As I prepare the October 18th launch of the novella Deadly Consequences, prequel to full length psychological thriller Till Death, I’d like to share some of the city’s rich history and forgotten secrets that play an integral part of the Sam Black stories.
In the late 1800’s The City Cemetery occupied land that would later become Lincoln Park and Chicago’s exclusive Gold Coast neighborhood.
One look at Chicago’s famous skyline, and it’s almost impossible to imagine Michigan Ave., Lincoln Park Zoo, and the Gold Coasts humble beginnings. Hard to believe that in the early 1800’s, the area consisted of forest, swampy marshes and pockets of quicksand. Indian settlements existed along what are now Halsted Street and Fullerton Avenue. Much of the existing Lakefront is a result of landfills, some of which consisted of trash after the Great Chicago Fire.
The young city’s population grew, a place was needed to bury their dead. Up until that time, many were buried in back yards or on property, resulting in a great many bodies being dug up as the city we know today was being developed.
Beginning in 1843, on what was then Chicago’s outskirts, city residents were laid to rest in the lakefront cemetery. Part of the oldest section of today’s Lincoln Park near North Avenue began its existence as the City Cemetery in 1843. This was subdivided into a Potters Field, Catholic cemetery, Jewish cemetery and the general City Cemetery.
These cemeteries were the only cemeteries in the Chicago area until 1859.
One more significant group of graves that existed on the site of today’s Lincoln Park were those of approximately 4,000 Confederate prisoners of war who perished at Camp Douglas between as a result of the poor condition they were in when taken on the battlefield, or of disease and privation existing at the Federal prison.
In 1860, Lake Park ,also called Cemetery Park, the precursor of today’s park, was established by the city on the lands just to the north of the city’s burial ground. On June 12, 1865, the park was renamed to honor the recently assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.
By 1864, the city council had decided to add all the cemetery lands north of North Avenue to the park by relocating the graves. The cemetery sections south of North Avenue were also relocated but this land was left for residential development.
The Couch Tomb still stands in Lincoln Park Zoo today; rumor has it the tomb was too heavy to move The mausoleum can still be seen as the most visible reminder of the history as a cemetery, standing amidst trees. Ira Couch who is interred in the tomb, was one of Chicago’s earliest innkeepers, opening the Tremont House in 1835.
The Couch Tomb today.
As visitors pass the tomb, one can only hope the history of the original Cemetery Park is not forgotten. Nor should it be. As recently as 1998, construction in the park has revealed more bodies left over from the nineteenth century.