Saturday, May 16, 2009

Jewish Heritage in Chicago - trip to Waldheim Cemetery

Whirlwind Genealogy Month
This has been one of those months where the pieces of the puzzle all fall in to place.
After sending an email to a listing on a Gen site, I received an email back. After numerous data comparison and comparisons of similar family stories, we were inclined to think we might be working on the same family.

With a combination of online and Family History Center searches, we were able to pull together and locate death and other records. I was able to after 20 years add maiden names and fathers names, along with birth locations to 3 lines.

This prompted a trip to the maze like Jewish Waldheim cemetery in Forest Park. Even armed with Gates Numbers, Lot numbers and burial plots we were only able to locate half of those on our list

This was my first visit to Waldheim, and I was very glad to have with me someone familiar with the cemetery, one could wander for hours lost between one section and another!

For much of its history, Forest Park was known as a "city of cemeteries," with more dead "residents" than living ones; some figures estimate the ratio at 30:1, dead to alive. Forest Park cemeteries include: Altenheim, German Waldheim (now merged into Forest Home), Jewish Waldheim, Woodlawn (including Showmen's Rest), and Concordia. Forest Home cemetery is home to the famous Haymarket Riot monument. <,_Illinois >

Meandering along the cemetery is the Des Plaines River Jewish Waldheim encompasses 200 some acres and 175,000 burials dating from the 1860’s . Waldheim is composed of general sections and almost 250 cemetery sections representing family groups, synagogues, vereins, landsmanshaften, fraternal organizations, and Zionist organizations. Each cemetery has a different Gate and gate numbers have been assigned, Over the years as the various organizations became non- existent or Synagogues closed and consolidated, many of the individual Cemeteries were neglected, and the ornate original Gates fences and Signs with the individual name of the cemetery have been removed, fallen down or replaced with chain link fencing. A handful of management companies now manage all of the “Gates”. View a list of the various Cemeteries and management companies here.

Free Sons Cemetery, Gate No. 31. has a site with information and pictures of 109 of the cemeteries. <>

I was both inspired and saddened by this cemetery, Some of the most ornate and impressive tombstones and mausoleums I have seen are located here, so much history and information. However, so many headstones have been neglected, fallen over and in need of saving. Toppled and fallen stone lie there un-attended; stones that threaten to fall are marked with a sticker to contact the management. Trees have grown up in and fallen on graves. With the different cemeteries one can determine not only the basic information, but what organization they belonged too; or the Synagogue they attended, many have images of the deceased in frames that are falling apart, and left to be buried or lost.

I will be returning, the setting along the river is like wandering a park, this is a living museum of the Jewish in Chicago, I hope to locate the remaining family members and do what I can to save my little bit of history.

I have altered some of the Images and made composites to fit in one image:

Herschel Family Elias and Mathilda nee Grass Herschel.

Free Sons Cemetery Gate (no. 31) The Herschel’s are buried in Free Sons Cemetery Waldheim. Elias Was a Milliner, and owned a second hand Store on State Street in Chicago. Elias was Born in Gouda Zuid-Holland, Netherlands. Mathilda was born in Bayern, Germany.

Block Family Harry and Florence nee Herschel Block

On the reverse side of the Hershel stone is a Block Stone, Florence Herschel the daughter of Elias and Mathilda Married Harry Block.

Harry Block and his Brother William Block the Sons of Aron and Rebecca Wolf Block married sisters Florence and Frances Herschel. The Block Brothers staring as Tinners in Chicago built a Lamp buisness, brother Maurice joining them later. Eventually from beginning with the Chicago Lamp and Fixture Company, to also owning the Franklin Lamp Company, this became in the mid 1920's the Block Portelier company with Offices in Chicago and New York. William died in 1926 with Harry taking over. The company did not survive the depression.
I have yet to locate the graves for Aron, Rebecca, William or Frances. They are buried in Jewish Waldheim, Mishna Gemorra cemetery, which is Gate 11. The hunt will continue to locate this.

Unknown Grass Family

This is a set of Headstones for a Grass Family that is located near the Herschel graves, I have yet to connect them with Mathilda Grass, though the more unusual name Babette is one that has carried down the generations.


Grass Family: Husband and Father Henry, Mother Lena, Daughter's Alma and Martha, Son Irving, Mother Minnie