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Chicago, Illinois

Bohemian National Cemetery

Cemetery featuring rare glass-fronted columbarium. 

A cemetery on the north side of Chicago, Illinois, the Bohemian National Cemetery was established by some of the members of the city’s Czech community in 1877. The community was inspired to establish their own burial grounds after a Czech Catholic woman named Marie Silhanek was denied burial at several other cemeteries in the area; she was denied, reportedly, because she never made a final confession before it was too late.

Outraged, the Czech community bought 50 acres in what was then Jefferson Township. Today, the cemetery is at least 126 acres in size, having grown incrementally over the years. Despite the great story of its founding, though, not many know the Bohemian National Cemetery’s history. Instead, they know of the cemetery because it houses a very rare glass-fronted columbarium and an elaborate entrance that can be seen in the images above. The main entrance was designated a historical landmark as of 1977, the 100th anniversary of the cemetery. 

There are several war memorials on the grounds, honoring the fallen in the American Civil War, Spanish American War, World War 1, and World War 2.

A macabre point of interest is the sculpture “The Pilgrim” by Albin Polasek, a Czech sculptor who headed the sculpture department at the Art Institute of Chicago. It depicts a hooded figure in bronze walking toward the mausoleum of the Stejskal Family. Polasek’s work is also featured in another bronze sculpture titled “The Mother,” which is found in front of the stately Crematorium. Another famous Bohemian sculptor is Mario Korbel, who sculpted the bronze figure on the Beranek monument. 

A new columbarium was added in 2009 and specially dedicated to Chicago Cubs fans. The structure is a replica of the red brick wall at Wrigley Field, the Cubs’ home. The columbarium includes a stained glass image of Wrigley’s scoreboard. The Cubs were not directly involved in the construction of the structure. Instead, it was built by a fan named Dennis Mascari because he wanted to make his visits to the cemetery less depressing. The cemetery agreed when Mascari was able to raise the necessary funds - but they wouldn’t let him broadcast Cubs games from a nearby speaker.

Notable interments include former Chicago mayor Anton Cermak who was mayor of Chicago from 1931 to 1933. He was assassinated while meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Florida. 

The cemetery also hosts a memorial for the 844 passengers killed during the SS Eastland disaster of 1915. The ship rolled over while docked on the Chicago River. Many of the passengers are interred at the cemetery.

The cemetery was featured in the 1998 film U.S. Marshals and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. Some of the most notable residents of the Bohemian National Cemetery include Anton Cermak, a mayor of Chicago who was assassinated in 1933; Otto Kerner, Sr., a former Illinois Attorney General; and Charles J. Vopicka, a U.S. ambassador to several eastern European countries.