Chicago Lutheran History- Wunder’s Cemetery, Concordia Cemetery, and Bethania Cemetery

In 1896, the German Lutheran churches of Chicago published Geschichte der Gründung und Ausbreitung der zur Synode von Missouri, Ohio und Andern Staaten gehörenden Evangelisch-Lutherischen Gemeinden U. A. C. zu Chicago, Illinois, a history of their growth in the city beginning with First St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, now located on LaSalle and Goethe streets in Chicago. As far as I know, there is no English translation of this document, so I offer this translation to share this history with you. Follow me to get updates about the rest of this work.

A rural church cemetery from Sweden

The small country church is a nostalgic part of American lore. You can find them in most rural Midwest farming communities. It’s the white church planted in what seems like an endless cornfield. There are almost no houses and certainly no town in sight. They are remnants of an era when the small family farm was the primary unit of agriculture, and immigrants who founded these small communities came from all over the countryside to worship on Sunday morning.

Many of these small churches founded cemeteries in the churchyard. It’s a beautiful reminder that the congregation of faithful Christians is not just those who can walk and talk but also those who lie in their graves. When Christians gather in worship, they gather with the whole heavenly host.

The price of land and speed of settlement meant that congregations had to buy land for a cemetery at the edges of the city where large portions of land were still available. At the time of publication, Chicago Lutheran churches had banded together to purchase three different plots of land for cemeteries: Wunder’s Cemetery, Concordia Cemetery, and Bethania Cemetery. Wunder’s Cemetery is just south of Graceland Cemetery. Concordia is in the western suburbs near Forest Park, IL. Bethenia is near Summit, IL in the southwest suburbs.

Short History of the Cemeteries of the German Lutheran Congregations of Chicago

Wunder’s Cemetery

The oldest Lutheran graveyard in the whole city, which lies at North Clark Street and Graceland Ave, is known by the above name. In the year 1860, 36 years ago, when only two Lutheran congregations existed, St. Paul and Immanuel congregations, 4 ½ acres of land were bought by these two congregations at the previously named streets, to create a common Lutheran graveyard on it. On the second day of Pentecost 1860, this cemetery, which lay far north of the city limits at that time and to which only a difficult to travel sand road led, was ceremonially dedicated by Pastor J. A. F. W. Müller’s sermon.

Photograph of Wunder’s Cemetery and Graceland Cemetery by Marco Verch, used under creative commons 2.0

A few years later, when the city cemetery was abolished to create Lincoln Park, the mortal remains of many Lutherans which had been buried there were exhumed and were brought to the new graveyard. Already in the year 1865, the quiet necropolis had become too small, and the congregations were forced to enlarge it. They bought 10 adjacent acres of land at the east end for the sum of $5,500. Part of this newly purchased land was immediately useful for burials. The remaining part had to be prepared at great cost. They did this using sand which was brought from the lake shore.

Half of the cemetery, which now was 14 ½ acres, was designed for family burials. The other half was set aside for individual graves. In a few years, all cemetery plots were again purchased. But now the graveyard could not be enlarged again by purchasing new land, since the town authority did not permit an expansion.

Photograph of Wunder’s Cemetery by BluEyedA74. Used under Creative Commons.

Great is the community of Christians asleep in the Lord who slumber in this cemetery to the day of the resurrection. At this time, the bones of some 10,000 adults have been laid to rest in addition to 15,000 children. Many of the old settlers and the first members of the Lutheran Churches are buried there.

The following men are presently directors of the cemetery: From St. Paul Congregation, Martin Becker, F. W. Puscheck, and H. Bormann. From Immanuel Congregation: T. C. Diener, J. Niemann, and A. Ganske.

Concordia Cemetery

Since Wunder’s Cemetery could not be expanded, the Lutheran Congregations had to think about founding a new graveyard in another area. So, seven Lutheran congregations in Chicago founded Concordia Cemetery Association. It was St. Paul, Immanuel, St. James, Bethlehem, St. John, St. Matthew, and Trinity Congregations. A few months before the great fire in Chicago, the association bought 50 acres of land on Madison Street near the Desplaines River, for which they had to pay $850 per acre, and lay out a part as a cemetery. In June of 1872, the new graveyard was consecrated, and the first body was buried there on June 7th.

25 years have passed since then. The bones of 21,264 Lutheran Christians have been sown in this great field of the dead. The association has had to purchase more land several times, so the cemetery is now 100 acres. Many years ago, a splendid gate, which with the new funeral home cost $15,000, was erected to the great beautification of the cemetery.

The current officers of Concordia Cemetery are: H. W. Meyer, President and Treasurer; Pastor W. Bartling, Secretary. Directors: Christian Grawe, Anton Stolte, C. Hitzemann, John Buß, F. Seefurth, C. Sylvester, J. H. W. Möller, and H. W. Meyer. Executive committee: H. Biermann, H. Mesenbrnk, and J. Ch. Schwartz.

Bethania Cemetery

The newly founded congregations on the south side are 15 or 20 miles from Concordia Cemetery. That is why the proposal, which one of these congregations made, to start a Lutheran cemetery on the south side found agreement with a number of neighboring congregations. In April of 1894, the Bethania Cemetery Association organized itself, to which the following seven Chicago congregations belong: Cross, St. Andrew, St. Martini, St. Stephen, Bethlehem on 103rd St., St. Paul on 76th Street, and St. Mark.

Photograph of Bethania Cemetery by John. Used under Creative Commons.

In the same month, the association bought under favorable terms 114 acres of land for $200 an acre for the creation of a cemetery on Archer Road and 70th street near Summit, IL. Only 5 acres are planned as a cemetery for now. The remaining land has been rented.

Photograph of Bethania Cemetery by Missy. Used under Creative Commons.

On the 15th of July 1894, the new cemetery could already be consecrated, at which Pastor W. Kohn preached. The first funeral took place on the 22nd of July, 1894. Since then, 210 persons have already found their final resting place, and 237 family gravesites have been purchased.

The current officers of the association are: D. F. Cohrs, President; Berhard Hoppe, Vice President; H. Streu, Treasurer; D. F. Cohrs, J. Lens, B. Hoppe, L. Mauch, A. Schmidt, H. Streu, H. Ziemann. The administrative board are: C. F. Claussen, A. Wettstädt and Bartels.



A pastor, writer, historian, and photographer who lives in San Diego County, CA.

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