Located north of Bowmanville and west of Andersonville, Rosehill Cemetery is the largest and oldest cemetery in Chicago, and one of the oldest in the country. Along with Graceland Cemetery, it is Chicago's most prestigious final resting place. Among others, some of the notables buried here include Richard Sears, Montgomery Ward, Jack Brickhouse, John G. Shedd, Leo Burnett, Oscar Mayer, U.S. Vice President Charles Dawes, and a dozen former Chicago mayors. Also laid to rest here are hundreds of Union soldiers who were killed in combat during the Civil War.
Rosehill Cemetery Facts
Location: Approximately 5 miles north of the Loop
Boundaries: Peterson Avenue to the north, Ravenswood Avenue to the east, Bowmanville Avenue/Bryn Mawr Avenue to the south and Western Avenue to the west.
Bordering Neighborhoods: Edgewater, Bowmanville, Arcadia Terrace, West Rogers Park, Budlong Woods
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Then and Now
The cemetery was established in 1859 near the site of a hilltop tavern owned by Hiram Roe. Due to a mapmaker’s error the name of the cemetery was mistakenly transcribed as 'Rosehill' instead of 'Roe’s Hill,' but the name eventually stuck. The beautiful castle-like entrance gate on Ravenswood Avenue is made of Joliet limestone and was designed by William W. Boyington, the architect of the historic Chicago Water Tower along North Michigan Avenue. From its inception, the founders of the cemetery hoped it would be more than a place for solemn grieving. The designer William Saunders, who also designed the park system in Washington, D.C., envisioned mourners remaining at the grounds to picnic or to enjoy the natural beauty of the cemetery’s location.
Soon after the cemetery’s opening, it started receiving fallen soldiers from the Civil War. In fact, members of the Eighth Illinois Cavalry, the unit that fired the first shots at the Battle of Gettysburg, are buried here. The monolithic Soldiers and Sailors Monument, built in memory of all Civil War soldiers, is located prominently just inside the main gates. The four bronze plaques on each side of the base represent the Cavalry, Infantry, Artillery and Navy. After the war memorial, one of the first buildings that visitors notice when they enter the gates is the May Chapel, which was constructed in the 1890s. A hybrid of both Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles, the chapel features large stone and wooden arches.
In 1914, the city’s largest public mausoleum was dedicated at Rosehill. It houses some of the cemetery’s luminaries, including John G. Shedd, Richard Sears (the founder of Sears, Roebuck & Co.), Montgomery Ward, and Sidney Lovell (the mausoleum’s designer). The John G. Shedd Memorial Chapel is at the front of the mausoleum. Appropriate for a man famed for the aquarium built in his name, the chapel includes a number of designs inspired by the sea. Supposedly the stained glass in the tomb is the last piece of glass made by Tiffany, and it is suggested that in just the right light at sunset, the glass makes his tomb look as though it’s underwater. The mausoleum and chapel are open to the public during regular hours.
One of the tallest monuments in the cemetery recognizes a man who most Chicagoans probably won’t—Mayor 'Long John' Wentworth (except maybe for the street named after him), who served as mayor for two terms between 1857 and 1861, and also served six terms in the House of Representatives. Wentworth had an outstanding ego, and before he died in 1888, he determined that he should have 'the loftiest tombstone in the West.' He bought a massive marble obelisk and had it shipped from Maine at an estimated cost of about $40,000 (roughly the equivalent of $300,000 today). The monument is 70 feet high and weighs 50 tons, and is a fitting tribute to a man who tipped the scales at 300 pounds.
Another distinctive grave is the unusual monument for Lulu Fellows, a 16-year-old girl who died in 1883. A marble statue of Lulu, seated with a wistful smile and holding an open book in her lap, is enclosed in a glass box. Visitors often deposit coins or flowers through vents at the base of the box.
Today the cemetery still provides burial services and is the perfect place to explore some of Chicago’s forgotten history. The Rosehill Cemetery administration buildings and dramatic entry gate are in the National Register of Historic Places.
Exploring the Grounds
When the weather is pleasant, the cemetery makes for a fascinating walk or bike ride. A map is available from the administration office (be warned, though, that pets are not allowed on the grounds).
Nature Walks and Bicycling: The cemetery is open for both walking and bicycling during normal business hours. There is no admission charge and visitors are reminded to treat the surroundings with respect. Rosehill has two lagoons, 25 miles of roads and is home to various wildlife, including raccoons, rabbits and squirrels, as well as some species that are not often seen in Chicago like swans and blue heron. In the fall Canada geese swarm the lagoons.
Tours: The cemetery offers free tours on the first and third Saturday morning of each month. Call in advance to make arrangements.
In July, the Chicago History Museum (1601 N. Clark St., 312-642-4600) offers historical and architectural tours of the cemetery for $15. Call for further details. Similarly, in June, August, September and October, the Chicago Architecture Foundation (224 S. Michigan Ave., 312-922-3432) gives two-hour tours of the cemetery for $10. The tours are very similar, focusing on historical and architectural details at grave sites and in the mausoleum. The Chicago Architecture Foundation doesn’t do a tour in July, but that’s when the Chicago History Museum picks up the slack with their version of the cemetery tour.
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The cemetery has a small parking lot and some street parking is available on Ravenswood Avenue. It is accessible from I-90 (Kennedy Expressway) using the Foster Avenue exit. Or from I-94 (Edens Expressway) by taking the Cicero (to Foster) exit. From Lake Shore Drive, exit at Foster Avenue. From Foster Avenue turn north on Ravenswood Avenue and turn west at Rosehill Drive.
Several CTA bus lines serve Rosehill Cemetery: Take the #84 or the #210 to travel eastbound or westbound on Peterson Avenue, or the #92 on Foster Avenue. The #50 bus runs northbound and southbound on Damen Avenue.
To catch the CTA Red Line downtown from the cemetery, take the #92 bus eastbound and get off at Broadway. Walk north one block to Berwyn Avenue and then walk another block east to the Berwyn stop. Or take the #50 bus southbound on Damen Avenue and get off between Leland and Wilson Avenues for a connection to the CTA Brown Line Damen stop. You can transfer for free at Fullerton or Belmont for the Red Line downtown.
Below is a list of the basic facts for visitors to Rosehill Cemetery.
Rosehill Cemetery 5800 N. Ravenswood Ave. – (773) 561-5940
As well as being historically and architecturally significant, Rosehill Cemetery is a functioning cemetery, part of the Dignity Memorial national network of funeral, cremation and cemetery service providers. They offer a full array of options and help plan memorial services.
Hours: 8:30 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday; 8 am to 4 pm Saturday and Sunday.