Couch Mausoleum

W LaSalle Dr & N Clark St Chicago

Amy Bizzarri
Written By Amy Bizzarri

Strolling through lovely Lincoln Park with its flowers, verdant fields, ponds, and pathways, it's almost impossible to believe that there are thousands of people buried beneath your feet. Yet the southern edge of this lakefront park once served at the city cemetery. During the 1800s, Chicago buried its dead at the many religious graveyards and family-owned gravesites here, while the Potter's Field, located where the park's baseball diamond is today, welcomed indigent souls. It wasn't until 1864, after a doctor declared that it was unsafe to bury the dead so close to the lake, where bodily fluids and bacteria could so easily ooze into from the graves below the water table, that city officials decided to relocate the bodies and turn this tranquil tracts of land into a park. Workers transferred the deceased to other city cemeteries until the Chicago fire destroyed most of the markers, making it impossible to identify the location of the thousands of corpses that still remain. Only one tomb survived the fire, the limestone Couch Memorial crypt, located at the south end of Lincoln Park, near the Chicago History Museum. Ira Couch arrived in Chicago from New York in 1836. A tailor by trade, his first successful business was a furniture and supply store on Lake Street. Wise land and real estate acquisitions made him an early Chicago millionaire. He died in 1857, while wintering in Cuba and his body was shipped back to Chicago. He was entombed in this large, iron-fenced mausoleum, only his last name carved in stone over the vault's entrance. Other family members were likely later interred in this the family tomb, but no one knows exactly who rests eternally beside Ira. Some say that the Couch family fought removal of the mausoleum all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court but it's probable that the lone tomb still stands in Lincoln Park today because it was far too costly to remove the great stones since they are fastened together with copper rivets, rendering dismantling both next to impossible and costly. In 1998, workers digging the site for the adjacent Chicago History Museum's parking garage in Lincoln Park (1731 N. Clark) discovered the remains of more than eighty people, including one perfectly preserved in a sealed, 19th-century iron coffin. Ira Couch may or may not rest alone in his iron-gated tomb, but certainly, many of his unmoved contemporaries still lie buried near him in the surrounding park.

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