Bohemian National Cemetery After Hours Tour

Last night, we went to the after hours tour of Bohemian National Cemetery in the Northwest side of Chicago. Yes, we toured a cemetery at night in the pouring rain. That’s just how we roll. The tour was through the Chicago History Museum, our first one as audience members. (Several years ago, they did a ghost tour and we acted the ghost parts out. Super fun). Al Walavich was our tour guide; he was extremely knowledgeable. It was a delightful evening. It wasn’t really dark when we went out but we had flashlights to make sure.

We learned that the cemetery was started in reaction to the death of a Bohemian woman who was a strong free thinker. When she died, she had not received last rites so the local priest wouldn’t sign the paperwork to allow her to be buried in the cemetery. She ended up getting buried in Graceland. However, members of the community decided that they wanted to control their own cemetery and decided to buy the farmland near Pulaski and Foster.

Apparently, people have to be kinda sneaky when building a cemetery in communities, not just Bohemian National Cemetery. For some reason, people don’t like them. So in order to push the process along, people will surreptitiously bury a body without announcing it. When the inevitable legal battle comes up, they will announce that they already started burying bodies. The law was disinclined to make them move the bodies. Sometimes people would bury four bodies, one at each corner of the space they want to define as cemetery. Clever.

One interesting feature of the cemetery is the Cubs wall. They have a wall mimicking the wall at Wrigley. Passionate Cub fans’ ashes can be interred there. It’s covered in ivy with two bleacher seats in front. Photos show people with their life stats, mimicking baseball cards. We heard about a very passionate Cubs fan couple who had their honeymoon at the stadium. The husband is buried there and when the wife passes, she’ll be next to him on the wall.

Cubs Memorial Wall

We discovered that the Bohemian National Cemetery has about 200 victims of the Eastlander disaster. In July 1915, a boat filled with Western Electric employees for a company picnic sank, killing 844 people. Entire families were killed; children orphaned. It was a horrible moment in Chicago history that is not well known like the Titanic and Lusitania. Our tour guide showed us two sections where victims were interred. One gravestone showed a man and a woman with different last names. Apparently, they were engaged and died in the disaster. The families decided to bury them together since they had planned to spend their lives together. The tombstone has two interlinking hearts. It was really touching.

The most famous person at the cemetery is Anton Cermak, a late mayor. He was killed when a would be assassin opened fire at Roosevelt in 1933. There is some question whether the assassin really intended to kill Cermak, not the president, due to some political assassination attempts in Chicago. Anyway, he has a rather impressive art deco mausoleum. Here’s a mausoleum nearby that came out better in my photos:

Impressive Mausoleum
Impressive Mausoleum

Another section of the cemetery has many more graves of the victims from the Eastlander. Our tour guide told us a very sad story. A man lost his wife and two children in the disaster. He managed to survive and worked to get them into Bohemian National Cemetery. Then he killed himself, likely from survivor’s guilt. There were no resources for mental health nor medication at the time. Very sad. We were told that a monument to the victims was going to be going up at the end of the month.

As the tour went on, the light started to fade. We finally got to use our flashlights, which was really thrilling. However, it didn’t get completely dark until long after the tour was over. Alas! I would definitely take another tour with the Chicago History Museum with the tour guide, Al Walavich. He also does tours of Graceland and Rosehill (I think).

That’s all!

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