Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois

Photo by Michael Kleen

Bohemian National Cemetery, at 5255 N. Pulaski Road in Chicago, Illinois, was created in 1877 by Chicago’s ethnic Czech community, and has since expanded to 126 acres. Approximately 120,000 of the city’s former residents are buried here, including victims of the SS Eastland shipwreck. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

Bohemian Civil War Memorial

Erected in 1892, this bronze statue of a private in the Union Army holding an American flag is dedicated to the 18 Civil War veterans buried in Bohemian National Cemetery. It was designed by sculptor Joseph Klir and called the Bohemian Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. Its inscription reads “Pro Novou Vlast”, or “for the new country”. Like many immigrant groups, Czechs fought on both sides, though primarily for the North.

Kropacek

This beautiful neoclassical granite statue of a cloaked woman is a tribute to Vincencie Kropacek (1863-1944) and her husband, Jan Kropacek (1860-1906). The woman stands next to a pedestal with a vase or urn. She appears to be holding reeds or palms in her right hand.

The Hiker

Designed by sculptor Theodora Ruggles Kitsen and dedicated in 1926, this bronze monument of an American soldier commemorates veterans of the Spanish-American War and Philippine Insurrection. Called “The Hiker,” he stands on a 25-ton red granite boulder from Wausau, Wisconsin. “The Hiker” was mass-produced, and there are dozens of identical statues across the United States. There are at least 45 Spanish-American War veterans interred at Bohemian National Cem.

SS Eastland Memorial

On a hot July day in 1915, over 800 people lost their lives when an excursion steamer called the Eastland capsized on the Chicago River. Although the Eastland had recently passed inspection, it was too top heavy to handle the more than 2,700 passengers who crowded on board. Many passengers were trapped inside when the Eastland capsized; many more drowned. After the disaster, the Eastland was purchased by the US Navy and renamed the USS Wilmette. This memorial to the Eastland victims, many of whom are buried in Bohemian National Cemetery, was erected in 2015.

Jarolim II

Monument to Joseph Jerry Jarolim (1901-1920), son of Anna and Anton Jarolim. The statue is a likeness of the young man, who wears a post-First World War U.S. Navy white dress uniform. It bears a striking resemblance to his photograph, attached to the monument’s base. Members of Chicago’s Czech community were proud of their military service, and many such statues can be found in this cemetery.

Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

One thought on “Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois”

  1. Michael, Not sure if this is how I can contact you.  I am a fan of yours.  I enjoy reading your articles, have left comments on a few.  One in particular, the one about odd things along Cuba road including White Cemetery and the lore around the Gallagher Family.

    I have (what I think) are 4 GREAT story ideas (actually you could probably divide or combine however).  I’d love to get your take on and see you investigate!

    Story 1.) Ghost-lore at Frank’s Auto Repair service at 305 Main St in West Chicago, IL.  Owner Keith Parks.  Unfortunately, Keith is moving this spring to a new facility being built, so, timing of this story is of the essence. 

    Keith is there LONG hours fixing cars and he runs a towing service from there too, so, I am sure most days (or nights) you can get in, maybe even witness the strange behaviors in the bldg.   Just before Keith bought this business, the City of West Chicago bought the property from Frank via eminent domain, their ultimate plans are to demolish it (along with several other buildings along Main St) and erect luxury condo buildings with retail shopping and restaurants on the 1st floor.  This of course would be a crying shame to lose the historic presence of DT W Chi.  I started to go to Frank’s for auto service when I was 18 back in 1981 and my parents moved from Barrington to Winfield.  

    This location has functioned as an auto service and gas station (pumps were removed) since the 1930’s! 

    Keith bought the business from Frank about 15 years ago, kept the name of the business the same for continuity and anonymity.  Keith has been my “go-to” mechanic almost that entire time, he not only maintains my family’s fleet of 5 cars, he has also serviced various commercial vehicles I have owned. 

    Keith has become what I consider a very close friend, we have watched each others kids grow up, and, he is a FUN guy to know, interesting conversationalist, not your typical run of the mill grease monkey” mechanic.  He has a great heart, and, when it comes to this matter, I truly believe his stories are sincere.  I have seen some of this as I worked with him at one time, I had an office set up where his waiting room now is.  At that time, Keith and I sold used cars for a brief while, not your TYPICAL used car sales….we were actually doing it completely ethically!   For years, he and others have witnessed unusual sightings and other strange paranormal behavior in the shop.    – He has a security system with cameras set up all over the shop and in particular, his waiting room (my old office!) where customers sit.  When nobody is back there, from the security monitor, several light orbs are visible on camera and move independent of each other,  If someone enters the room, they vanish from the camera.    

     – People have claimed to have seen people enter or exit this waiting room area, but, the door is locked or there was nobody there.

     – Frank, the previous owner, had his GF working the counter where customers came in. She stayed on for a while when Keith took over to help him transition into the business smoothly.  She would bring her German Shepard to work with her.  From time to time the dog would come out into the shop, look up at a certain part of the shop ceiling where a small attic over the front part of the shop is and bark over and over as if it saw something!  – An overhead garage door near the same part of the shop the dog barked, that has a VERY heavy locking mechanism and a door that takes some effort to lift up, will, from time to time unlock by itself (the sound of the lock is LOUD) and then OPEN about 3 feet on its own.

     – A tow truck driver recently spent the night upstairs in the towing office above the shop sleeping.  It was late at night and everyone else was gone.  In the middle of the night he heard a loud bang as if someone closed a service door.  He came down to investigate, a shovel was then thrown down near a stack of car tires and the top 2 tires then were knocked off the stack, which was several tires high. I am sure Keith has other stories he can share and would be glad to show you     Story 2.) – This would be more a historic human interest piece.  My sister and I just ate lunch yesterday in Barrington IL at The Bread Basket restaurant at Main St & Cook.  A place I used to frequent as a teenager and hadn’t been back to since.  I drove by not too long ago and noticed it was still there, so, we met for lunch there!    It has been owned by the same couple since it was originally built in 1972, a husband and wife who will soon celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary!  I think it would just be a nice human interest story. Story 3.)   There are several other “cool” stories and places around Barrington.  The Ice House is one…it also contains a very cool restaurant built around an antique rail car called Chessie’s.  One of my Uncle’s (through marriage, now divorced) was the manager at one time, might have even been the original manager.  The Catlow Theater is a historic landmark.  A single screen theater, I believe it just shut down in Jan 2020….but had been in operation since the 1920’s showing silent movies (Mr. Catlow’s brother Chester was the organist) and a place for vaudeville acts.  I can remember going there as a kid, it was kind of spooky entering, very ornate and they had coat of arm wall murals, sculptures, and just very cool old stuff!  The Canteen is another restaurant in Barrington that has been around a VERY long time, since I can remember.  Near The Bread Basket is a place called McGonical’s Pub.  Originally, the site was built in 1913 as The First State Bank of Barrington.  I believe that closed down or moved in the 1940’s and it became a restaurant.  As a kid in the 1960’s, I can remember it being called The Last National Bank Restaurant, a bit of a joke because across the street was the First National Bank of Barrington, later to become Barrington Bank and Trust, which I think has vacated in the last few years.  At one time the Last National Bank Restaurant buiding was home to Wolf Camera, boy, that building has seen a lot!  Inside McGonical’s is some of the original preserved bank a teller window and some other cool stuff now converted into an Irish Pub and a bar.  Upstairs is more VERY cool stuff including another bar and a coffin, which is a tribute to the owners Mom who passed away 15 years ago..,kind of weird, right? Story 4)   Not in Barrington, but, since I can remember, there has been a home that was built to resemble an old English castle in Fox River Grove, IL.  It is visible (or was) from Rt 14 just as you are coming into town from Barrington.  We used to pass it all the time on the school bus as kids.  I googled it, it’s called The Bettendorf Castle, built in 1931 by a masonry craftsman from Luxembourg that took him 36 years to complete!  If that is too commercial, there is the Sanfillipo Estate in nearby Barrington Hills.  I went to HS with Jeffery Sanfillipo.  We weren’t ‘friends”, but, I certainly knew him and his sister, having gotten into a car accident with them one day in a hurry trying to get out of the school parking lot as fast as I could.  Jeff couldn’t have been a nicer guy, and now, my wife works at his company!  His father who recently passed was a collector of antique music boxes, and, as I understand it, this is the largest private collection of such.  They also have the largest privately owned pipe organ and as well, largest private carousel in a separate house (called the carousel house) on their estate.  There are also steam engines and locomotives and a RR track around the grounds!  It is amazing and I believe the collection is worth over $1 Billion!  There is a web site about it, so, again, maybe already too well documented to do a story on, but, interesting!  And finally, not in IL, but with ties back to Fox River Grove and Barrington, and a VERY cool place (I have been to a number of times on snowmobile trips up north) and some true Chicago folklore, is Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters.  Of course, the Johnny Depp movie “Public Enemies” has pretty well told the story, and I know I watched the film, just can’t remember how much of the film was spent on the shootout that occurred with BFN in Fox River Grove and the ensuing car chase into Barrington where BFN gunned down 2 cops, killing one instantly and the other died later of his wounds, before he himself (BFN) was mortally wounded.  The location of that shootout was famous for me as a kid because it took place at North Park, later renamed to Langendorf Park.  As kids, we used to play and go swimming daily during the summer.  There is a small plaque in the parking lot commemorating the spot where the officers gave their lives, and, the rumor we used to hear as kids was that there was a house nearby that (next to McDonald’s) that still had bullets in the siding.  I know at Little Bohemia Lodge, they have preserved the bullet holes in the windows and the walls.  Plus, the food there is excellent and they still rent out rooms for the night!  Wonder if there are any spirits lurking around there?

    Anyway, I have gone on too much here and probably given too much to do!  Story #1 is most intriguing one, I think and timing of which is critical. If it’s NOT something you want to touch, let me know where else you might suggest I send the idea…you were the first I thought of.  I really enjoy your writing style! Please let me know you got this! Thank you for your time and best regards, Mike Mascow Founder & Coffee Enthusiast OfficerMascow Distributi

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