Five Reasons to Visit Spooky Chicago Cemeteries

As we lead up to my favorite holiday, Halloween, it seems fitting to talk about the many Chicago cemeteries. Let’s ponder on some cool reasons for going to visit Chicago cemeteries.

Technically, some of the best Chicago cemeteries are just outside the borders of the city. All cemeteries were transferred beyond the city limits in 1856, due to sanitary regulations. Some of these cemeteries, like Graceland, wound up being annexed into Chicago later on. So it goes!

#1. Clues to the Early History of the City

There are few physical traces of the city’s early history today. For example, Chicago was an important site for the Civil War, but no buildings, bridges or anything really remain from that era. You can, however, see the Confederate Mound in Oak Woods Cemetery. An estimated 6,000 bodies of Confederate soldiers are interred there. Most of them were imprisoned in tortuous conditions at Camp Douglas. I don’t have a picture of it, but imagine an open grassy field with an old cannon and a stone column monument with the ominous words “CONFEDERATE DEAD.”

Gravestone of Louis Sullivan Architect Chicago cemeteries2. Pay Homage to Famous Figures and Events

Think of Jim Morrison and Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. For some, that could indeed be the confederate monument above. Architects venture to Graceland Cemetery for the graves of several famous Chicago architects, such as Louis Sullivan (you can see his work on our 1893 World’s Fair Tour). Because he died penniless, visitors to Sullivan’s grave leave pennies…all over it.

close up grave louis sullivan Chicago cemeteriesPolitical and social activists make pilgrimage shortly outside the confines of Chicago to Forest Home Cemetery–previously Waldheim Cemetery–because of the burial place of the martyrs of the Haymarket Riot. I ventured out here with my cousin this past weekend since it was just a quick drive from where she lives in Oak Park.

haymarket sculpture in Chicago cemeteriesActivists who carry on the spirit in the fight for workers rights leave buttons and stickers from current workers’ rights organizations.

political buttons haymarket grave Chicago cemeteries

3. The Cultural Experience

It’s probably not the first thing that comes to mind, but visiting a Chicago cemetery can be a cultural experience. The racial segregation of the city extends to burial places. For example, you’ll find the Catholics together in Mount Carmel, the Jews in a crammed corner of Oak Woods Cemetery, and the Bohemians in the…you guessed it, the Bohemian National Cemetery. It’s interesting to see the various burial traditions of different cultures, such as the Romani people, aka “gypsies,” as from this grave in Forest Home Cemetery. (Just in case there is any sensitivity to posting a photo of it, I have blurred out their names here.)

Chicago cemeteries gypsy Rom grave4. To Honor the Dead

And of course, we visit the cemeteries most of all to honor the dead of our friends and family. Pictured below are the graves of my great-grandmother, great-grandfather, and great-uncle. They’re buried in Mount Carmel Cemetery, which is famous as the burial place for gangsters like Dean O’Banion and Al Capone. These ancestors passed long before my birth, but it’s always an experience to visit the grave of family members and ponder what it would have been like to have known them.

scotese grave mount carmel Chicago cemeteries5. Get Spooked

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog post for some spookiness!

–Amanda Scotese, Chicago Detours Executive Director


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Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

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Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”


Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.


Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
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Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
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Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
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