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Bohemian National Cemetery to get preservation funds

Submitted on Fri, 11/30/2007 – 13:41.
Story by Jason Porterfield

The Bohemian National Cemetery will receive $26,000 in preservation grants this Fall to repair its historic water tower, thanks to the American Express Partners in Preservation Chicagoland Initiative.

The cemetery’s brick and wood water tower rises above the cemetery’s fencing near the intersection of N. Pulaski Road and W. Foster Ave. on Chicago’s Northwest Side. Built in 1898 and still used to water the cemetery’s 122 acres, the tower is in need of restoration, though the words “Bohemian National Cemetery” still stand out on the 50-foot tall, 500-gallon tank.

The tower has recently drawn attention to the cemetery, due to the American Express Partners in Preservation Initiative, which initiative allowed Internet voters to select Chicago sites from a list of 25 nominees to earn funds for restoration and preservation.

Though the water tower did not receive the most votes when voting closed Oct. 10, it was among 14 sites awarded more than $5,000 in preservation grants. The remaining 10 sites will receive smaller amounts.

“Usually the people come in looking for their ancestors, or they’re interested in photographing the monuments. The water tower is out of the way, and people never paid much attention to it before. Now we have visitors coming in just to see it,” said Philip Roux, the cemetery’s superintendent.

The grant money should increase the amount of donor money coming into the cemetery. In 2006 the cemetery reported $13,069 in public contributions, according to federal tax records, and operated with a loss of more than $219,000.

With the grant money, the cemetery plans to repair the water tower’s crumbling mortar, replace the tank’s damaged boards and fix leaks. Donations and grants from families and cultural societies throughout the country pay the bulk of the cemetery’s expenses, Roux said.

The Bohemian National Cemetery was founded in 1877 by immigrants from the Eastern European regions of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia-areas, which make up the Czech Republic and Slovakia today. Monuments and war memorials are scattered throughout the cemetery, while lifelike statues of soldiers and sailors gaze out from the tops of tombstones. More than 116,000 people are buried at the site, according to the Chicago History Museum.

Though the Bohemian National Cemetery is not as large as Rosehill Cemetery and does not boast as many famous names as Graceland Cemetery,  the quality of its monuments and the historical significance of some of its graves still draw visitors. Its gatehouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, and the entire cemetery was added in 2006. It is only the third cemetery in Chicago to be granted landmark status, along with Graceland and Rose Hill. Of Cook County’s 210 cemeteries, 32 are within Chicago’s city limits.

“The cemetery is a great asset to this neighborhood. [Chicago Mayor] Anton Cermak is buried there. So is a former governor, Otto Kerner, and most of the people who drowned when the Eastland sank in the Chicago River. There’s a lot of history, and the people who come to see it deserve to see a restored water tower,” said Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th). “I hope that even if the cemetery doesn’t get any of the grant money, people will be inspired to make their own donations.”

Anna Schnedorf, a regular visitor to the cemetery and publicity chairman for Friends of Bohemian National Cemetery, agreed.

“This is where my family is buried. I’d love for the tower to be restored. People should be able to see it from the street and know that we’re proud of our cemetery and of our history,” Schnedorf said.

Northwest Side Public
albany park anton cermak bohemian national cemetery partners in preservation

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