Chicago Schoolhouse is being Built on Site of Estimated 38,000 Unmarked Graves

“Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead, and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals.” – William Gladstone

A $70 million school is to be built on the grounds of a former Cook County Poor House where an estimated 38,000 people were buried in unmarked graves. Among the dead are residents who were too poor to afford funeral costs, unclaimed bodies and patients from the county’s insane asylum. Children, patients from an infirmary and a tuberculosis hospital, victims of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and Civil War veterans were laid to rest in what is known as the Dunning grounds, a 320-acre stretch on the city’s Northwest Side.

“I’m sure they’re gonna be on top of some graves, but this is progress,” Chicago Alderman Nicholas Sposato said. “It’s an economic boom for the community.”

You can read the details in an article by Nereida Moreno in the Chicago Tribune at:

My thanks to newsletter reader Barry Fleig for telling me this sad news.


Hart Island, located in Long Island Sound has a very active Potters Field, see:,_Bronx


Personally, having walked many graves in the U.S. and abroad, I find this appalling. I’ve personally sent a message to the Alderman expressing my feelings.


A novel and movie waiting to happen


This is sad and disgusting. Is this what some of us can expect years from now, all in the name of progress?


    Yes Marna, that’s likely what we can expect, thanks to the corporatization of our local, state, and federal governments; their only concern is profits, return on investment. If the dead there were buried late enough in the 20th century after embalming laws (which add to the cost of funerals) went into effect, they may get their revenge. Formalin (formaldehyde = a carcinogen) will be released into the soil and seep down into the water table. Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.
    If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.
    ― Sun Tzu


    It doesn’t have to be this way. When Lake Sonoma was formed as a reservoir (I think in the 1970s), there were several small cemeteries on the old farms which would be inundated. The Army Corps of Engineers, which was building the dam to create Lake Sonoma, moved all the bodies and their stones and re-interred them in the Geyserville Hill Cemetery, a few miles away. One of those farms involved my 3xgreat-grandparents, and all 14 graves were moved.


After reading the entire newspaper article it was sad to hear the callous remark from Alderman Sposato. There are however many people that are trying to recover, catalog and remove the remains for proper burials in other cemeteries and have been doing so for many years.


In the 1960’s, the church where my Revolutionary War Patriot was buried decided to build an educational wing where the old cemetery was. They got a permit to “remove” the cemetery, but they also got rid of all but 9 of the stones, claiming they were unreadable. My patriot had a government issued military marker on his grave, put there in the 1930’s. I guarantee you it wasn’t unreadable in the 1960’s!!! It’s missing and no one can tell me where it (along with all the other stones) went.


    Barbara Curtindale April 11, 2018 at 10:24 am

    The persons responsible and others that may know, don’t want to admit to their ignorance or caring of graveyards inhabitants and monuments, only of what profits can be gained by changing the area. May the dead all rest in continued peace.


My great-grandmother was at Dunning for over 26 years until her death. It was a horrible place. She (and thousands of other women) were forcibly committed and subjected to outright torture, in my opinion, for illnesses that are easily treatable today. That area should be turned into a park to reflect upon the horrors that occurred there, not scrape the topsoil off and build a school. What is even more upsetting is they’ll name the school after the very people they’re building upon!


I believe this is what was once called “Dunning.” It had several facilities there many years ago. What was then called an “insane asylum,” poor house, Potter’s field, an orphanage, etc. It is on the northwest part of Chicago. When under Mayor Dailey, 2 O’Hare airport was expanded they move two very old cemeteries. In Chicago it is all for the establishment Mayor, Aldermen, etc.


David Paul Davenport April 11, 2018 at 12:20 pm

Why is Chicago building another school? They are laying off teachers by the hundreds and schools are being closed because the school district has declining attendance due to declining population in Chicago and the increasing popularity of charter schools. Is the leadership of Chicago really so stupid they are throwing away money on unneeded schools? This is almost as bad as California’s High Speed Rail – a project that generates employment and is unneeded. (PS: it goes without saying that building on a graveyard is very likely to offend the spirits as in that 1970s movie Poltergeist.


It’s too bad they don’t have an employee like the Archivist at the Boulder Cemetery in Boulder, Colorado, who is seeking to find descendants of the many people buried in their Potter’s Field. I encountered her on, about 3 or 4 years ago, when she was making corrections to a census entry for my grandfather’s family. She was able to provide information including a newspaper article telling of the death of my great-grandfather, who had disappeared while traveling by stagecoach from Wyoming to California in 1895. It turns out that he had a heart attack and was taken from the stage in a little town called Langford, where he died, and was buried in the nearest cemetery, which was in Boulder. The family didn’t know what had happened, so there was no one to claim the body. It was the solution to a family mystery of over a century. What remains as conjecture, is what happened to his baggage? Why did he have no ID on him except that he was from Hollister, CA? And since he had money, what happened to that and why was he on the stage instead of travelling on the railroad.


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