Remembering Historical Jewish Graceland Cemetery

In honor of the completion of this significant project, JGSI is sponsoring a tour of the cemetery on May 21st , 2006. Further information can be found at the end of this article.

In honor of the completion of this significant project, JGSI is sponsoring a tour of the cemetery on May 21st , 2006. Further information can be found at the end of this article.

Why would anyone be interested in a cemetery whose first burial was in 1851 and where there have not been many recent burials? For Jewish genealogists, Jewish Graceland is a treasure of our heritage. It documents members of the earliest Jewish community that helped build Chicago.

To preserve this heritage and the lives of these pioneers, the Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois (JGSI) has recently completed an inventory of all of the burials here and is in the process of making them available via the Internet to the worldwide Jewish community. This service is being made possible via the website JewishGen.

Jewish Graceland's History

The Hebrew Benevolent Society was founded in 1851. Its founders included David Witkowsky, an early president of Congregation B'nai Sholom (the second oldest synagogue in Chicago, now a part of K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Congregation). One of the society's main purposes was to create a Jewish burial ground. There already was a similar group, the Jewish Burial Ground Society, which operated a cemetery in what is now Lincoln Park. This Lincoln Park cemetery, which was the first Jewish cemetery, soon had to be moved to another site because of its proximity to Lake Michigan. Jewish Graceland would become the second Jewish cemetery in Chicago.

Four Cemeteries Occupy Original Plot

The Hebrew Benevolent Society had paid $600 for the three acres of land currently known as Jewish Graceland. Due to its close relationship with Congregation B'nai Shalom, that congregation bought an acre of the land from the society for its own cemetery. The synagogue had a spin-off later in the 1850s—called the Society of Benevolence and Relief of the Sick. This society also bought land for a burial ground from the Hebrew Benevolent Society for a cemetery. The Society of Benevolence eventually went bankrupt, however, and sold its section to a Laurent Clody. Mr. Clody's section was later owned by his niece, Charlotte Wells, and her husband Ron Wells. A fourth section was sold to Congregation B'nai Zion, a north side congregation with no connection to B'nai Sholom.

Today the four sections can be identified as follows:
Gate 1: Chevra Kadisha then B'nai Zion and now Jewish Graceland
Gate 2: B'nai Shalom (KAM)
Gate 3: Hebrew Benevolent Society
Gate 4: Chevra Kadisha now Jewish Graceland

Gates 1 and 4 (the north and south sections) are privately owned, while Gates 2 and 3 (the central sections) are owned and maintained by the Hebrew Benevolent Society.

Prominent People Interred There—including Civil War Veterans

HANNAH GREENEBAUM SOLOMON is a member of the Greenebaum family, outstanding Chicago Jewish pioneers. She was a devoted communal worker, best known as the organizer of the National Council of Jewish Women and its president from 1893 to 1905. She also organized the Jewish Women's Congress, which was part of the Columbian Exposition, and was a moving force in several other women's organizations.

Chicago's first sizeable wave of Jewish immigrants occurred following the European "Year of the Revolutions"—1848. These largely unsuccessful attempts at promoting civil rights and a semblance of democracy in European states brought a large number of dissidents to the United States—immigrants seeking the freedom denied them back home. The German-speaking states contributed the largest numbers, among them many Jews. Chicago attracted a significant number who soon became the dominant element of the local Jewish community.

SIMON BOURNSTINE was born in Warsaw, Poland on June 7, 1846. He immigrated to the United States in 1855 and was naturalized. Simon enlisted as a private in the 22nd Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry on August 20, 1861. His military discharge was dated August 28, 1865, and his record shows "distinguished service."

HERMAN BURGHEIM was born in Germany on November 22, 1831. He enlisted as a private in the 82nd Illinois Infantry Regiment on August 14, 1862. Herman's unit, Company C, was the only all-Jewish unit to fight in the Civil War. He was discharged on June 9, 1865.

HERMAN J. EPHRAIM was born in Germany on June 12, 1845. At the age of 19, he enlisted as a private in Company H of the 23rd Infantry Illinois Volunteers on March 21, 1865. His unit participated in the pursuit of Lee's army until the surrender at Appomattox Court House in April 1865.

THEODORE HIRSCH, born in Germany, immigrated to the United States in the early 1860s. Not much information could be obtained about this man, since he was a Confederate soldier. Hirsch was captured by Union troops at Woodville, Mississippi, on October 6, 1864, after he had served for less than three months. In November, he was sent north from Vicksburg through Cairo, Illinois, to Camp Douglas, a prisoner of war camp on the South Side of Chicago (at 38th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue). He died a little over a month after arrival, on December 12, 1864.

MARCUS M. SPIEGEL was born in 1829 in Abenheim, Germany, the son of Rabbi Moses and Regina Spiegel. He came to America in 1849, and first settled in New York City. When the Civil War broke out, he raised a company of the 67th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and was made its captain. On May 3, 1864, while on the Red River expedition to reinforce General Banks, he was mortally wounded, and died the next day.

The cemetery contains only one family mausoleum. Most tombstones are in English, though a few have Hebrew or German inscriptions. Since so many of the people buried in the cemetery had come from Germany and were soon assimilated, English inscriptions predominate. With assimilation, participation in Freemasonry became popular, and several Masonic inscriptions are to be seen.

Indexing Project

It was thought that all cemetery records before 1911 were destroyed in a fire. Recently, however, a treasure-trove of records going back to 1854 was discovered. These include a "Children, Adult, and Family Lot Register" covering the years 1855 to the present. Records and tombstones before 1871 are particularly important, because all city death records were destroyed in the Chicago Fire of that year.

In addition to these records, teams from the Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois (JGSI) walked the cemetery to record the information on every grave and headstone. This effort was further complicated because of erosion and vandalism which had occurred at the cemetery. All of this information has now been integrated and indexed to create a complete record of these burials.

Mark Mandle and Norman Schwartz will guide the group through the cemetery's history, highlighting famous inhabitants including Rabbi Aron Messing 1840-1916 who was Rabbi of B'nari Shalom (today part of KAM Isaiah Israel) and his son Rabbi Abraham Messing 1873-1922. They will also provide further details on the stories of the Civil War veterans discussed above. For more information about the tour, contact the Jewish Genealogical Society at 312-666-0100 or at JewishGraceland@jgsi.org.

Additional information about JGSI can be found at www.JewishGen.org/jgsi. 


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