Baby Face Nelson

Even though COVID-19 has shut down cultural institutions such as museums and libraries for most of 2020, that has not stopped me from learning some interesting new history.  Last month, I learned that I live close to where the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) found the dead body of Baby Face Nelson in 1934.  Baby Face Nelson, the nickname of Lester Gillis, was a notorious bank robber known for killing the most FBI agents ever (three total).  His nickname came from his apparently youthful appearance.

Baby Face Nelson is buried at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery & Mausoleums in River Grove, Illinois.

Although a criminal his entire life, Baby Face Nelson grew in notoriety once he joined the FBI’s Public Enemy No. 1, John Dillinger.  John Dillinger’s group, known as the Dillinger Gang, participated in numerous bank robberies, and were not afraid to use violence in the process.

In July of 1934, the FBI eventually shot and killed the 31-year-old Dillinger, because a Romanian prostitute, Ana Cumpănaș, tipped off the FBI, in return for their aid in preventing her deportation back to Romania.  Unfortunately for Cumpănaș, she still ended up being deported.  According to the FBI’s website, Cumpănaș told the FBI that she would be wearing an orange dress while watching a film with Dillinger and another woman at the Biograph Theater in Chicago.  Somehow, the dress changed from orange to red in newspaper accounts, and Dillinger’s betrayer came to be known as the “Woman in Red.”

The Biograph Theater, where FBI agents shot and killed John Dillinger, used to be a movie theater, but now shows plays. It is located at 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Chicago, IL 60614.

After Dillinger’s death, another member of the Dillinger Gang, Pretty Boy Floyd, became the FBI’s Public Enemy No. 1.  The FBI shot and killed Floyd in October of 1934, so then Baby Face Nelson became Public Enemy No. 1.  On the run from the police for a month, the FBI eventually caught up with him on November 27, 1934, in Barrington, Illinois, a suburb approximately 45 minutes northwest of Chicago.  Two FBI agents died as a result of a skirmish with him, that came to be known as the Battle of Barrington.

This is a memorial plaque to the two FBI agents who died at the Battle of Barrington. It is located near the original battle, at Lagendorf Park | 235 Lions Dr. Barrington, IL 60010.

The Battle of Barrington left Baby Face Nelson severely wounded, so he asked his friends and wife (who was hiding in a ditch during the battle) to take him to a friend’s house at 1627 Walnut Ave. in Wilmette, a wealthy northern suburb of Chicago.  He died soon after their arrival there, at the age of 25.  His friends then left his body in front of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Cemetery in Niles Center (the former name of the Chicago suburb of Skokie).  Afterwards, the FBI received an anonymous call informing them of the location of Baby Face Nelson’s body.  While figuring out what to do with his body, the FBI brought it to nearby Haben Funeral Home.  During this time, the FBI also searched for Baby Face Nelson’s wife, Helen, whom they soon found and imprisoned for a year.

This is the location of the house where Baby Face Nelson died, at 1627 Walnut Ave. in Wilmette, IL. However, the original house was torn down, and this one was built in its place in 2014. It is located a few blocks away from the childhood home of actor, Bill Murray.
Baby Face Nelson’s body was found right outside the tiny St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Cemetery on Harms Rd. in Skokie, IL. St. Peter’s United Church of Christ Cemetery, across the street, is known as the final resting place of the founders of Chicago’s northern suburbs of Skokie and Lincolnwood.
Once FBI agents found the body of Baby Face Nelson, they brought it to Haben Funeral Home & Crematory, at 8057 Niles Center Rd. Skokie, IL 60077, until they figured out what to do with it.

Although Al Capone is undoubtedly Chicago’s most notorious gangster, the Dillinger Gang arguably comes in second place.  Both groups have inspired popular culture through countless films and books ever since.  If you want to learn more about these criminals, as well as others, and see some of their FBI files, check out the FBI’s history page on its website: https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/lester-gillis-baby-face-nelson.

Sources and Further Reading
“1627 Walnut Ave. Wilmette, IL 60091.” Redfin. https://www.redfin.com/IL/Wilmette/1627-Walnut-Ave-60091/home/13782931 (accessed November 13, 2020).

“John Dillinger.” FBI. https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/john-dillinger (accessed November 13, 2020).

“Lester Gillis (“Baby Face” Nelson).” FBI. https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/lester-gillis-baby-face-nelson (accessed November 13, 2020).

Skokie Heritage Museum. “Skokie’s Historic Bike Tour.” Skokie Park District. 2016. https://www.skokieparks.org/downloads/pdfs/SkokieBikeTour.pdf (accessed November 13, 2020).

“Wife Lying in Ditch Saw Nelson Shot.” New York Times. June 12, 2008.

Wilmette Historical Museum. “Wilmette History Trivia Quiz: Wilmette Historical Society.” Yumpu. 2013. https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/5148519/wilmette-history-trivia-quiz-wilmette-historical-museum (accessed November 13, 2020).

Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago

The largest cemetery in the city of Chicago is Rosehill Cemetery, located on the northern side of Chicago.  Founded in 1859, it is also one of Chicago’s oldest cemeteries.  In the mid-nineteenth century, Chicago tried to discourage having cemeteries located within the proximity of the city, so relocated many graves to neighboring areas, thus creating new cemeteries in the process.  Rosehill was one of these new cemeteries right outside of Chicago’s boundaries, however, as Chicago expanded, it eventually fell into the jurisdiction of Chicago.

When you enter Rosehill Cemetery, you must pass through a beautiful entryway that looks like a castle.  This entrance was built in 1864 by William W. Boyington.  Visitors might notice its resemblance to the Old Chicago Water Tower, a famous Chicago landmark that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  That is no coincidence.  Boyington was the architect for both structures.

Rosehill Cemetery is located at 5800 N. Ravenswood Ave. Chicago, IL 60660.

I have referenced several famous Chicagoans who are buried at Rosehill Cemetery in previous posts, and have included photos of their tombstones there.

Ignaz Schwinn, the creator of a popular bicycle company in the United States, the Schwinn Bicycle Company, is buried at Rosehill Cemetery, as is George Buchanan Armstrong, the founder of the United States Railway Mail Service.  Rosehill also has a United States Civil War memorial, since approximately 350 soldiers from the Civil War are buried there.  Apparently, Rosehill Cemetery can also boast appearing in several movies.

George Buchanan Armstrong’s tombstone mentions his claim to fame.

I wanted to find the graves of John G. Shedd, the founder of Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, and Richard Warren Sears, the cofounder of the U.S. department store, Sears, Roebuck and Co.  However, they were both buried in Rosehill’s mausoleum building.  This two-story mausoleum is the largest in Chicago.  It did not seem like a wise choice for me to wander alone through an empty mausoleum in Chicago, so I skipped that search.

My favorite discovery at Rosehill Cemetery is perhaps a morbid, and certainly a sad, one.  That is the tomb of Bobby Franks.  Although he died back in 1924, which is almost 100 years ago, there were still flowers and a stuffed toy left at the entrance to his family’s private mausoleum.

Fourteen-year old Bobby Franks was murdered by 19-year-old Nathan Leopold, Jr. and 18-year-old Richard Loeb.  Theories regarding the motivation for the murder vary, but most would say that Leopold and Loeb were attempting to commit the perfect crime.  Loeb had already graduated from the University of Michigan, and Leopold from the University of Chicago, so these young men were clearly brilliant intellectually.  However, their morality was stunted.  To make matters worse, Franks was even a second cousin of Loeb’s.  What clued the police in on the identity of the culprits was the fact that Leopold had accidentally dropped his glasses near the crime scene.  His particular model of glasses had only been sold to a small number of people.

The crime became a national news story after the famous lawyer, Clarence Darrow, became the defendant.  He saved the men from the death penalty by eloquently arguing that they were mentally unstable.  The following year, Darrow participated in another famous case called the Scopes Trial, which made it legal for evolution to be taught in U.S. schools.

Sent to prison for life, Loeb died young at the age of 30, after being stabbed by a fellow inmate.  Leopold lived until the age of 66.  He eventually went on parole for good behavior, got married, and lived in Puerto Rico where he taught at a university there.

The Leopold and Loeb murder case captured the attention of American popular culture for decades to come.  This is generally because a common theory sprang up that Leopold and Loeb murdered Franks to prove an intellectual point.  According to this theory, they believed that morality is a human invention, making right and wrong relative.  Therefore, in accordance to this belief, what is to stop someone from murder?  The “master of suspense,” Alfred Hitchcock, used this murder as the basis for his 1948 film, Rope.  Another great film called Compulsion, and starring Orson Welles as Darrow, provides a more faithful telling of the crime. The American Experience documentary episode, The Perfect Crime, also provides a good overview of the story. Finally, a Chicago tour guide, Adam Seltzer, has been posting virtual tours of Chicago on his Facebook page, Mysterious Chicago, during this COVID-19 year, so you can learn more about the crime from him as well.

If it is true that Leopold and Loeb believed that life had no ultimate purpose, and thus they could do anything that they wanted, then maybe that’s why Bobby Franks’ parents had the following inscription written on his tomb?  “Life is because God is, infinite, indestructible and eternal.”

Bobby Franks’ tomb is the bottom right one for Robert E. Franks.

Sources and Further Reading

Compulsion. Directed by Richard Fleischer. Hollywood: Darryl F. Zanuck Productions, 1959.

“Famous Memorials in Rosehill Cemetery and Mausoleum.” Find A Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/107767/famous-memorials?page=2#sr-7269394 (accessed October 31, 2020).

Fass, Paula S.. “Leopold and Loeb.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2005. http://encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/737.html (accessed October 31, 2020).

Gertz, Elmer. “Loeb–Leopold Case.” In Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd ed., edited by Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik, 162. Vol. 13. Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. Gale eBooks. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CX2587512686/GVRL?u=deer57821&sid=GVRL&xid=a09f530a (accessed October 31, 2020).

Mysterious Chicago. “Virtual Leopold and Loeb Tour.” Facebook, July 2, 2020. Video, 1:15:41. https://www.facebook.com/mysteriouschicago/videos/564919064393023/ (accessed October 31, 2020).

The Perfect Crime. Directed by Cathleen O’Connell. Boston: WGBH-TV, 2018.

Rope. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Burbank, CA: Warner Bros., 1948.

“Rosehill Cemetery.” Dignity Memorial. https://www.dignitymemorial.com/funeral-homes/chicago-il/rosehill-cemetery/0306 (accessed October 31, 2020).

Sclair, Helen. “Cemeteries.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2005. http://encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/223.html (accessed October 31, 2020).

Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago

One of the oldest cemeteries in Chicago is Oak Woods Cemetery, which was founded in 1854, but started burying people in 1860.  Located in the South Side of Chicago, it used to be outside of Chicago’s boundaries, but that changed as the city grew.  What I enjoyed most about my visit there was discovering the diverse range of people buried in it.

When visiting an American cemetery, one of the most valuable websites is Findagrave.com.  It is basically a cemetery database.  Anybody with an account can add graves to it.  Some people actually add graves to it for fun, since it is an invaluable resource for genealogical research.  The more famous the cemetery, the more likely most, if not all, of its graves have been added to it.  What is even more amazing is that for famous graves, people often add photos and coordinate locations, so that you can easily find a specific grave using your GPS.  Before visiting Oak Woods Cemetery, I researched which famous people were buried there, and then used Findagrave and my phone’s GPS to find them.

Perhaps what makes Oak Woods Cemetery most unique is that, according to Rick Kogan’s May 31, 2013 article in the Chicago Tribune, it contains the largest known mass grave in the Western Hemisphere.  Known as the Confederate Mound, this mass grave contains the bodies of approximately 4,200 Confederate soldiers from the American Civil War.  The reason why these Southern troops were buried in the North is because they were prisoners of war living in a military prison in Chicago called Camp Douglas.  The conditions at the camp were terrible, however, a smallpox epidemic caused the deaths of most of the Confederate soldiers buried in the mass grave.  These soldiers’ bodies were actually relocated to Oak Woods Cemetery after the Civil War, because, according to the National Park Service, the U.S. Government had to close their original burial place, due to flooding.

Oak Woods Cemetery’s Confederate Mound

In 1895, an ex-Confederate group in Chicago erected a monument over Oak Woods’ Confederate mass grave.  In response, the following year, a Southern abolitionist erected a cenotaph (empty tomb in honor of a person or group) at Oak Woods in honor of Southern abolitionists.  Oak Woods also has a smaller monument over a mass grave of Union soldiers.

The Abolitionist Cenotaph at Oak Woods Cemetery
Oak Woods Cemetery’s Monument over the Graves of Union Soldiers

Ironically, Oak Woods not only houses dead Confederate troops, but also some famous African Americans.  My favorite person buried at Oak Woods is the Olympic running champion, Jesse Owens.  He famously represented the United States in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany, where he beat a German runner, and thus disproved Hitler’s belief in the superiority of the “Aryan” race.  Other famous African Americans buried at Oak Woods include Harold Washington, Chicago’s first African American mayor, and Ida B. Wells, a journalist and civil rights activist.

The diversity of Oak Woods Cemetery does not end with Confederate soldiers and Civil Rights activists.  Not far from the Confederate Mound is a separate Jewish cemetery.  However, it is maintained by several synagogues instead of by Dignity Memorial, which maintains the rest of the cemetery.  Sadly, because of the huge expense of maintaining graves, and because the Jewish cemetery is older, the graves are in poor condition.

Oak Woods Cemetery’s Jewish Section

Last but not least, another famous person buried at Oak Woods Cemetery is Enrico Fermi.  He is the Italian scientist who created the first nuclear reactor, meaning that he helped create the atomic bomb.

Oak Woods Cemetery clearly shows that once we are dead, we are all truly equal, no matter what notions we may have about it while we are still alive. If only people could get along in life as they do in death.

You may also be interested in my post about Graceland Cemetery.

Sources and Further Reading

“Confederate Mound at Oak Woods Cemetery Chicago, Illinois.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/national_cemeteries/Illinois/Confederate_Mound_Oak_Woods_Cemetery.html (accessed May 29, 2020).

“It Tells His Life Story: Abolitionist Shaft in Oakwoods Erected by T.D. Lowther”. Chicago Tribune. June 9, 1896.

American Experience: Jesse Owens. Directed by Laurens Grant. Boston: WGBH, 2012. 

Kogan, Rick. “Camp Douglas Effort Stirs Ghosts of the Civil War.” Chicago Tribune. May 31, 2013. https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/ct-xpm-2013-05-31-ct-ae-0602-kogan-sidewalks-20130531-story.html (accessed May 29, 2020).

“Oak Woods Cemetery.” Dignity Memorial. https://www.dignitymemorial.com/funeral-homes/chicago-il/oak-woods-cemetery/6248 (accessed May 29, 2020).

“Oak Woods Cemetery.” Find A Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/173554/oak-woods-cemetery (accessed May 29, 2020).

“Oakwoods Cemetery.” Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois. https://jgsi.org/OakOakwoods-Cemeterywoods-Cemetery (accessed May 29, 2020).

Arlington National Cemetery

In the United States, the last Monday of the month of May is Memorial Day, in which everyone takes off from work to remember those who died in various U.S. wars.  Originally called Decoration Day, this national holiday began in 1868 to commemorate those who died in the American Civil War (1861-1865).  However, eventually, the holiday evolved into remembering those who died in any U.S. war. 

The American Civil War also gave birth to Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Virginia, which is arguably the most famous cemetery in the United States.  Although it is currently closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic (except for those who have family members buried there), during normal situations, it provides daily bus tours to visitors.  Because of its vast size of 624 acres, with over 400,000 burials, the tour only covers several major highlights.

Perhaps one of the most important stops on the tour is Arlington House, since it is a mansion located on the cemetery grounds that predates the Civil War.  Once the Civil War began, the United States’ government took over this strategic location near the country’s capital.  However, they chose to make the land surrounding the mansion a cemetery, in order to prevent its owner from eventually returning to it.  Its owner was the Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  He inherited the house from his wife, who was herself a descendant of George Washington’s wife, Martha (from Martha’s first husband). 

During the Civil War, the U.S. government buried soldiers from any rank at Arlington.  However, as time passed, the Cemetery gained prestige, and now has a more selective process of who can be buried there.  Among the famous men buried there (as mentioned on the tour) are General John J. Pershing who served in WWI, President John F. Kennedy and his brothers Robert and Ted (the former two served in WWII, and the latter enlisted after the War), and President William Howard Taft.  President Taft never served in the military, so I am not sure how he ended up at Arlington.  However, he is the only person to have served as both the U.S. president and the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Finally, Audie Murphy is buried at Arlington.  He was the most decorated soldier in WWII.

John F. Kennedy was actually a war hero during WWII. The 1963 film PT 109 tells that story.  After the War, Audie Murphy landed a career in Hollywood.  The 1955 film To Hell and Back is an autobiographical movie that stars him.  I have watched both films a while ago.  I do not remember them well but do remember thinking that they were mediocre but interesting films.

Perhaps the most famous site at Arlington National Cemetery is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  This tomb began in 1921, with the remains of four unidentified dead soldiers from World War I.  Unidentified soldiers from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War were subsequently added to the tomb.  Volunteers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment guard it 24/7, in rain or shine.  Seeing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and its guard is perhaps the highlight of the Arlington National Cemetery tour. 

Since the Cemetery is currently closed, you can download the app to have a free tour from home, or find the same information on a site called ANC Explorer:  https://ancexplorer.army.mil/publicwmv/#/arlington-national/ You might also be interested to know that during this pandemic, the Cemetery decided to open its 105-year-old time capsule.

Sources and Further Reading

Arlington: Field of Honor. Directed by John B. Bredar. New York: National Geographic, 2005.

“General Information.” Arlington National Cemetery Tours. https://www.arlingtontours.com/general-information (accessed May 24, 2020).

“History of Arlington National Cemetery.” Arlington National Cemetery. https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/History/History-of-Arlington-National-Cemetery (accessed May 24, 2020).

Machemer, Theresa. Arlington National Cemetery Opens Its 105-Year-Old Time Capsule.” Smithsonian Magazine. May 20, 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/arlington-cemetery-opens-its-105-year-old-time-capsule-180974924/?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=socialmedia&fbclid=IwAR3C6LRxI9DqfUV_Cxd2IP4a1nvDd1zBrzsj-cHAsuPiuGhrYrBHG_Fzyhc (accessed May 24, 2020).

PT 109. Directed by Leslie H. Martinson. Burbank, California: Warner Bros., 1963.

Sorto, Gabrielle. “What You Need to Know about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.” CNN. May 27, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/27/us/tomb-of-the-unknown-soldier-trnd/index.html (accessed May 24, 2020).

To Hell and Back. Directed by Jesse Hibbs. Universal City, California: Universal Studios, 1955.

Van Vleck, Jennifer Leigh. “Arlington National Cemetery and the Origins of Memorial Day.” Arlington National Cemetery. May 21, 2020. https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Blog/Post/10817/Arlington-National-Cemetery-and-the-Origins-of-Memorial-Day (accessed May 24, 2020).

Graceland Cemetery in Chicago

If you suddenly find yourself laid off from a job that you enjoyed, and are given more free time than you have had in a long time, what do you do?  When this situation happened to me, I tried to look for inexpensive ways to keep myself busy and de-stress.  As morbid as this may sound, I found myself exploring cemeteries.  My favorite was, undoubtedly, Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.

This creepy but amazing tombstone was built for Dexter Graves, one of the earliest non-Native American inhabitants in Chicago.

Founded in 1860, Graceland is in the northwest part of Chicago, not far from Wrigley Field, where the baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, plays.  This area used to be just outside of the city’s limits, when cemeteries were prohibited from being built within the city’s borders.  However, as Chicago grew, so did its borders. 

A few blocks away from Graceland Cemetery is the even older Jewish cemetery, the Hebrew Benevolent Society Cemetery, founded in 1851. Unfortunately, unlike Graceland, its plots are overgrown and neglected.

What makes Graceland such a pleasant place to visit is the fact that it is a rural cemetery.  Before the mid-nineteenth century, most people in the United States and Europe buried their dead in the churchyard.  However, as the population increased, so did the need to find more land to bury the dead.  Architects soon developed rural cemeteries, which also functioned as public parks, since parks were not commonplace yet.  Therefore, people would actually picnic and spend their leisure in these rural cemeteries.  Characteristics of these rural cemeteries included huge mausoleums and ponds.  Nowadays, cemeteries tend to be simpler, and certainly not places that people visit for fun.

As you walk through Graceland Cemetery, the huge monuments make it clear that the people buried there were once the wealthiest individuals in Chicago society.  Because of this, there were many other visitors touring the cemetery for fun when I was there.  In fact, the Chicago Architecture Center actually offers formal tours of this historic graveyard.  When I arrived at Graceland, I first entered the visitor center, where I watched a brief video summarizing the history of the cemetery, and also picked up a free map that points out where all of the famous Chicagoans are buried. If you ever visit Graceland Cemetery, make sure to pick up a map at the visitor center, or print one from their website. Looking for famous people can be a fun type of scavenger hunt.

Louis Sullivan, a famous architect buried in Graceland, designed this impressive mausoleum, which is also found at Graceland.

Graceland Cemetery is best known for being the burial ground of famous Chicago architects such as Daniel Burnham (who helped design Chicago) and William Le Baron Jenney (who built the first skyscraper ever).  Additionally, if you live in Chicago, you will notice that many of the tombs match the names of famous Chicago streets (e.g. Wacker, Kimball). Another famous person buried at Graceland includes Allan Pinkerton, a pioneer detective in the United States, and someone who helped stop an assassination plot against Abraham Lincoln. Additionally, Marshall Field, the founder of Chicago’s Field Museum and the Marshall Field’s Department Store, is buried there.

Cyrus McCormick, the inventor of the mechanical reaper, is buried at Graceland Cemetery.

Since I enjoy Charles Dickens’ books, my favorite tomb at Graceland was of his younger brother, Augustus.  In the 1850s, Augustus abandoned his wife after she became blind, and ran off with another woman to Chicago. It sounds like something a Charles Dickens character might do!  After that, Charles Dickens broke ties with his brother. According to a June 24, 2004 article in The Chicago Reader called “The Dirty Dickens,” Augustus’ tomb in Graceland Cemetery did not receive a monument until his great-great-great-great grandson decided to put one up in 2004.

Being the third largest city in the United States, most of Chicago can be a loud and busy place. However, once you enter the brick walls of Graceland Cemetery, you completely forget that you are still in Chicago. The peaceful surroundings make you feel as if you walked into a different world, full of interesting stories now mostly forgotten underground.

Sources and Further Reading

Greenfield, Rebecca. “Our First Public Parks: The Forgotten History of Cemeteries.” The Atlantic, March 16, 2011. https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/03/our-first-public-parks-the-forgotten-history-of-cemeteries/71818/ (accessed March 7, 2020).

Rodkin, Dennis. “The Dirty Dickens.” The Chicago Reader, June 24, 2004. https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/the-dirty-dickens/Content?oid=915864 (accessed March 7, 2020).

Sclair, Helen. “Cemeteries.” Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/223.html (accessed March 7, 2020).

“The Story of Graceland.” Graceland Cemetery. https://www.gracelandcemetery.org/the-story-of-graceland/ (accessed March 7, 2020).

Windsong, Juniper. “Eternal Silence.” Atlas Obscura. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/eternal-silence (accessed March 7, 2020).

Assyrian War Memorial

My uncle enjoys estate sale shopping, so in 2016, when he was cleaning out his house in order to move, he came across many interesting items that he had acquired over the years.  One of those items included a booklet, bound in an unassuming, brown cover.  Inside this booklet, dated 1944 (the year before World War II ended), it says, “Assyrian Americans of Chicago who are serving in the armed forces of their country.  Assyrian National Association of Chicago, Inc.”  With the exception of a brief introduction to who Assyrians are, the rest of this booklet depicts black and white photos of Assyrian soldiers, listed in alphabetical order by last name.  My uncle knew that I would enjoy this book, so he gave it to me.  Ever since then, I have attempted to track down its history.

Because my uncle purchased the booklet from an estate sale, I assume that the estate sale must have been happening because one of the soldiers depicted in the book had died.  Unfortunately, I cannot confirm this guess, but I did learn other interesting facts about the book.  First of all, I tried to discover what became of the Assyrian National Association of Chicago.  I eventually learned that it was renamed the Assyrian American Association of Chicago, which does still exist.

As I continued digging, I learned that the Ashurbanipal Library, an Assyrian library belonging to another Assyrian organization, the Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation, did not own this book in its collection.  However, it owned multiple reprints of it.  This reprint edition was published in 1993 by the American Assyrian Amvet Post #5, in order to raise money for a war memorial in Elmwood Cemetery.  As I did more research, I found two Chicago Tribune articles about how one of the soldiers pictured in the book, John Hosanna, worked tirelessly to create this war memorial.  Unfortunately, Hosanna, who began the campaign in 1992, died a month before the memorial’s completion in 1997 (see https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1998-04-05-9804050286-story.html).

My research eventually led me to visit the Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois.  This cemetery used to be an American Civil War post before it became a graveyard, so it now has some Civil War memorials.  An Assyrian Church eventually purchased plots in this cemetery.  Section 45 not only has the Assyrian War Memorial, but also contains numerous Assyrian graves, many of which have tombstones written in the Aramaic script, Syriac.  The majority of these graves date to the first half of the twentieth century.  (Most of the more recent Assyrian graves can be found at the Montrose Cemetery in Chicago, including the grave of the late Assyrian Church of the East patriarch, Mar Dinkha IV).

Graves with Syriac script in Elmwood Cemetery

Much research has been done on the history of different minority groups who served in World War II.  However, that is not generally the case for Assyrians.  For instance, most people do not know that the U.S. diplomat in Japan during World War II, Eugene Dooman, was Assyrian.  He grew up in Japan because his parents were Assyrian missionaries from Iran serving there.  Additionally, not many know about the Assyrian Levies from Iraq, who helped the British during World War II.  Since the British oversaw Iraq during that time, these Assyrians were some of the many men from British territories and colonies who fought in the British army during WWII.  Hopefully, more research will be done in the future, but in the meantime, we can be thankful for men like John Hosanna, who worked hard in preserving a bit of history.

Assyrian War Memorial in Elmwood Cemetery – River Grove, IL

Sources and Further Reading

“Assyrian AmVets Memorial.” The American Legion. https://www.legion.org/memorials/238719/assyrian-amvets-memorial (accessed October 12, 2019).

Borsky, Daniel. “Veterans Hope to Set Memories in Marble.” Chicago Tribune, July 29, 1996. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1996-07-29-9607290187-story.html (accessed October 12, 2019).

“Elmwood Cemetery and Mausoleum.” Dignity Memorial. https://www.dignitymemorial.com/funeral-homes/river-grove-il/elmwood-cemetery-and-mausoleum/6246 (accessed October 12, 2019).

“Forest Park Cemeteries.” The Historical Society Forest Park. https://www.forestparkhistory.org/forest-park-cemeteries.html (accessed October 12, 2019).

“Our History.” Montrose Cemetery and Crematorium. http://montrosecemetery.com/History.html (accessed October 12, 2019).

Peters, Lincoln R. Biak-Zambo: A Story of Two Soldiers. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2000.

Sclair, Helen. Encyclopedia of Chicago, s.v. “Cemeteries.” Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 2005. http://encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/223.html (accessed October 12, 2019).

Shavit, David. The United States in Asia: A Historical Dictionary. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.

Shoumanov, Vasili. Assyrian American Association of Chicago: 100 Years. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2018.

Zielinski, Graeme. “Last Chance for Immortality.” Chicago Tribune, April 5, 1998. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1998-04-05-9804050286-story.html      (accessed October 12, 2019).