Walking Dead: Touring the Cemetery of Architects

I recently took one of Chicago Architecture Foundation’s 85 tours at Graceland Cemetery (three are at Graceland), listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I arrived at Graceland to a large group of people huddled around the entrance waiting for the tour to start. (I’m sure the fact that it was Halloween had nothing to do with the high demand for the tour on this day.)

Graceland is the final resting place to 12 of America’s most renown architects, baseball greats, and some of Chicago’s first settler’s, authors, and politicians. It’s a little more than the prominent figures that attract thousands of people from all over each year. The monuments and sculptures are massive. (Definitely the way to be remembered!)

How fitting that a cemetery of architects should have some of the most unusual monuments and architectural structures that I’ve had the pleasure of viewing in one location, some of which were designed by a few of the celebritects and sculptors buried at Graceland. The overall styles of the mausoleums and sarcophagus’ were pulled from the Greek, Egyptian and Neoclassical time periods, with the neoclassical style being a direct reflection of the theme of the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Which is also not ironic. Many of those involved in the planning of the fair are buried at Graceland, such as Daniel Burnham, John W. Root, William L. Jenney, and Louis Sullivan. It is said that had it not been for Root’s death shortly before the final planning stages of the fair, the neoclassical direction could have very well not been the theme for the Columbian Exposition. This would have changed the course of architecture in America and thus Graceland. It’s amazing to think that one man’s ideas would have had such an impact on what is now a design history that all of us have used as inspiration and points of reference in our own projects.

Eternal-silenceSome of my personal favorite highlights were Lorado Taft’s bronze “Eternal Silence” sculpture; John Root’s headstone of a Celtic cross; a bronze seated lady, a sculpture of the Marshall Fields plots accompanied by a reflecting pool, the Getty Mausoleum which is a National Historic Landmark; and, of course, Louis Sullivan’s headstone, with visible influences drawn from his own architecture.

The cemetery also is well known for the horticultural upkeep of the site. The original landscape architect was H.W.S. Cleveland, but Graceland took its true form after O.C. Simonds proceeded over the grounds and implemented the American landscaped lawn plan of cemetery design, as well as incorporating native plants to the site.

What made this experience even more fantastic was that still shooting is allowed. I had my best friend snapping away, since she’s the one who know how the work the fancy camera. Architectural Photographer Richard Nickel would have had a blast. Oh yea, he’s buried there too! Two hours wasn’t enough time to take in all the marvel. I’ll be sure to sign up for another tour!

(Image captions, in oreder of appearance:  Gravestone of Louis Sullivan; "Eternal Silence" bronze sculpture, designed by Lorado Taft.)

–La Keisha Leek

La Keisha Leek, along with Lisa Backus and Brittany Hahn, is a design student who will regularly blog to share her design experiences at TalkContract.com for the next year. Check back often to see what's the buzz among the next generation of designers, and be sure to share with them your feedback and design advice by commenting below.

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