Behind The Legends: Weird & Haunted Chicago

INEZ CLARKE
Legends & Lies in Chicago's Graceland Cemetery

 

A lot of us were taken in by it, weren't we?
I admit that I was. I wanted to believe in the story of Inez Clarke. It was a tale that tugged at the heartstrings, a story of a little girl lost and one that captured the eerie presence of Graceland Cemetery in a way that no other tale could. It was a story that was so chilling that it was almost too good to be true --- of course, that's because it was.

Was the tale that was created around the Inez Clarke monument simply a case of an urban legend gone berserk? A story of ghost enthusiasts wanting an account to be so desperately real that the truth was ignored? An example of outright fiction and deceit? You'll have to decide that for yourself

For more than a decade, tales have surfaced that claim people have been encountering a little girl in Graceland Cemetery. Were these real accounts or fictional embellishments? Was it merely a case of wishful thinking on the part of those who swore they saw her? Perhaps, for there is one thing we can be sure of, they were not seeing the ghost of Inez Clarke --- because Inez Clarke never existed at all!

Graceland Cemetery, on Chicago's north side, came about thanks to the closure of the old Chicago City Cemetery around 1870. This earlier burial ground was removed after fears of epidemics and water contamination convinced city leaders that it should be closed down. The City Cemetery was located close to downtown (in fact, exactly where Lincoln Park rests today) and impeded Chicago's growth. The remains buried here were slowly removed from the burial ground and new cemeteries were established to the north of the city. They included Rosehill Cemetery and Graceland.

Graceland was started in 1860, just one year after Chicago officials announced the closure of the City Cemetery. It was created by real estate developer Thomas B. Bryan and it was located far away from the city proper along North Clark Street. Over the years, a number of different architects have worked to preserve the natural setting of its 120 acres. Two of the men largely responsible for the beauty of the place were architect William Le Baron Jenney and another architect named Ossian Cole Simonds, who became so fascinated with the site that he ended up turning his entire business to landscape design. In addition to the natural setting, the cemetery boasts a number of wonderful monuments and buildings, including the cemetery chapel, which holds city’s oldest crematorium, built in 1893.

There are a number of Chicago notables buried in Graceland, including John Kinzie, Marshall Field, Phillip Armour, George Pullman, Potter Palmer, Allan Pinkerton, Vincent Starrett, writer and creator of the "Baker Street Irregulars", architect Louis Sullivan and many others.

Graceland is home to several different tales of the supernatural, including the ominous "haunted" monument that graces the final resting place of former hotel owner and businessman Dexter Graves. Created by Lorado Taft, the artist christened the design "Eternal Silence" but the brooding and menacing figure has become more commonly known as the "Statue of Death". The figure was once black in color but over the years, the black has mostly worn away, exposing the green, weathered metal beneath. Only one portion of it remains darkened and that is the face, which is hidden in the deepest folds of the figure’s robe. It gives the impression that the menacing face is hidden in shadow and the look of the image has given birth to several legends. It is said that anyone who looks into the face of the statue will get a glimpse of his or her own death to come. In addition, it is said that the statue is impossible to photograph and that no camera will function in its presence. Needless to say though, scores of photos exist of the figure so most people scoff at the threats of doom and death that have long been associated with "Eternal Silence".

But without a doubt, the most famous sculpture of Graceland Cemetery is that of Inez Clarke.

According to local legend, Inez died in 1880 at the tender age of only six. Tradition has it that she was killed during a lightning storm while on a family picnic. Her parents, stunned by the tragic loss, commissioned a life-size statue of the girl to be placed on her grave. It was completed a year later, and like many Chicago area grave sculptures, was placed in a glass box to protect it from the elements. The image remains in nearly perfect condition today. Even in death, Inez still manages to charm cemetery visitors, who discover the little girl perched on a small stool. The likeness was cast so that Inez is seen wearing her favorite dress and carrying a tiny parasol. The perfectly formed face was created with just the hint of a smile. It is not uncommon to come to the cemetery and find gifts of flowers and toys at the foot of her grave. The site has become one of the most popular places in the cemetery, for graveyard buffs and curiosity seekers alike.


Lorado Taft's "Eternal Silence". Impossible to photograph? Apparently not!

The stories say that the area around Inez Clarke's resting place is haunted. Not only are their stories of strange sounds heard nearby, but some claim the statue of Inez actually moves under its own power. The most disconcerting stories may be those of the disembodied weeping that is heard nearby but the most famous tales are those of the statue itself. It is said that Inez will sometimes vanish from inside of the glass box. This is said to take place during violent thunderstorms. Many years ago, a night watchman for the Pinkerton agency allegedly stated that he was making his rounds one night during a storm and discovered that the box that holds Inez was empty. He left the cemetery that night, never to return. Other guards have also reported it missing, only to find it back in place when they pass by again, or the following morning.

There are other tales that claim visitors to Graceland spot a little girl playing in the cemetery. In other cases, children who accompany their parents to the burial ground have stated that they have met a little girl wearing old-fashioned clothes playing near the monument.

Of course, there is only one problem with these stories and accounts --- no one named Inez Clarke is even buried in Graceland Cemetery! According to cemetery expert Al Walavich (as reported in the Chicago Sun-Times), there might have never been an Inez Clarke at all! One thing that he can state for sure: "Based on cemetery records there's no such person buried in that grave". He has also looked up U.S. Census records from the time and has found no indication that the child even existed.

Walavich also found a letter dated in 1910 from the woman who was supposed to have been Inez's mother that stated that the Clarkes had two daughters, both of whom were still living at the time. Perhaps the most damning bit of evidence against the existence of Inez Clarke is correspondence between the family and the cemetery, where the Clarkes were asked about the statue and the grave. They had no idea who Inez might be but noted that "it was a lovely statue". Cemetery records show that an 8 year-old boy named Amos Briggs is buried at the site marked by the eerie monument.

So, why would the statue be placed at Graceland? Walavich believes that it may have served as an advertisement for a Scottish monument maker named Andrew Gage, who completed the statue in 1881. It may have been placed in a section of the cemetery that was particularly active at the time and was simply never removed. Of course, creating a legend.

Did someone purposely create the legend to fool legions of gullible Chicagoans? Despite what some might believe (including cemeteries with strict no-ghosts policies), probably not. The stories about the Inez Clarke statue have been around for quite a few years, although have gained popularity in more recent times. I confess that I was fooled by the tales that had been recounted and many other writers have been, as well. Perhaps we all wished a little too hard for this particular Chicago ghost story to be true!

 

Troy Taylor / October 2007