Begun in 1860, Graceland Cemetery is particularly well-known as the final resting place of Chicago’s famous architects – and is therefore full of appropriately elaborate monuments in their honor.
Daniel Burnham, one of the city’s planners and head of the 1893 Columbian Exposition, is buried here on his own private island on Graceland’s placid lake. John Root, Louis Sullivan, Howard Van Doren Shaw, and many others who designed the Chicago we know today can also be found here. There’s no end to the Chicago names you’ll recognize as you walk amongst the monuments, like Goodman, Palmer, Getty, Marshall Field, McCormick, Pullman, Wacker, and Medill, just to name a few.
The tombs range from magnificent opulence to surprising simplicity, and there’s plenty to explore away from the much-visited graves of the famous.
Among the more fascinating people buried here are Allan Pinkerton, who started the famous Pinkerton’s detective agency and his employee, Kate Warne, the first female detective in the United States. Warne posed as a rich Southern bell to help Pinkerton uncover a plot to assassinate Lincoln by Baltimore secessionists and posed as a fortune teller to uncover a poisoning plot, among many other costumes and ruses. She also worked as a spy for the Union during the civil war.
Perhaps the best thing about Graceland is that it’s just what a cemetery should be: peaceful, contemplative, and aesthetically calming. The grounds are so large that one can find solitude here at any time of day in any season, and its venerable trees and stones are just as lovely under a blanket of snow as they are on a summer’s day.
If one is visiting the city and needs a break from the crowded Loop, or if you live here and just need to take a long rejuvenating walk, Graceland will fit the bill.
One can take a self-guided walking tour by picking up a map of the cemetery at the on-site office, or by downloading it for free on their website. The Chicago Architecture Foundation and the Chicago History Museum also conduct their own organized tours of Graceland; visit their websites to learn more.