Bohemian Ntl Cemetery
Located on the northwest side of Chicago, the Bohemian National Cemetery is one of the city's most impressive burial grounds, both in terms of funerary art and landscaping. The main gatehouse resembles a castle and the large crematorium includes a chapel.
Bohemian National Cemetery Facts
Then and Now
The Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago was founded in the city's infancy under a cloud of controversy. As the story goes, a devout Roman Catholic woman named Marie Silhanek passed away in 1876 before she was able to make her final confession. Because of her faith, Silhanek's friends and family wanted to bury her in a Catholic cemetery, but they were impeded by a Polish-Catholic priest that reportedly refused the burial of people that he didn't like. This wasn't the first instance of intolerance towards Czech immigrants to Chicago, but it was adopted as a symbolic struggle and was vigorously fought by the greater Czech community. The movement was spearheaded by a man named Frank Zdrubek who served as the editor of a Bohemian daily newspaper called the Svornost. In the winter of 1877, delegates from all the Bohemian societies in the city met to found a burial site that would serve the Bohemian and greater Czech populations of Chicago.
The land that was originally purchased for the cemetery was actually in the Jefferson township, which hadn't yet been annexed by the city of Chicago. The cemetery was officially opened and chartered in September of 1877, with the first public burial occurring in November of that year. In 1892, the land on which the graveyard stood was incorporated into Chicago and was re-chartered, requiring support of social and cultural services in Chicago.
When it was first opened, the cemetery consisted of just 50 acres; it was expanded several times to reach its present size of 124 acres. Perhaps the most recognizable feature of the cemetery is the main gatehouse, which was built in 1893 in the late gothic revival architectural style. In layman's terms: the gatehouse looks like a large castle, replete with red tile roofing, small tower houses and peel towers. The next major addition to the cemetery was the crematorium, constructed in 1919. The crematorium, which was built in the classical revival style and resembles a traditional basilica, also includes a columbarium and a chapel in the upper levels.
The most notable figure buried at the Bohemian National Cemetery is of the former mayor of Chicago, Anton Cermak. Cermak was born in Bohemia, and immigrated to Chicago when he was one year old. Largely considered to be the founder of the Chicago Democratic machine, he gave representation for the first time to the large populations of Bohemian, Czech, Polish, Ukrainian, and African American residents of Chicago. Cermak is mostly remembered, though, for his dramatic assassination in 1933. He was shot in the lung while shaking hands with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at Bayside Park in Miami. The assassin, Giuseppe Zangara, claimed that his intention was to kill President Roosevelt. Anton Cermak's body now rests in the Cermak family mausoleum and is one of the most visited sites in the cemetery.
The Bohemian National Cemetery is also noted for serving as the final resting place for many of the victims of the SS Eastland. In June of 1914, the Eastland was chartered to take 2,500 workers of the Western Electric Company and their families to Michigan City for a company picnic. The boat was docked on the Chicago River between Clark and LaSalle streets, and as it filled up with passengers, the ship's crew allowed water in for ballast to create extra weight, as is typically done. It's unclear what happened next; by some accounts the ship began to capsize when the crew starting taking in water for ballast. Other reports say that all of the passengers onboard the ship all simultaneously moved to one side of the deck to observe an unusual looking boat that was passing by, thus causing the ship's center of gravity to shift and eventually capsize. Whatever the cause, the boat turned very quickly, and because many people had already taken places under the deck, they were trapped and drowned. A large majority of the passengers on the Eastland were of Bohemian and Czech descent, and as such, many of them were laid to rest in the Bohemian National Cemetery.
Since the Bohemian National Cemetery is situated on the far northwest side of Chicago, the easiest way of getting to or from the grounds is probably to drive. It is nearest to the Foster Avenue exit on the Edens Expressway (I-94), which you can take east right to the cemetery.
If you haven't got a car, the CTA is the next best option. From the north or south, the #53 Pulaski Road bus will take to directly to the main gate which is located on Pulaski Road. Coming from the east or west, the #92 Foster Avenue bus is going to be the easiest way to get there. You'll just have to walk about two blocks north on Pulaski.
Bohemian National Cemetery - 5255 N Pulaski Rd - (773) 539-8442
Chicago Transit Authority - (888) 968-7282