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).