BBA Architects on Oct 28, 2022

Early this autumn, BBA Architects took an afternoon tour of Graceland Cemetery and Arboretum in Chicago. Our tour guide, Adam Selzer, is a Chicago historian and author of a recently published book on the subject, Graceland Cemetery: Chicago Stories, Symbols, and Secrets.

For those unfamiliar with this cemetery, Graceland is a substantial historic resting place for many significant Chicagoans, including some of our country’s most significant architects. Nestled on Chicago’s north side, a short walk from Wrigley Field, Graceland was dedicated in 1860. But some of the grave remains pre-date the founding, as it also became a resting place for many of the graves from the old City Cemetery in Lincoln Park. Once inside, we traveled around all sides of the cemetery to get the feel of the enormous scale and overwhelming beauty within its boundaries.

Walking Graceland is a wonderful experience for many reasons. Of course, the gorgeous picturesque, park-like design, which became popular in the late 19th century, is the most obvious. Graceland is a prime park-like example and shines on any day regardless of the weather. From an architectural standpoint alone, the cemetery is a showpiece of design. The architecture in the monument designs, some for the ultra-wealthy and many for the virtually unknown are spectacular. They were created with passion, artistry, and entice visitors to learn more about the people who rest there.

Our group was especially interested in the monuments dedicated to some of this city’s most renowned architects from the 19th century, as well as from the recent past. Some of these architects had first designed monuments for their patrons here before they were known as iconic architects.

Louis Sullivan designed what is arguably the most famous tomb in the cemetery, known as The Getty Tomb, commissioned in 1890. Sullivan himself, who famously died penniless in 1924, was interred at Graceland with a simple marker. Decades later, it was replaced with a more fitting monument.

Monuments within the arboretum include those for William Le Baron Jenney, Daniel Burnham, the Root family, and the Holabird family, architects whose firms made Chicago architecture world famous in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Of note is also a modest monument for Marion Mahony Griffin, who created much of the iconic work that made Frank Lloyd Wright famous.

We were pleasantly surprised to learn that Graceland is the final resting place for many mid-century contemporary architects, such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Bruce Goff, Walter Netsch, and Bruce Graham. There is also a marker for Richard Nickel, an architectural photographer and early preservation advocate, who died while documenting the demolition of Sullivan’s Board of Trade Building. Graceland awaits new monuments that are still being created for recently deceased architects, Stanley Tigerman and Helmut Jahn, who are currently buried in unmarked locations.

We are all humbled by the memory of these great architects and the many other historic figures buried here. The contributions they made helped form the city we love and benefit from today.

Seeing the monuments in the beautiful setting of Graceland cemetery is a moving experience. We highly recommend you plan a visit. Better yet, take a tour with Adam at Mysterious Chicago Tours. He is a skilled presenter and shares interesting anecdotes of the Graceland Cemetery and Arboretum throughout the tour and won’t disappoint.