FOREST HOME / GERMAN WALDHEIM CEMETERY
863 South Des Plaines Avenue
Forest Park, IL 60130
Bella Morte Rating: 2.5 Tombstones
The history of Forest Home / German Waldheim cemetery is one of the most unique we have come across. Originally inhabited by the Pottawatamie Indians, who buried their dead on part of the land now occupied by the cemetery, the property was sold by the U.S. Government to a French trapper named Leon Bourasea after the Pottawatamie had been exiled from their homeland. Bourasea later sold the land to Ferdinand Haase, a Prussian immigrant. Haase established his family home, a gravel mine, and a dairy farm on the property. In the 1850s, he shifted gears, turning the dairy farm into a public picnic ground known as “Haase’s Park.” The park was closed when attendance dwindled due to the popularity of Chicago’s Lincoln Park. In 1872, Haase sold a portion of his land to German Lutherans who established Concordia Cemetery. He sold another tract to German fraternal organizations that established German Waldheim Cemetery in 1873. Haase and his sons retained ownership of the remainder of the property and, following a visit to Cincinnati’s spectacular Spring Grove Cemetery, opened Forest Home Cemetery in 1876. Ninety-two years later, in 1968, German Waldheim and Forest Home merged under the common name, Forest Home. Although both cemeteries originally featured grand entrance gates, as was the custom at the time, neither remains in existence today. The current modest entrance stands at the former site of the Waldheim gate.
The most famous and most frequently-visited monument in Forest Home cemetery is quite close to the South Des Plaines Avenue entrance. This is the impressive Haymarket Martyr’s Monument, dedicated on 25 June, 1893. This not being the place for political history lessons, we will leave it to interested readers to research the Haymarket Riots on their own while keeping our focus fixed on the memorial itself.
Sculpted by Albert Weinert, the monument features the image of a woman, presumed to be Justice, drawing a sword with her right hand while her left extends a laurel wreath over the head of a fallen worker. The National Historic Marker at the site reads, in part:
This monument represents the labor movement’s struggle for worker’s rights.
The granite pedestal on which the sculpture stands is inscribed with the last words of August Spies – one of the Haymarket martyrs - cried out moments before his death on the gallows on 11 November, 1887.
“The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today.”
An area near the Haymarket monument became known as Radical’s Row or “the Communist Plot,” a favoured place of interment for prominent labor leaders, communists, socialists and anarchists. This section of the cemetery holds the mortal remains of Emma Goldman, Art Shields, Frank A. Pelligrino, Claude Lightfoot, William Foster, Ben Reitman, M.D., Jack Johnstone, Irving Abrams, Lucy Parsons and William “Big Bill” Haywood.
Although many visitors come to Forest Home to see the Haymarket Memorial, the grounds contain a number of other gravesites worth seeking out. Among these is an immense mausoleum to which we were drawn not only because of its grandeur, but also because of the curious absence of any inscription on the structure save the date in Roman numerals “MCMII” (1902). Two stone lions keep careful watch at the front of the structure while, at the back, a staircase leads to a basement chamber. Although the door to this subterranean crypt was locked, we were able to look inside by peering through vents on the side of the building. Alas, the dark, damp interior was empty save for a few supporting beams quite obviously losing the struggle against time and gravity as the heavy floor above sagged precariously into the open space below. Later research revealed the mausoleum was once the final resting place of department store owner Ernst J. Lehmann and five of his family members. Illustrated letterhead from German Waldheim Cemetery dated to 1905 shows the mausoleum with the words “E.J. Lehmann Memorial” carved along the roofline. Apparently, that inscription was removed when the remains of Mr. Lehmann and his family were relocated to an even finer mausoleum at Chicago’s most beautiful cemetery, Graceland.
It was near this now-empty mausoleum that one of the Proprietors of Bella Morte saw a woman in a long black dress who, moments later, had completely vanished from sight. A ghost? Perhaps. In all our explorations, this is only the second such incident we have experienced. Our critical natures make us question this occurrence, and yet, in the flat landscape surrounding the mausoleum, it would be quite difficult to move out of sight so quickly. Should you visit Forest Home and espy a woman in a long black dress strolling slowing along the road, we suggest you not look away. If possible, grab your camera and see what you might capture.
Second in size to the former Lehmann mausoleum is the family mausoleum of William C. Grunow. Sitting just above the embankment that drops steeply to the Des Plaines River below, the Grunow mausoleum bears the hallmarks of an ancient Greek or Roman temple. The building is supported by Ionic style columns and porticos on either side, each of which shields a life-size sculpture. On one side stands the image of a goddess-like figure identified by an inscription at the base of the sculpture as The Spirit of Radio. Her left arm clasps a shield and palm to her breast. Her gaze is turned skyward. On her head, she wears a radio headset as proudly as any queen has ever worn her crown. The opposite portico features a sculpture identified by the inscription at the base as The Spirit of Commerce. He is Hermes, Messenger of the Gods, easily identified by his winged sandals, winged cap, and the caduceus he clutches in his right hand. He stands regally behind a shield depicting a proud eagle perched atop planet earth.
Grunow made his fortune as a partner in Grigsby-Grunow, manufacturers of Majestic radios, the first to use alternating current. He went on to found General Household Utilities and, later, a poultry farm he named Val-Lo-Will Farms, Inc., after his three children: Valerie, Lois and William.
Elsewhere on the grounds lies the poignant monument to Lars (1884-1890) and Eddie (1887-1890) Schmidt. Due to the nineteenth century custom of clothing infant males in dresses, many mistakenly believe the more diminutive figure to be that of a young girl. The severely weathered inscription on the stone does little to alleviate this misconception; however, historical records indicate the children were indeed brothers and that they died of diphtheria, entering eternity just two days apart. Their monument depicts Lars standing beside his younger brother, Eddie, who sits atop the stone, his legs missing, lost to the ravages of time and the harsh Chicago weather. The brothers were the children of Frieda and Lars Schmidt, an undertaker.
While on the topic of siblings, it seems appropriate to mention another Forest Home monument commemorating individuals united through the bond of blood; namely, the Morrill twins. What remains of Reverend Horace B. Morrill (1867-1902) and his brother, Reverend Herbert S. Morrill (1867-1927), lies beneath a stone engraved with the words “The Rev. Morrill Twins.” Separate stone pillars bearing the brother’s names and the dates of their birth and deaths were once surmounted by a stone arch which now lies shattered at the monument’s base.
The Morrill twins became quite a sensation as attested to by this article from the 8 February, 1889 Syracuse Herald:
“A baffled congregation left the Central Baptist Church last evening. For an hour and a half the congregation had been trying to discover the separate identity of the Morrill twin brothers, who are singing and preaching evangelists. The longer one studies the twins the greater is the mental confusion, the sense that one twin is the other brother, that the other brother is an optical delusion [sic], that the optical delusion [sic] twin is the only twin that has an actual existence and the non-optical delusion [sic] twin is a mental hallucination twin, that the mental hallucination twin is a real man and that the other twin is his double, his shadow. One twin, we do not know which one, exhorts. The other twin, though it may be his brother, sings. They are students in the theological seminary at Rochester.”
Our final stop on the trail of departed siblings are the graves of Barry Winder, 12, and his brother, Paul Winder, 17. Along with nearly 600 other souls, the brothers perished in Chicago’s Iroquois Theatre Fire of 30 December, 1903. The conflagration began when sparks from a broken electric wire ignited the stage setting during an afternoon matinee performance of “Mr. Bluebeard.” Over half the victims died within 10 minutes of the fire’s genesis. The theatre, costing $500,000 and capable of seating 1,724, had been completed less than two months before and had opened to the public on the 23rd of November. A newspaper headline following the disaster proclaimed: “Greatest Fire Disaster In Country's History Occurred During Holiday Matinee in New Playhouse Declared to Be Fireproof!”
Following the disaster, the demand for undertakers, funerals, hearses and burials was so overwhelming that services were scheduled in shifts and local cemeteries kept men digging graves throughout the night. It was reported that Chicago’s Rosehill Cemetery had 14 concurrent burials in progress in a single afternoon, all interments being for victims of the Iroquois Theatre Disaster.
While on the topic of disasters, allow us to share a macabre bit of Forest Home history… At 11:00 p.m. on 27 July, 1960, a Sikorsky S-58 helicopter, en route for an 11 minute commuter flight between Midway and O’Hare airports, crashed in the cemetery’s western quadrant, east of the mausoleum of Congressman Sabath. All 13 souls on board perished. We have not been able to ascertain if any of those who died that day are buried in Forest Home.
Other notable Forest Home gravesites and monuments include the United Ancient Order of Druids monument, a towering granite pedestal surmounted by the sculpture of a bearded and hooded Druid who clasps a staff that terminates in what appears to be a tiny cherub head; the statue of young Wilhelmina Hellwig; the graves of Clarence Edmonds Hemingway and Grace Hall Hemingway, parents of famed writer Ernest Hemingway; the Tiffany and Company designed bas-relief angel that marks the towering monument to real estate developer and streetcar mogul Edmund Cummings and his wife, Ellen; and the pink granite boulder which bears the face of an American Indian beside which these words are inscribed:
An ancient Indian trail
once passed this boulder
skirting the forest along the
Des Plaines River through groves
of wild plum and hazel thickets.
Eastward the tall grass of the
prairie stretched as far as the eye
could reach. Later it served as a
road for the early settlers in the
long months when the flooded prairies
were impassable. May those who now
follow this trail gain comfort from
nature's peace and beauty. 1942
And, finally, the marker for the Pottawatamie Indian Burial Mound which bears the text:
“This is the site of a village and burial ground of the Pottawatomie Indians from ancient times until 1835 when they were exiled to lands beyond the Mississippi. Later this locality was known as Indian Hill. Here stood the cabin of Leon Bourasea, the trapper. His Indian wife, Margaret, had been reared in this grove and, after the exodus of her tribe, she chose to remain near the graves of her ancestors.
As the years passed the visits of the Pottawatomies became ever less frequent and this memorial has been erected to perpetuate their memory.
In 1832 Federal troops under General Winfield Scott skirted this grove, forded the river a mile north, and marched on to the Black Hawk War in the Rock River Country. These soldiers had encamped at a point that is now the village of Riverside to rest and recover from an epidemic of Asiatic cholera.
Upon the arrival of white settlers these acres became the homestead of Ferdinand Haase and his family. The first person to die in this new home was buried on this hill in 1854.
Thus, many years ago, Ferdinand Haase and his sons re-established and dedicated to sepulcher the ancient forest home of the Pottawatomie to become the present Forest Home of the white man.
When exploring Forest Home, make certain to note that the grounds are divided by the Des Plaines River into an eastern and western section. Failure to locate the bridge which joins the two will result in your missing a large section of the cemetery.
Should you cross that bridge, we share with you the somewhat odd blessing posted to greet visitors on each side prior to the installation of the newer span in 2003:
May Your Crossing
With Eternal Rest