Chicago, IL

What is the dark secret lurking under Chicago's picturesque Lincoln Park?

Jennifer Geer

The Couch Tomb is a reminder that Lincoln Park was once a cemetery.

(CHICAGO) I took a stroll through Lincoln Park recently. It was a perfect summer day. Clear skies, but not too hot, thanks to the cool breeze blowing in from the lake. Crowds of people were milling around. A wedding party was having their pictures taken in front of the backdrop of the Chicago skyline.

The Lincoln Park neighborhood is one of Chicago's best spots. With trendy restaurants, eclectic shops, the beach, a free zoo, a botanical garden, bike trails, and stunning city views, it's hard to imagine this spot was once a cemetery.

But as it turns out, Lincoln Park was once the city's only graveyard. And though the cemetery was relocated due to "public health concerns" beginning in the 1860s, Pamela Bannos, an art professor at Northwestern University, made some unpleasant discoveries when she first began researching Chicago's forgotten cemetery in 2008.

What happened to the bodies?

Thousands of bodies were buried in the City Cemetery from the 1840s to the 1860s. However, in 1860, an area just north of the cemetery was set aside as a park and named for the recently assassinated President Lincoln.

Urban planners wanted the land as a lakefront park, and physicians cited concerns that the bodies were buried under the water table and at risk of contaminating Lake Michigan.

A campaign to relocate the bodies and tombstones was launched. According to Discover Magazine, "Casket removal began in the 1860s and became an everyday sight, even as city planners faced rebuilding after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871."

Thousands of bodies and gravestones were relocated. But problems arose when cemetery plots were not claimed by family members, and consequently, never moved.

Bannos found evidence that the city built the park and baseball diamonds over these forgotten graves.

“I’m stunned that people still don’t know,” Bannos told Discover Magazine. “How did we lose this history? I wanted to find out.”

The Couch Tomb

The Couch Tomb still stands today. You can find it on the south end of Lincoln Park, near the Chicago History Museum. It was a family mausoleum for businessman Ira Couch, who was only 50 when he died.

Park District officials believe the tomb was left behind when the cemetery was moved because the family did not have enough money to relocate it.

Whether the family members are still in the tomb remains a mystery. According to CBS Chicago, the tomb has not been opened since the early 20th century. The tomb has become legend and is a popular spot for Chicago ghost tours.

Hidden Truths

If you would like to learn more, check out Bannos' extensive research on the forgotten cemetery at Lincoln Park on her Northwestern website, Hidden Truths.

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Jennifer covers lifestyle content and local news for the Chicago area. New articles published each weekday.

Chicago, IL
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