John was sent to live in the distant and free Kansas Territory. When war came, he joined the Union Army, fought hard, earned respect and survived. He later learned the trade of barbering, opened a shop at 7017 N. Ravenswood, and in 1911, purchased the home at 1928 W Lunt. For many years, the Pollards were the only black family in Rogers Park, and various family members lived in the home until the late 1980’s.

John and his wife Amanda valued education for their children and fostered ambitions that were achieved despite formidable obstacles.  Eight children lived to adulthood. The three eldest attended Brown, Northwestern and the University of Chicago at a time when college was a rare experience for African-Americans. The girls were educated in nursing and library science and the boys, almost all student-athletes of championship caliber, went on to careers in sports, the early silent film industry, music and business.

The most famous son was Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard, Sr.  A star back on the Lane Tech football team, he became an All-American, playing for Brown and leading his team to the Rose Bowl in 1916. After college, he became the first black coach in the early NFL, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005. His son Fritz, Jr., was a star at Senn High School and later became an Olympic hurdler and a teammate of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He later served as a Captain in the US Army in WWII and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The tour passed the grave of builder and Rogers Park leader C. H. Ceperly who was the last local survivor of the Grand Army of the Republic at his death in 1936. We also visited the Hattermans who in 1888 bought and farmed the area now known as Gateway Plaza around the Howard CTA Station.  We paused to respect West Ridge’s Judge Joseph Fitch and the Clevelands of Rogers Park, who were Methodist ministers and Knights Templar. Another stop occurred at the John Ziegler stone. He was a  book publisher who lived at 1846 W. Lunt and opposed the annexation of Rogers Park by Chicago in 1893.  Finally, we were able to rest in the stillness and splendor of the 19th-century May Chapel with its ornate cherub carvings and stained-glass window interior.

All in all, a fascinating walk through local history.