Monday, February 20, 2012

The Glessners' final home - Graceland Cemetery

On Thursday February 23, 2012 at , the museum will present a lecture on Chicago's historic Graceland Cemetery by Barbara Lanctot, author of the recently revised A Walk Through Graceland Cemetery.   The following is brief history of the Glessners' plot.

Graceland Cemetery was not the first cemetery that the Glessners selected as their final resting place.  When their infant son John Francis Glessner died on June 30, 1875 at the age of eight months, the Glessners purchased a plot at Rosehill Cemetery.  By the early 1900s however, correspondence from Frances Glessner indicates that they were unhappy with the plot and the condition in which it was kept.  As such, they sought a new location for their burial plot.  Graceland Cemetery was a natural choice.  This was the cemetery of choice for many of their friends and Prairie Avenue neighbors, and they were close friends with several of the officers and board members, including president Bryan Lathrop. 

On December 9, 1909, the Glessners purchased Lot 2 in the Willowmere Section, along the western shore of Lake Willowmere.  The lot contained 2,758 square feet and cost $8,274.00. 

Frances Glessner died on October 20, 1932.  At that time, the remains of her infant son John were exhumed from his grave at Rosehill and placed in her casket.  By early December, John Glessner had selected the Harrison Granite Company to make the memorial stone.  The company, founded in 1845, was based in New York, but maintained a local office in Room 739 of the Fine Arts Building.  A letter to John Glessner from Harry L. Davis, the company’s resident associate, sheds light on the design of the stone:

“I feel that elements of refinement should enter into the Ledger stone and still retain a quiet dignity, thus to typify the interests of Mrs. Glessner, in life.  A perfectly plain slab would seem to me to depart from the interests in art and architecture which were her’s.”

Another letter, dated December 28, reveals the one and only change made to the original design:

“I appreciate the call of your daughter, Mrs. Lee, upon me today and in accordance with her request I have sent a requisition by Air Mail tonight to our studio to have them prepare symbols of a Celtic character in place of the cross as shown on our presentation sketch.”

The stone was completed by the beginning of March 1933 and installed later that month.  Made of Westerly granite, the total cost, including foundation, was $587.50.  John Glessner was very pleased with the stone, as indicated in a letter from him to Harry Davis dated April 3:

“I went to Graceland Cemetery on Wednesday of last week, to see the memorial stone for Mrs. Glessner set up for me by the Harrison Granite Company.  I was much pleased with the stone and the way it is set.  Its appearance will be still further improved when the grass has been made to grow about it.  The stone seems all right.  (Please do not publish this as a testimonial.)” 

By the spring of 1934, John Glessner was pursuing the establishment of a perpetual care fund.  Correspondence from the cemetery indicated that the annual cost of maintenance was $30.00 for a lot of that size which included $10 for mowing, $15 for watering, and $5 for washing the stone.  The fund had not been established by the time John Glessner died on January 20, 1936.  (A second matching memorial stone was installed for him later that year).

In May 1937, R. M. Johnson, the executor of the estate of John Glessner, paid the amount of $1,000 to the Trustees of the Graceland Cemetery Improvement Fund for the establishment of a perpetual care fund.  The document further stipulated that no other persons were to be buried in the lot. 

Visitors to the Glessner plot today cannot help but be impressed with the beautiful and serene setting of the Glessner plot along Lake Willowmere, and the simple but elegant design of their stones.

NOTE:  The Glessners’ two other children, John George Macbeth Glessner and Frances Glessner Lee were both interred at the Maple Street Cemetery in Bethlehem, New Hampshire near the family’s summer estate.  The virtually identical design of their memorial stones would strongly indicate that they were also executed by the Harrison Granite Company, although the symbols used are different - a cross for George and his wife and a honeybee for Frances.

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