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Lots of graves — but no ghosts — on Halloween Graceland Cemetery tour

Albert Walavich led a Chicago History Museum tour of Graceland Cemetery on Oct 31. | Taylor Hartz/Sun-Times

A two-hour tour of the Graceland Cemetery and Arboretum gave a group of ghost hunters and history buffs the chance to learn about some of Chicago’s most famous figures, while getting their dose of Halloween fright.

Weaving through the graves at Graceland under colorful fall foliage on Tuesday, Albert Walavich led a Chicago History Museum tour of the grounds, where tombstones date back to the early 1800s. Built in 1860, the Uptown cemetery is the final resting place of some of Chicago’s most prominent families, well-known architects and beloved sports figures.

High on a hilltop is an elaborate column structure housing the remains of businessman Potter Palmer and his wife, Bertha Palmer, to whom he gave the downtown Palmer House Hilton as a wedding gift. Across a footbridge and in a quiet clearing, are the graves of Daniel Burnham, architect behind the World’s Fair, and his family.

A bridge leads to the gravesite of architect Daniel Burnham and family. | Taylor Hartz/Sun-Times

Other large family plots hold the remains of relatives of Marshall Field, Henry B. Clarke and John Kinzie, while small stones mark the burial sites of some of the city’s first cremations.

Around nearly every corner, visitors can find a tombstone, mausoleum or temple for Chicago notables. “You’ll see names of many people who made history in Chicago who are lost in memory now,” Walavich said.

A family plot for Marshall Field and his relatives at Graceland Cemetery during a Halloween tour. | Taylor Hartz/Sun-Times

Other intriguing sights on the tour include a baseball-shaped memorial for William Hulbert, once owner of the Chicago Cubs; a hidden Star Trek reference on a small tombstone, and the grave sites of Cubs player Ernie Banks, dancer Ruth Page and heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson. A Chicago City Landmark is found at the resting place of Carrie Eliza Getty, in an ornate tomb designed by architect Louis Sullivan.

All around, the site is a wealth of Chicago history for tourists and locals alike.

A baseball shaped tombstone for former Cubs owner William Hulbert is in Graceland Cemetery. | Taylor Hartz/Sun-Times

“I thought it was very interesting. I’m a native Chicagoan so I really like learning about the history of the city,” said Nancy Newberger, who said she recognized a lot of the names pointed out in the tour.

Newberger said the Oct. 31 date didn’t influence her decision to attend the tour, and Walavich said the crowds grow bigger in October.

When asked about hauntings on Tuesday’s tour, Walavich said he knew he would get a question about ghosts on Halloween, but he doesn’t believe any haunt the grounds.

“Why would they haunt the cemetery they never knew? They would haunt the house they lived in or somewhere that had meaning to their life,” Walavich said. He said there may not be ghosts in Graceland, but he believes some of the statues are haunted.

The Chicago History Museum offers year-round tours led by Walavich, including nighttime flashlight tours of Bohemian Cemetery, and a “Crimes of the Past” guide around the city.