Detail of a bas relief sculpture representing Vice and Crime at the U.S. Supreme Court, 1 First Street NE in Washington, DC.
These majestic rural cemeteries are a who’s-who of the Midwest’s historic and influential personalities.
From captains of industry, to former presidents, storied military figures, inventors, and artists, Midwestern cemeteries are filled with former residents who made outsized contributions to American history. Many of these cemeteries are considered historic in their own right, owing to their art and architecture.
Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois
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.
Detail of a bas relief sculpture representing Justice or Fairness at the U.S. Supreme Court, 1 First Street NE in Washington, DC.
Laurel Hill Cemetery, 3822 Ridge Avenue in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is the second oldest rural cemetery in the nation. It was established in 1836 on 74 acres of land overlooking the Schuylkill River. Its lovely neoclassical gatehouse was designed in a Roman Doric style by architect John Notman (1810-1865). Laurel Hill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998.
Brig. Gen. Hugh Mercer (1726-1777) was a Scottish-American physician who settled in Fredericksburg, Virginia and was a personal friend of George Washington. He fought in the French and Indian War and in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, where he was killed at the Battle of Princeton.
Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade (1815-1872), nicknamed the “Old Snapping Turtle,” is most famous for commanding the Union Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Gettysburg. He commanded the V Corps during the Battle of Fredericksburg and replaced Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker as commander of the army. His star faded after Gettysburg, however, as General Ulysses S. Grant personally directed operations in the Eastern Theater. He made Philadelphia his home and died of pneumonia brought on by his old war wounds.
A menagerie of tortured souls is said to lurk in these corridors.
Designed by Baltimore architect Richard Snowden Andrews in Gothic and Tudor Revival styles, construction on the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum began in 1858. Its main building was laid out according to the Kirkbride plan, brainchild of Superintendent of the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane Thomas Story Kirkbride. Kirkbride theorized that exposure to natural light and fresh air would aid in curing the mentally ill, so he designed a long, narrow hospital with staggered wings extending outward from the center. The furthest wings were reserved for the most violent or disturbed patients.
In 1861, the Civil War’s outbreak interrupted construction on Virginia’s new asylum as Union troops seized its construction funds from a local bank (totaling nearly $30,000.00 in gold) and used them to help fund a pro-Union Virginia government in Wheeling. When West Virginia seceded from Virginia in 1863 and was admitted to the Union, the new state government renamed it the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane. Construction on the sprawling grounds, with everything the hospital needed to be a self-sustaining community, wasn’t completed until 1881.
Originally designed to accommodate 250 patients in relatively comfortable surroundings with plenty of natural light and fresh air, conditions at the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane slowly deteriorated into a horror show. During the 1950s, its population peaked at a staggering 2,600 patients, with state and medical officials resorting to lobotomy to reduce overcrowding. Lobotomy was a procedure designed to make patients docile by severing connections in the frontal lobe of the brain. Though I couldn’t find any concrete numbers, it’s believed over a thousand lobotomies were performed there.
After more than 200 years, the mystery of the ‘Female Stranger’ continues to fascinate visitors to this Alexandria, Virginia landmark. Some say her ghost never left.
Alexandria, Virginia is an old town filled with historic buildings, populated by ghosts and legends. No less than 49 sites in Alexandria are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Perhaps the most legendary is Gadsby’s Tavern at the corner of Cameron and Royal streets. Its mysterious tale of the “Female Stranger” has confounded local historians and folklorists for over 200 years.
In the late 1700s, Alexandria was the social center of northern Virginia. Charles and Anne Mason first recognized the potential for a tavern and opened a business at the corner of Royal and Cameron streets. With the end of the Revolutionary War, an entrepreneur named John Wise built a new tavern in 1785 and a hotel in 1792, red brick buildings which still exist to this day. John Gadsby leased and operated the establishments from 1796 to 1808, when Alexandria became part of the new Federal District of Washington, DC.
In those early years, Gadsby’s Tavern hosted travelers from all over the colonies, including prominent men like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and the Marquis de Lafayette. It was considered a premier establishment, hosting parties and balls in its large hall. It was during this heyday when the legend of the mysterious “Female Stranger” took root.
A colonial-era home sits on a quiet plaza in America’s most historic town, but storytellers say something sinister lurks inside.
Without the misfortune of dying right before the Declaration of Independence, Peyton Randolph (1721-1775) would be considered one of our country’s most prominent founding fathers. He was elected president of the First and Second Continental Congress, before dying of a stroke while dining with Thomas Jefferson. His home, expanded and modified over the intervening decades, still stands in Colonial Williamsburg.
The Georgian-style house, at least the western wing at the corner of Nicholson and North England Streets, was built in 1715 by William Robertson. Sir John Randolph, Peyton’s father, purchased it in 1721 and willed it to his son, who took ownership at the age of 24. John had built a second house, what became the east wing, in 1724, and Peyton connected the two homes with a spacious hall, though the east wing still had to be accessed from outside.
Peyton’s sister, Susannah Beverley, lived in the home until her death circa 1754, and Peyton’s window retained it after his death. It served as temporary headquarters to French general Jean-Baptiste-Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau during the Siege of Yorktown in 1781. It was sold at auction in 1783, and served as a military hospital at the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862 during the American Civil War.