QUEEN OF HEAVEN CEMETERY & MAUSOLEUM
1400 S Wolf Rd
Hillside, IL 60162
Bella Morte Rating: 3 Tombstones
There isn't much to say in regard to the cemetery grounds as far as Queen of Heaven is concerned. There are few remarkable monuments and the terrain is flat and open with little in the way of trees to interrupt the monotony. So, why the three tombstone rating? The answer: Queen of Heaven's Indoor Mausoleum, purportedly the world's largest Catholic mausoleum. The structure is home to 30,000 tombs, a chapel (with a number of crypts lining the interior walls), numerous statues, stained glass windows, a fountain, and even glass cases filled with relics. The multi-level building features many long, central corridors from which extend the "crypt" halls, most of which terminate with a statue or stained glass window. There are also some private family mausoleums in the building. Plan to spend several hours if you want to explore this treasure fully.
Queen of Heaven also features the modern Christ the King Garden Crypt Complex with an enormous silver sculpture of Christ, arms outstretched, dominating the landscape. With room for 20,000 interments, this addition to the graveyard will ensure its future for decades to come. But don't look for The Garden Crypt Complex to satisfy your desire for visually aesthetic pleasures...unless, of course, you enjoy airport terminals, because that is precisely the feeling you get when roaming the sterile halls of the indoor portion of the Complex.
Interred at Queen of Heaven (both in the mausolea and on the grounds) are some notorious Chicago mobsters including Sam Battaglia, Anthony "The Big Tuna" Accardo, Joseph Aiuppa, "Mad Sam" DeStefano, Paul "The Waiter" Ricca/DeLucia, and Anthony "The Ant" Spilotro. But, lest you think these burying grounds hold only the mortal remains of the infamous, consider also the monument to the 92 children and 3 nuns lost to the December 1st, 1958 fire that swept through Our Lady of the Angels Catholic school on Chicago's west side.
No official cause for the fire was ever cited, despite the confession (later retracted) of a man who would have been 10 at the time of the blaze. The fire began in a cardboard trash barrel in the school's basement. It spread quickly, barring escape through the stairwells for many who were left with no option but to jump from upper floor windows or endeavour to await rescue amidst the encroaching smoke and flames. Evidently, several of the school's nuns encouraged students to sit at their desks and pray for rescue, while one more pragmatic Sister had the children in her charge slow the entry of smoke and flames by piling books and desks in front of the doorway.
In the end, however, the heat and smoke became so intense that many risked the treacherous plunge to the concrete below, while others fell or were pushed from the windows before rescuers, some hampered by a seven-foot fence with a locked gate on the building's north wing, could reach them.
As is the case with the victims of the Collinwood School Fire memorialized in Ohio's Lake View Cemetery, some of the Chicago fire's victims have been laid to rest beside the monument to the tragedy, a large stone block which features an image of the Virgin Mary and two angels. The names of the dead are engraved on two separate granite blocks which lie to the sculpture's right and left.
And finally, a most curious entry concerning a visionary at Queen of Heaven, namely, Mr. Joseph Reinholtz.
During a pilgrimage to a Marian shrine in Medjugorje, Mr. Reinholtz, who had suffered from vision problems for years, purportedly received a healing...though, apparently, not the instantaneous "kick-your-wheelchair-aside-and-walk" kind. Returning to the States with still-blurred vision, things improved until finally, Mr. Reinholtz could see clearly again. And the first thing he beheld with his "new eyes" was a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary he'd purchased in Medjugorje. The statue was weeping.
Following a second trip to Medjugorje in which a visionary there gave Mr. Reinholtz arcane instructions regarding locating a certain crucifix and tree back in the U.S., Mr. Reinholtz dutifully returned to his home in Hillside, Illinois and began his search. It eventually led him to a spot in Queen of Heaven Cemetery where he began a vigil of prayers which spanned more than a year, eventually capturing the attention of the Queen of Heaven herself, who began visiting him at the site daily, sometimes accompanied by Jesus, St. Joseph or the Archangel Michael. Did we mention this was a daily occurrence except for Tuesdays? Curiously, the Archdiocese of Chicago restricted Mr. Reinholtz from meeting his Heavenly guests on Tuesdays...perhaps to test his obedience. He did comply, and we are left to wonder whether or not the Virgin Mary and her companions were upset at having the Church Militant legislate the comings and goings of the upper echelons of the Church Triumphant.
At any rate, though Mr. Reinholtz has now gone off to his Heavenly reward, pilgrims still visit the crucifix and what is known as the "Trinity Tree" on the cemetery grounds. A parking area has been installed to accommodate the flow of the devout and curious and it is there that we have parked during our several visits to the site.
Not that we expected Fatima-like throngs, but the place has been nearly deserted save for a spotty showing of the faithful on the several occasions we have stopped by. Maybe we went on Tuesdays...we should check the calendar. Anyhow, believers there eagerly share tales of their own mystical experiences at the site, as well as rosaries turned to "gold" by some mysterious power, and photographs in which they see Christ and the Virgin Mary where we see only sun glare and fingers left over the lens aperture. Perhaps it's all a matter of perspective and we have no desire to deprive people their rays of light in a world that is sometimes very dark indeed. Our advice can best be summed up in a passage from the book these believers hold sacred: "Test all things. Hold fast that which is good." (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
While in the area, you may wish to visit adjacent Mount Carmel cemetery, which shares its operations with Queen of Heaven, as well as Oakridge/ Glen Oaks just down the road which features an enticing indoor mausoleum.