Oak Woods Cemetery, Chicago
About Oak Woods Cemetery, Chicago
Oak Woods Cemetery was chartered on February 12, 1853. It was designed by landscape architect Adolph Strauch who created a ‘landscape-lawn cemetery’ on the 183 acres emphasizing grade changes with curving streets and well-planned drainage creating a uniform composition that was free of fences.
The first burials took place in 1860. After the Civil War (1861–1865), several thousand Confederate soldiers, prisoners who died at Camp Douglas, were reburied here. According to a plaque on the site, soldiers were buried in “concentric trenches.” A monument and marker, which former Kentucky Lieutenant Governor John C. Underwood helped construct, probably inflates the number of soldiers buried as 6,000 but lists the names of more than 4,000. Another smaller memorial commemorates the Union soldiers who died at Camp Douglas, often from contagious diseases. The bodies from Camp Douglas had originally been buried at Camp Douglas and the City Cemetery, which was closed and removed during the expansion of Lincoln Park and urban renewal following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. They were exhumed and reinterred together in a mass grave, which came to be known as Confederate Mound, reputedly the largest mass grave in the Western Hemisphere. In response to the establishment of the Confederate memorial, in 1896, Thomas D. Lowther, a pre-war resident of the South, erected near it an abolitionist monument. The abolition monument is a large black marble cenotaph to pre-war southerners, “unknown heroic men”, “martyrs” who had opposed slavery and disunion. Near the beginning of the war, Lowther had been forced to flee his home in Florida because of his anti-slavery and pro-Union stance. The Confederate memorial is No. 6 on the Make It Right Project’s 2018 list of the 10 Confederate monuments it most wants to be removed.
The cemetery contains the graves of many prominent African Americans, including Chicago’s first African-American mayor, Harold Washington. Journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells, Olympic sports hero Jesse Owens, and gospel music pioneer Thomas A. Dorsey are buried in the cemetery.
The cemetery is also the final resting place of 45 victims of the Iroquois Theatre fire, in which more than 600 people died.
Famous nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi has his final resting place here. The cemetery also has a section for U.S. veterans of several wars and a separately-maintained Jewish section.