Friday, November 7, 2008

Garden of the Dead - Part I

As I was doing some research, I came across a book, which at first seemed like an unlikely source of cemetery information.  Then I took a closer look at the subtitle:  Chicago the Garden City: It’s Magnificent Parks, Boulevards and Cemeteries.  The book is essentially a "guidebook" of beautiful places to visit in Chicago.  The author/editor viewed many Chicago cemeteries as beautiful "parks" thus the idea of the "Gardens of the Dead."

This first post is an excerpt from the book, discusses cemeteries and burials in general.  The author/editor has an interesting perspective to these concepts and paraphrasing just won't cut it; I've transcribed his introduction to the Gardens of the Dead section in full.

The second post will focus on this history of Chicago cemeteries.

Keep in mind as you read this excerpt, that this was written in 1893, so references to "present day" should be thought of in that context.

Chicago’s Cemeteries: Introductory

From ancient times to the present day the burial places of the dead have received much tender care on the part of the living among all civilized people. The decoration of the graves that contain the bodies of dear relatives or famous persons, speaks of the attachment, love and veneration still felt for those slumbering there and these outward signs of love were, in olden times, especially prominent and characteristic marks of human feelings and indicated the degree of civilization of the various nations and communities. It is a great pleasure, though it be mingled with sadness, to give ourselves up for a short time to quiet reveries at the grave of a dear friend or relative and to bestow upon its mound that loving regard which is prompted by the truest and most unselfish love the human heart is capable of.

Much attention is given in Europe to the tasteful arrangement and adornment of cemeteries, but America has made such rapid and marked progress in this direction within the second half of the present century that at present our own country stands unexcelled in point of beauty or burial places, that surround the various cities of the Union. The art of landscaping-gardening has been rapidly advanced by the application and opportunity offered by our great park systems and thereby the cemeteries have chiefly profited. This is especially seen in the improvements going on in the older “cities of the dead,” where the clumsy fences and similar unseemly enclosures around single graves or lots are rapidly giving way to the “lawn” or “park system,” which gives these places a more cheerful appearance. There are of course people who consider a grave-yard full of gloom produced by deep shade of dense trees and bushed and hedges monotonously intersected by long and rigidly straight paths and roads, though it be otherwise entirely void of landscape beauty, the proper place for the burial of the dead. These people are of the opinion that a cemetery ought in all of its appointments and surroundings correspond to the inner sorrow of the mourner and impress him with its gloom never to be forgotten. But, why should this be? Is it not a beautiful and prominent field trait of the human character to comfort fellow-men when sorrows overtake them, and lift them up from the dark earth pointing out to them the bright heavens above? If that is charity, it is duty. Is it not the duty then of the managements of cemeteries also to do what is in their power, to make the visits of people who mourn the loss of a parent, child or relative to the graves of the latter less sad, to turn the sorrowful pilgrimage into a source of comfort? We know—alas, a great many of us from personal experience!—that the grief and sadness filling the hearts of men when their loved ones are taken away from them by grim death, lose a great deal of their bitterness and sting, if at the time when we visit their cherished graves, our way takes us through a place with pleasant green lawns, with sweet flowers clustering here and there, where the beautiful sun of the heavens, where the grave-yard is not a dark and gloomy and comfortless spot but a place of consolation and peace.

Flowers and blooming shrubs are nowhere more in a place than in cemeteries and they are much more appropriate than are costly and pompous memorials of cold stone which are much oftener boasting monuments for the living than the dead. It is true that there are some works of art to be found in our cemeteries, tasteful in style and masterly in execution, but by far the greater number of the monuments are simply towering obelisks, which are evidently of Egyptian origin, are so popular in this country is difficult to understand; one might get the impression that the obelisk with the urn is the emblem of the American religion.

In olden times, when the Greeks and Romans and some other nations cremated their dead, the urn was in place, but what meaning it may have in our days, when the remains of man are mostly interred, cannot be comprehended; they certainly do not contain the ashes of deceased persons nor any other relic of them, but are simply blocks of stone in a form that makes them sad reminders of the losses we have sustained. The obelisk itself only impresses by its height and the value of the granite.

Tablets and crosses made of wood are more numerously found within the older cemeteries especially in many of the “God’s Acres” of the Germans. These seem to have been preferred, because the want of space in some burial places makes in necessary to re-sell grave lots after a given number of years. The fact is a sad one that we should not be allowed to remain undisturbed in our last resting place, and some times the inevitable is brought to our notice with painful emphasis. It has only lately transpired, that the son of old German veteran, who was buried some years ago in a Lutheran cemetery near this city, was looking in vain for his father’s grave to erect a monument upon it. At last the management of the cemetery had to admit that it had sold the lot in question to other people.

Happily such cases are not met with in any of our large and beautiful “Gardens of the Dead”; what the future, however, will bring forth and what disposition will be made of the cemeteries when the living shall demand the space occupied by them at present, is a matter of conjecture and a question which we will not attempt to answer.

Source:  Simon, Andreas.  Chicago The Garden City: It’s Magnificent Parks, Boulevards and Cemeteries.  Franz Gindele Printing: Chicago, 1893.

Julie

1 comments:

Amy

What a great source you found! I really like the part explaining the theory of changing cemeteries to places of comfort rather than places of sorrow.

Thanks for posting this!

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