Chicago Stories, Symbols, and Secrets

By Adam Selzer

3 Fields Books


300pp/$19.95/August 2022

Graceland Cemetery
Cover by Dustin J. Hubbart

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Adam Selzer is known throughout Chicago for his tours, many of which highlight Chicago history, often with a dash of the supernatural. He also gives tours of Chicago's historic Graceland Cemetery, located at the corner of Irving Park Road and Clark Street. His book Graceland Cemetery: Chicago Stories, Symbols, and Secrets offers his encyclopedic knowledge of the cemetery by offering the reader a several walking tours through the cemetery, which also demonstrates how he builds his own tours

Selzer provides five touchpoints in the cemetery which serve as commonalities for the various paths he offers. In each section of the book, he offers two paths that start at one of these touch points and ends at the next one. Although this means that a person using Graceland Cemetery can see all of the graves described in as few as two tours of the grounds, it also allows scores of different paths and the reader can mix the various segments in a multitude of ways.

Each path provides descriptions of the graves, memorials, and monuments that will be passed, along with explanations about who some of the people who are buried in the graves or interred in the mausoleums are. Sometimes these descriptions can be as brief as noting that Alfred Featherstone (1855-1924) was among the first to offer affordable bicycles, but often they provide a greater amount of context about the deceased. More recent entries serve to remind the reader that Graceland is an active and functioning cemetery, with new and notable burials still occurring.

Selzer has clearly done his research and many of his descriptions are more detailed that just who is buried in a plot and who they were. He talks about legends that have sprung up about the burials and tries to refute or support them based on his own research. In one case, he discusses Barton Edsall, who was murdered a couple days before the Chicago Fire in 1871. In Selzer's book Mysterious Chicago, Selzer explained that Edsall's wife was killed in the fire, but in the intervening years, he has determined that she survived the fire, left Chicago, and remarried.

One of the more interesting features of the book is the constant explanation of reburials. Many of the early burials were of people who were originally buried in Chicago's City Cemetery, which was closed in order to create Lincoln Park. Although it would be assumed that once a body was moved to Graceland from City Cemetery, it had achieved its final resting place, many of the entries explain that the body has been in multiple locations in Graceland Cemetery as it was moved to make room for someone else or to place it near family members who died later.

Although the book contains several versions of the cemetery map, each time showing the routes Selzer is about to describe, the maps do not include the names of the paths through the cemetery, although Selzer's text refers to Graceland Avenue, Center Avenue, Greenwood Avenue, etc. The reader is left to a comparison of the text to the routes shown on the maps to figure out which path is named which street. THe lack of street names seems like a strange oversight given Selzer's attention to detail in his descriptions of the individuals buried in Graceland and their monuments.

Graceland Cemetery and Arboretum is a beautiful and peaceful oasis on Chicago's north side, just a half mile north of Wrigley Field. Designed to be a welcoming park for mourners, it also serves as a lesson in Chicago's history, offering a who's who of the people who built the city and lived in it. Selzer's Graceland Cemetery: Chicago Stories, Symbols, and Secrets offers the stories behind the names that appear throughout the cemetery, from the famous names like Burnham, Palmer, and McCormick to the forgotten and lesser known denizens of Chicago like John and Mary Jones, Francis Winter Boggs, or Sarah Goode. While the book can not replace a live tour of the cemetery by Selzer, it does offer the reader multiple self-guided tours and history lessons through the grounds.

Purchase this book

Amazon BooksOrder from Amazon UK




Return to