THE MYSTIFYING “SILENCE” AND THE GHOSTS OF GRACELAND CEMETERY
When real estate investor Thomas B. Bryan founded Graceland Cemetery in 1860—just three blocks from Wrigley Field Today– the now-bustling neighborhood was practically wilderness. Over the years, a number of architects and designers worked to civilize this 120-acre enclosure in typical Chicago fashion. Bryan’s nephew, Bryan Lathrop, served as president of the cemetery for a number of years and was enchanted by naturalism. As a result, architects William Le Baron Jenney and Ossian Cole Simonds were hired to enhance the grounds. Simonds was so taken with the project that he ended up turning his professional attention fully towards landscape design. Through the work he did at Graceland and afterward, Simonds anticipated the gracious natural appreciation of the Prairie School artists.
Names found in many of Chicago’s history books may be found on the stones and monuments here: Chicago’s much-maligned “first settler,” John Kinzie, Railroad magnate George Pullman, merchant king Marshall Field, the great detective Alan Pinkerton, whose men subdued the chaos in the days after the Great Fire, and Fazlur Kahn, structural engineer of the cursed Hancock building. Mayor Carter Harrison, who was shot at the end of October 1893, bringing the triumphant World’s Fair to a grim close. William Starrett, founder of the Baker Street Irregulars. And so many others.(048)
Ghosts roam here, though in recent years many have sought debunk the thrilling stories I and others passed on from the folklore which flourished during our childhoods in the area. Thankfully, the stories remain, despite the attempts.
The tomb of Ludwig Wolff, which stands right over the Montrose Avenue fence, has been carved from a built-up mound, with stairs leading down to the entrance. A vent at the top feeds the legend that Wolff was terrified of being buried alive, and included a ventilation system, and literal bells and whistles to guard against the chance of it. Residents of the apartment buildings that tower over Montrose avenue say that, on nights when the full moon illuminates the cemetery grounds, one may see the phantom figure of Wolff’s faithful wolf hound, pacing in front of the tomb’s entrance, its fur shining and its eyes glowing a fluorescent green. Some have dismissed these tales, as coyotes do live here . . . “Just the light reflecting off their eyes,” they say.
Among the many architects interred at Graceland is Fazlur Khan, structural engineer of the “cursed” Hancock building of Chicago ghost lore.
The footbridge to the graves of the Burnham family.
Strollers through the cemetery have told of seeing a somber figure standing on the veranda which tops the tomb of the Goodman family, gazing across the beautiful man-made Lake Willowmere, a placid retreat surrounded by willow trees and the graves of Chicago’s great architects and artists and “Mr. Cub,” Ernie Banks.
A wondrous surprise at this lake is a recently refurbished footbridge which leads to the island burials of World’s Fair architect Daniel Burnham and family. Burnham’s ghost was reported frequently after his death, but few knew who the ghost was until the publication of The Devil in the White City. They see him, hands in pockets, standing on the banks of his island here, walking the Fairgrounds in Jackson Park, and even in his old offices at the Rookery Building on LaSalle Street, where he designed the World’s Fair. In fact, some have wondered if it is his ghost, and not defense attorney Clarence Darrow’s which has been seen so often on the steps of the old Palace of Fine Arts of Burnham’s design.
The haunting tales of Lorado Taft’s foreboding monument, The Eternal Silence, have now passed completely into legend. That’ eerie creation, a larger-than-life tower of oxidized bronze depicting a looming, hooded figure, was said to be unphotographable when it was erected over the grave of Ohio-born hotel owner, Dexter Graves in One of the most fascinating, and hence, most photographed, images in Chicago cemetery art, that tale is obviously untrue. Yet, some still insist that a look into the deep-set eyes of the so-called “Statue of Death” will give the beholder a glimpse of his own afterlife to come.
A friend of mine, Robert Murch, is the penultimate historian of Ouija boards, or talking boards as they are more generically called. During a visit to Chicago to speak at a paranormal conference I was hosting, Murch made a visit to Graceland Cemetery hoping to find the grave of J.M. Simmons, who was one of the largest producers of Ouija boards in the world in the early 20th century—so many that he was called the “Ouija King of Chicago.” Along with Simmons were other Chicago-based talking board companies that sprung up in the 1940s. As Murch says, Ouija boards and Chicago were “like peas and carrots.”
Murch was extremely disappointed when the management of the cemetery told him Simmons wasn’t there, but he and his friend toured the cemetery anyway, as he had heard about its stunning beauty and history. Then rounding a curve, he came upon the towering “Statue of Death” and he stopped dead in his tracks. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
The figure, Murch said, was a dead ringer for the one that donned the boxes of William Fuld’s and later parker Brothers’ Ouija and Mystifying Oracles from 1941 to 1972. Could it really be that I just came face to face with the inspiration of what Hubert Fuld called affectionately the Blue Ghost?
When I saw him later that day, Murch had a huge smile on his face. He came and knelt down next to the chair where I was sitting and said, “I want to show you something.” He said, “My friend took me to Graceland Cemetery,” and he took out his phone and showed me this montage he had quickly made, the side by side photographs of the Blue Ghost and The Statue of Death. (066)
Model of Lorado Taft’s “The Eternal Silence”
I started to cry and laugh at the same time. Not knowing about Chicago’s connection to the marketing of the Ouija board, I had never realized the similarity. It truly was an amazing one.
Murch knew he would probably never know if Lorado Taft’s stunning statue was really the inspiration for the likeness of the “mystifying oracle” which appeared on countless Ouija board boxes produced in Chicago, but we both like to think it was. As Murch says, rather than seeing a premonition of his death when he looked into the eyes of The Eternal Silence, he “simply saw a ghost with a story to tell.”
One of Graceland’s ghost stories has been ruthlessly and regularly dismembered for two decades by a long line of historians and journalists: the story of the little ghost girl known as Inez Clarke.
The “Blue Ghost” of the Ouija Board game box
Monument to Inez Clarke (Graveyards.com)
When I first started lecturing on Chicago’s ghosts, a well-known cemetery historian showed up at one of my lectures, waited until I asked for questions, and then started scolding me about “spreading falsehoods about cemetery history” regarding Inez Clarke. It was one of countless times I would have to explain to “experts” the difference between history and folklore!
Struck down in her girlhood by either tuberculosis or a lightning bolt (the versions of the tale often differ), the story tells that Inez was buried in Graceland by her devastated parents, who proceeded to commission a statue of their lost angel for her gravesite. That monument, perhaps the most affecting of any Chicago child’s, depicts the little lady in her favorite dress, perched on a wooden chair, and holding a dainty parasol. Her gleaming eyes hover above a whisper of a smile. Surrounding the masterpiece is a box made of glass, secured cemented to the monument’s based.
Years ago, reports began to circulate that the statue had come up missing one night, only to be found in place the next morning. Apparently this happened on several occasions until, according to the story, the glass case was placed over the monument to prevent further theft. When a security guard making his rounds discovered the empty case one night, despite it being securely anchored to the base, he fled the cemetery at once, leaving the grounds unattended and the gates standing open.
Accounts differ as to whether Inez’s statue began disappearing before or after her monument was encased in glass. Those who attest to her death by lightning say that she only disappears during violent storms, perhaps seeking shelter from the frightening weather, while those who credit her death to tuberculosis say that she runs off at random. Occasionally, a visitor will claim to have seen a child who wanders and disappears among the graves near the Clarke monument, and stories tell of children visiting the cemetery with their families who wander off, only to be found near the statute, uttering claims that they were “playing with Inez.”
Cemetery records do indicate that a child was buried in that spot, in August of 1880, but that the child’s name was Amos Briggs. No “Inez Clarke” exists in Graceland’s records at all.
In 2009, Chicago historian John Binder got to the bottom of the confusing mystery behind Graceland’s most famous ghost. The Inez who was buried here was Inez Briggs, who died of diphtheria at the age of six, in August of 1880. Her death certificate specifies Graceland as the intended burial site. Binder theorized that the names “Inez” and “Amos” had been mixed up in the cemetery record. He found that at the time of her death Inez was living with her mother, Mary McClure and her grandparents, David and Jane Rothrock and what is now the 800 block of West Armitage Avenue. By 1872, Inez’s father, Walter Briggs, was gone and Mary wed John Clarke. Though Inez was not his daughter, the family had that carved on her tombstone, leading to almost a century and a half of mystery.
Though the mystery of Inez’s name has been solved, her ghost has not been laid to rest. She still wanders on stormy nights here, defying all who call her a fairytale.
To find out about Ursula Bielski’s History and Hauntings walking tours of Graceland Cemetery, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The Ouija files: Murch meets the blue ghost in Chicago,” ParanormalPopCulture.com
“Ghost story back from the dead,” Mark Konkol, Chicago Sun-Times.Chicago, Illinois. 30 October 2009.