Every Cemetery Needs One: Eternal Silence, Graceland Cemetery

September 20, 2016 — There’s a type of person in this world whom I haven’t yet met, but whom I want to kiss full on the lips when I finally do: Those who pay big money to adorn the final resting places of themselves and their loved ones with the spookiest shit they can come up with. Like the Eternal Silence statue in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery.

Unfortunately, by the time I learn about their creepy grave statues, they’ve already been buried and lost their lips a long time ago.

Graceland Cemetery, at 4001 N. Clark Street, was established in 1860. It’s 120 acres of excellent cemetery with plenty of fascinating history, art, architecture, and famous burials. It’s also welcoming to tourists, something not to be overlooked in calling a cemetery excellent.  I rarely go into a cemetery office, but this time we did, and they happily gave us a nice glossy map with all the cemetery’s notable dead spots marked.

Like the grave of Augustus Dickens, the brother of Charles Dickens. Or Cyrus McCormick, the inventor. Or Allan Pinkerton, the famous detective. It has its oddball graves, like William Hulbert, whose role as president of baseball's National League is memorialized with a basketball-sized baseball-shaped marker. Mostly, there are lotsa rich people with extravagant death ornaments: Marshall Field, the department store magnate, has a Daniel Chester French sculpture of an enthroned goddess. Victor Lawson, who created the Chicago Daily News, has a statue of a knight in armor standing atop him.

And then there’s the life-sized sculpture of a six-year-old girl protected in a glass case. This is a weird enough story for me to put off talking about Eternal Silence for another couple of paragraphs.

The base of the sculpture bears the name Inez. A stone below the statue says that the girl is the daughter of J.N. & M.C. Clarke, and that she died in 1880. The story goes she was hit by lightning. The story then continues that during storms, her statue disappears from its glass case. Sometimes, her ghost can be seen playing among the stones.

The best part of the story is that…there’s no such child by the name of Inez Clarke in the cemetery. Imagine that line being said by Jessica Fletcher, right before a lightning strike.

There are two theories around this. One is that the statue is merely a showpiece by grave sculptor Andrew Gagel, whose name is on the statue. That he placed it in the cemetery as an extremely targeted advertisement and that, over the years, it just stayed there as people were buried around it. I kind of dig this story the best.

The other story is that the girl buried beneath this statue is actually named Inez Briggs, that she was a daughter from a pre-Clarke marriage and that she died of diphtheria. The cemetery records show an Amos Briggs to be buried thereabouts, which many surmise to be a clerical error for Inez Briggs.

What I do know is that nobody would probably care about this story if the little girl just got a small stone with a lamb lying atop it.

Anyway, all this to say that the cemetery is way worth going to for all kinds of reasons.

But my number one reason was still Eternal Silence.

Eternal Silence is a life-sized cloaked figure cast in bronze and set on a black granite pedestal. The statue was originally dark itself, but has oxidized into its ghostly green over the years, except for most of the dark face within its hood.

It was sculpted by Lorado Taft for a family named…dig this…Graves. A plaque on the back of the memorial tells the story of Dexter Graves, one of the “pioneers of Chicago,” who led 13 families to the area from Ohio in 1831. He mortally uncoiled in 1844, a good decade and a half before Graceland was established. He was moved here when the city’s original cemetery was decommissioned for being an impediment to a growing city.

His son, Henry Graves, died in 1907…and that’s when Eternal Silence was born, thanks to his will, which allocated about a quarter million for the memorial to be made for his family to molder beneath. He’s the guy I’d need to kiss, in other words.

The figure is tall, imposing, and obviously inspired by the Grim Reaper. Were I a cemetery owner, I’d only let stuff like this in my cemetery. It’d be like a Tim Burton set.

It has its various spook stories, the best one being you can see your own death if you stare into the mouth of cowl for too long.

Lorado liked his design enough that he used the figure again, as part of his Fountain of Time sculpture in Chicago’s Washington Park, although there the figure is made of beige concrete and isn’t near as imposing. It’s more like the urRU to Eternal Silence’s Skeksis.

The statue isn’t too deep in the cemetery, and we found it even before I went into the office for a map. To get there, take your first right from the main entrance, and Evergreen Avenue will loop you around to him.

Once you see it, I’m sure you’ll feel the same way as I: Every cemetery and graveyard should have at least one “boo” like this within its borders.