Old City Cemetery Investigation (Lincoln Park)

The GRS was among the first paranormal groups to have investigated the Old City Cemetery on June 29, 2013!

Chicago’s early white settlers buried their dead along the banks of the Chicago River. The town's first two cemeteries were established in August 1835 and were located by the Lake Michigan shore, at the north and south boundaries of the city. The south side cemetery occupied land at 23rd Street. The north side cemetery occupied the grounds from Chicago Avenue, north to today’s Oak Street.

On March 2, 1837, as part of a large land grant, the Federal Government gave the tract that includes today's Lincoln Park to the State of Illinois. This occurred during an early phase of the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Beginning in 1838, the State sold off portions of the land to help pay for the Canal. In February 1837, the State Legislature wrote an act that appointed part of the newly surveyed land to the Town of Chicago for use as a graveyard. Chicago became incorporated as a city in May, that same year.

The acreage was not used for burial purposes until the city paid for and thereby acquired the title for the land. In December 1842, the Common Council passed an ordinance for such a purpose. In the interim, during the Canal sales, three parcels of land within the cemetery's appointed grounds were acquired by individuals, including Jacob Milliman, who would later figure into the cemetery's history.

Burials in the new Chicago Cemetery began in 1843.

On May 13, 1843, the Common Council passed an ordinance forbidding interments in the older burying grounds. From 1845 through 1849, in addition to selling lots and burying the dead in the newly-surveyed grounds of the Chicago City Cemetery, bodies were being re-interred here from the old graveyard that was located on the lake shore from Chicago Ave to Oak St.

From 1850 through 1854, the cemetery expanded northward as the previously surveyed grounds were consumed by interments.

In 1850, the city acquired Block 49, which had been part of Jacob Milliman's farm. In the 1860s, when the Supreme Court ruled the city acquired the lands illegally, the city was required to vacate the grounds and return the land to the Milliman heirs. Thus began the first disinterment from the City Cemetery.  November 30, 1850, the Chicago Daily Journal wrote: A neat and sufficiently spacious chapel has been erected upon the grounds by the City Sexton, and much attention and taste are displayed in beautifying the narrow domains of sleeping friends.

In 1851, the Common Council files began to contain extensive records of lot owners. Each record showed the surveyed lot number, cost per lot, and date of purchase.

In 1852, Chicago saw its grandest funeral to date with the death of David Kennison. Also in 1852, a mile-long white picket fence was built around the cemetery.

In September 1854 the cemetery lot sizes were changed from 9 x 24 feet to 9 x 12 feet. A 9 x 12' lot was enough space to hold four sets of remains.

From 1855 through 1859, the city's population was growing and the number of burials, as well as the number of family lots sold in the City Cemetery, reflected this. In 1858, Ira Couch, an early Chicago millionaire, was entombed in the Couch family vault which still stands today in Lincoln Park. It is the oldest building still standing in the Chicago fire zone. It was built to hold about a dozen people and today nobody knows for sure how many are actually buried within. There are no records of anyone being moved from the tomb.

In 1911, Ira Couch’s grandson thought that there were about eight people inside but he wasn’t sure. The outside door isn’t actually a door but a slab of iron welded shut by a couple of L-brackets. Inside is another door and where the slab is today was probably a gate of some kind. This was a $7,000 tomb in 1850s money.

Burials ceased in 1869 and the transformation into a city park began with the disinterment’s of the many bodies still in the ground.

The baseball fields behind the Field House where our Command Center was located is where the Potter’s Field was. It was that they buried all the unclaimed bodies and approximately 4,000 confederated prisoners of war.

Spanning the lagoon at one time was High Bridge (Suicide Bridge) begun in 1893, around the time of the Columbian Exposition and completed in 1894. In a Chicago Daily News article the bridge’s highest point was approximately 75 feet over the waters of the lagoon and later became a favorite place to come to commit suicide. Nobody knows for sure how many people jumped to their deaths but conservative estimates place the number between 50-100. For a while the rate of suicides was about one jumper per month in the 1910s.  Finally the dismantling of the bridge began on November 1, 1919 by the American House Wrecking Company.

Address: 1627 N. Stockton Dr. in Lincoln Park, south Field House.

Hauntings: A vampire hunt was started in 1888 by some man from Lakeview. He told friends and neighbors that he had been haunted by a vampire since the Civil War. He went on to say that if you rubbed some special clairvoyant varnish on your glasses, you could see the vampire!

A couple of months later, a story in the Tribune told about a woman’s husband who went missing. She allegedly blamed the vampire for his disappearance. A vigilante group of kids called “The Vampire Hunters” began running around Lincoln Park trying to find the vampire. The husband was eventually found safe and sound but a little inebriated.

In the 1880s, there was a rumor that a woman in white would come walking out of the Couch tomb. It attracted quite a crowd but nobody ever saw anything and the crowds dwindled away.

At the lagoon, site of what was once nicknamed “Suicide Bridge”, policemen from that era chased reports of ghosts including one called the “Sombrero Man.” This ghost would often draw a pistol and shot at cops who would return fire only to see the bullets pass through the man without any injury to him. With just the amount of people that took their own lives here, there has to be some residual activity still present today.

The cemetery grounds itself is expansive because there were several small cemeteries; Potter’s Field, The Catholic Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery and the Chicago City Cemetery. When they began moving these bodies to various other cemeteries such as Rosehill, Graceland and Calvary, many, many others were simply left in the ground often due to not being able to find next of kin or that some graves had no markers. So like the movie Poltergeist they left the bodies and only moved the headstones.

There have been several accidental uncovering of bones in the past including the 81 partial skeletons unearthed in 1998 and several more since then but most notably in 2008 and 2010. Disturbing the dead in this way can sometimes lead to paranormal activity in the future. Historian, Pamela Bannos, estimates that there may be as many as 12,000 bodies still buried under the ground in Lincoln Park.

The GRS investigated the Old City Cemetery in Lincoln Park on June 29, 2013 and the team included: Kathie Para, Marge Sucha, Stan Suho, Jim Piscopo and Dale Kaczmarek with help from Len Dorman, who arranged this investigation with the City of Chicago, Amelia Cotter, Herb Washington, Vanessa Hernandez, Paul & Nick Mulae of Midnight Paranormal Society and Adam Selzer.








Equipment setup: Even though we had a permit to be there all night until dawn and that the park was supposed to be off limits to everyone but our group after 11pm, lots of people, walking strolling and on bicycles were seen throughout the park so setting up cameras and equipment too far away from the Command Center at the Field House wasn’t a smart idea. However Stan did set up a Wi-Fi camera with an IR light to feed back to the CC. The rest of us just used handheld equipment.

Experiments performed: EVP, Ovilus X and Ghost Box sessions were conducted at the Couch Monument, the lagoon and near an old tree.

Personal experiences:

Jim Piscopo: Arrived at the park and went to the Couch tomb and did an EVP .We went back to the base and I set up my night vision camera pointing into the trees. After we set up we went to the pond to do an EVP.

We came back and I moved my camera to another spot. After that we did an EVP by an old tree near the bird roosting spot.

 That's about it. Not too much to report.

I have one spot on my camera where it went out of focus for about 2 seconds and then back again. On my digital recorder I have a woman's voice saying a word that none of us responds to. This was during our last EVP session


Kathie Para: GRS investigated the old city of Chicago cemetery on June 29, 2013 . The old cemetery falls approximately within the boundaries of Lincoln Park , which is where the investigation took place. GRS members present were: Dale, Jim Piscopo, Marge, Stan and me. There were seven others involved in this event from other teams.

First our team went to the Ira Couch tomb and conducted an EVP session there. Adam Selzer was also present. My audio recorder was slid partway under the outer door of the tomb and I was hoping this would increase my chances of getting an EVP. But with all the contamination from traffic in the area my audio review came up with nothing. Unfortunately, our session was cut short due to the arrival of a good sized rat.

Next EVP session was held by the lagoon in what we thought might be near where the old bridge one stood. This was nick named Suicide Bridge because of the number of people who killed themselves by jumping off. Present were Dale, Jim, Marge and me. We didn’t get a lot there but the ghost box seemed to say help, bridge and the word jump several times. Interesting…

For our last EVP session we specifically decided to find an old tree in the middle of the park thinking the ground around such an old tree probably hasn’t been disturbed. In addition to our GRS team Nick and Paul Mulae also participated in this. Dale’s Ovilus immediately gave the name Emilie (or something similar), an old fashioned name. I then turned on my Ovilus and got several words, within the first minute or two that seemed relevant to our questioning to any bodies left in the old cemetery: “forever, Norman, spot, fifteen, mommy, tree, worm and records.” It seemed possible that there was a fifteen year old boy named Norman trying to communicate. We specifically discussed sitting under an old tree so that word coming through seemed relevant. Things seemed to quiet down after that. Later we turned on the ghost box. Upon review I got a distinct whimper that did not come through the ghost box (but was not heard real time) after asking “are you buried here” and within seconds of being asked if their grave had been disturbed a distinct “no” came through the ghost box.

There was considerable noise throughout the night all over the park from traffic and also nesting birds making it difficult to get any concrete audio evidence. But it was a very interesting night.


Evidence collected:  

Female.MPG during a Ghost Box session at the lagoon, a question was asked, “Are we talking to a male or a female?” The Ghost Box responds with, “Female.”  

Jump.MPG during a Ghost Box session at the lagoon, a comment was made, “I understand there used to be a bridge here.” The Ghost Box responds with, “Jump.”  

Jump2.MPG during a Ghost Box session at the lagoon, a question was asked, “Did a number of people jump off this bridge to their deaths?” The Ghost Box responds with, “Jump.”  

No.MPG during a Ghost Box session under the big tree a question was asked, “Did we disturb your grave?” The Ghost Box responds with, “No.”  

Whimper.MPG during a Ghost Box session under the big tree, a question was asked, “Are you buried here?” A whimper is heard in response.  

The Ovilus in dictionary mode said: meline, forever, Norman, spot, fifteen, mommy, tree, worm, records, award and human – while at the big tree EVP session.  

Conclusions: This was a fascinating place to investigate and our group was among the first investigators ever to have researched and investigated this location ever! There was a lot of contamination from cars going past, wind on the microphone and the nesting birds at our last EVP under the big tree. I don’t know how we could have avoided it however, unless this investigation could have been scheduled on a weekday instead of a weekday. It might have been quieter from passing cars but no one can control the weather.

Adam Selzer did an outstanding job telling us tales and history at the Couch monument. I only wish he could have joined us for the rest of the investigation. Again if we could have had more of a turnout from our group, we could have placed more cameras and probably could have held more EVP sessions even simultaneously at different locations because the park is so immense.

I would love to do a follow-up investigation sometime but perhaps on a weekday in the middle of the week with a larger group and more equipment.

I was amazed with the two “jump” Ghost Box responses at the lagoon where the old Suicide Bridge used to be. They were very clear and distinguishable.

Ghost Research Society (www.ghostresearch.org)
© 2013 Dale Kaczmarek. All rights reserved.
Web site created by Dale Kaczmarek