Chicago’s Historic Cemeteries - Online December Lecture
~ report by Anne Wilson-Dooley ~
The beliefs, practices, and material culture of caring for the deceased are cultural constructs and have varied significantly through time within and between communities/cultures. Population growth, population movement, and social history changes have had the major effects on what we can see today, know from historical study, and learn from archaeology excavations.
Moving to her interests in childhood and what we could learn from local cemeteries, Dr. Baxter led us through her study of a selected sample of infant/child tombstones in two Chicago cemeteries. For background she reviewed 1800’s population growth, social history, the history of Chicago cemeteries, and mortality records.
In mortality records for the years 1867-1876, 57% of some 7700 deaths were of infants and children; 2800 were infants 0 to 12 months and 1600 were children of 1-5 years. Counting and taking notes on the tombstones for the age ranges in two Chicago cemeteries, she located only 500 infant/child stones. The rural cemeteries were Rosehill that was established in 1859 on 500 acres located 6.5 miles north of the city and Oak Woods that was laid out in 1864 on 200 acres 3.5 miles south of the city limits. Today both are still in use and completely surrounded by city.
Did the stones located indicate any demographic or social difference between the two cemetery locations? The ones at Oak Woods are more informative in both appearance and inscriptions. They contain more laments about the loss of the future the child represented and are more elaborate. Rosehill, probably used by more of the immigrant families, has fewer such markers. It was a time period with a great range in the city population from established families and great wealth to immigration and poverty. There are expenses to burial and tombstones. Many families may have made less of an investment in infants at a time when mortality rates were high.