Until I moved to Chicago, when I heard “Graceland” I thought of Elvis Presley’s kitschy home in Tennessee or the Paul Simon song, depending on the context. Now that I live in Chicago, when I hear “Graceland” I think of dead people.
One cannot help but think of the thousands of dead people buried in Graceland Cemetery, the 100+ acre “park” nestled between the Red and Brown Lines just north of Irving Park Road.
It can’t be denied that cemeteries are intriguing. It’s interesting to imagine what life was like for the people who have been long buried, and truthfully mostly forgotten. For more than a decade I lived in a city that didn’t have a proper cemetery within its boundaries so I didn’t have the opportunity to quietly meditate on mortality in its proper setting.
Chicago offers many locales for such, and Graceland Cemetery is arguably the best. It’s large, well-maintained, and has a variety of monuments to the departed. It can’t compete with La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires in “population” density or volume of spectacular tombs, but Graceland’s grounds are by far more idyllic and lovely.
The Chicago Architecture Foundation currently offers three different walking tours of Graceland Cemetery, any of which would be a good opportunity to use your Passport to Chicago discount. There are also a number of books that can help you navigate the cemetery. Finally, Graceland Cemetery’s website offers some historical, biographical, and geographical information as well.
I decided to forego all of the available sources and chose instead to explore ignorantly and alone for my first trip to Graceland. Cemeteries have a way of informing even the most unobservant, and I’m certainly not that. I was able to find a Chicago Landmark, Daniel Burnham’s family plot, Louis Henri Sullivan’s grave, and a number of beautiful monuments without even trying – except, of course, for being in the cemetery with my eyes open.
I’ve included a number of photos in the attached gallery, many of which do not have any identifying information. I did that on purpose; it’s worth a trip/tour/read to learn about Graceland on your own. For instance, you should find out for yourself why looking into the eyes of Eternal Silence, which will supposedly give viewers visions of their own death, is nearly impossible.
This being October, walking around a cemetery on a cloudy day with drizzling rain seemed appropriate. For the faint of heart, Graceland closes its gates by 4:30pm so unless the skies are particularly dark and stormy there’s little chance of “spooky.” There is chance of seeing the beautiful fall leaves throughout the cemetery, but they’re falling fast so you should hurry.
My first trip to Graceland was a treat. Perhaps I’ll take a tour or read a book to learn more about the monuments and people of the cemetery. I’m looking forward to returning just after a fresh snowfall, when I imagine Graceland Cemetery will be pretty in that quiet wintery way.