Graceland – An Unlikely Refuge

No, not in Memphis where Elvis lived and is buried, but just north of Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. Graceland Cemetery has provided peace and quiet for notable Chicagoans since 1860 when it was chartered as a certified arboretum. The ornate tombstones and mausoleums are a veritable Who’s Who of Chicago aristocracy, politicians, architects, titans of industry, and even a championship boxer from the early 20th century, Jack Johnson. Ernie Banks, the iconic Mr. Cub was buried in 2015, less than a mile from the baseball field where he played in scores of games — just shy of seeing them finally win the 2016 World Series.

Today Graceland continues to provide an idyllic setting. The green and hilly landscape, designed long ago to create a park-like sanctuary with prized trees, birds, and wildlife for the deceased, is a popular refuge for locals and tourists. Perhaps, it’s needed now more than ever.

I found it bike riding during pandemic quarantine after the mayor shut down the lakefront trail. I was tired of looping the parking lot at Lincoln Park Zoo. Even though I thought I learned where all the potholes are, I still popped two spokes to the tune of $50 bucks. So I took off north and west through the neighborhood to change gears. By chance, I discovered I could ride in Graceland Cemetery.

It’s been a little crazy the last couple of weeks to say the least. Graceland has become my refuge. There is no social unrest amongst the long-passed inside its concrete and brick walls. I’m not too worried about the pandemic because it’s not crowded and everyone naturally social distances, including its residents if six feet below counts as six feet apart.

I see a lot of individuals, couples, families with kids, and people from all walks of life taking self-guided tours with the informative brochure, walking, running, biking, playing, or sitting by the pond and taking a break. I think we’re all looking for the same thing right now — to resume our “normal” life activities. Isn’t it ironic we find that in a cemetery in the middle of a densely populated part of the city?

I certainly hope things normalize as we head into summer: restaurants and the lakefront will re-open, professional sports can be played, maybe 4th of July fireworks, and kids will actually return to classrooms. I decided I will continue to ride through Graceland when I can. I’m grateful for this refuge and will say a prayer — for those who are eternally enjoying their peace and quiet — and for all of us during these uncertain times.

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