6-feet-under sightseeing

By Kaylee King

The Chicago Architectural Foundation has added a ghostly twist to its roster for the fall.

The Graceland Cemetery Women of Influence tour, which began on Sept. 6, takes visitors to more than 20 different gravesites of women who have made a difference in the city’s history over the length of a two-hour walking tour of Graceland Cemetery, 4001 N. Clark St. Four more tours are slated for this year, and the tour will begin running regularly in April 2009.

“Most of the tours in that era were primarily of businessmen,” said Diane Lanigan of Graceland Cemetery. “This tour highlights women in Chicago’s history.”

Some of the women on the tour include Louise de Koven Bowen, who helped create the Jane Addams Hull House; Ruth Page, a ballerina and choreographer; Lucy Fitch Perkins, a renowned children’s book author; Frances Glessner Lee, who changed crime scene investigation; and Edith Farnsworth, a famous Chicago physician. The women are from all walks of life-some of them were married and some of them made their own way in the world.

“Women were very influential in solving some of the problems of urbanism, creating orphanages, sanitation solutions, addressing workers rights issues and promoting the arts in the late 1800s and early 1900s,” said Jason Neises, director of tours at the Chicago Architectural Foundation.

This isn’t the first tour CAF has facilitated in the cemetery. The Graceland Cemetery and “Graceland: A Second Look” tours take visitors through different parts of the cemetery that showcase the memorable Victorian style, architecture and sculpture throughout the burial grounds.

“It’s a little creepy,” said Susan Braze, a senior theater major at Columbia. “It’s not like you’re in a museum looking at paintings and writings, you’re just looking at dirt and tombstones.”

The tour was created when some of the 450 volunteer docents at CAF came forward and expressed interest in having a tour of this kind.

Two specific docents, Laurie Russell and Mary Jo Hoag, spearheaded the conception of the tour and wrote up the details. They then presented the tour idea to a committee of docents and CAF officials. After the tour was approved, the two appointed 10 volunteers to guide the tours.

“Underserved minorities, women, African Americans and [Jews] often get overlooked and the volunteers wanted to highlight women’s attributions,” Neises said.

The walking tour has its business benefits for the cemetery, as well.

“People often don’t know that there are still burials in Graceland, but there are,” Lanigan said.

Lanigan also helped in picking the women who are on the tour. She suggested a few who some of the volunteers didn’t even know were buried there. Some of the burial sites were highly trafficked, but some of them were not visited regularly, she said.

“Some of the more well-known in history, such as Bertha Palmer, were visited often, but many of them were not,” Lanigan said.

Neises said the aim for this tour is to educate people about Chicago’s architecture as well.

“Our mission is to help educate people about Chicago’s built environment,” Neises said. “Tours like this are one of our primary methods [of] teaching this mission.”

Catch the Women of Influence tour at Graceland Cemetery on Sept. 13, Oct. 25 and Nov. 1. All tours begin at 10 a.m. For more information, visit Architecture.org.