Friday, August 3, 2012

Cemeteries Worth the Visit - Waldheim Jewish Cemetery, Chicago

Map of Cemeteries
Waldheim Jewish Cemetery

Waldheim Jewish Cemetery began in 1870 in Forest Park, Illinois, a Chicago suburb.  The cemetery is actually made up of over 250 different cemeteries representing various synagogues, associations, and landsmanshafts. 

Photo on Stone

Establishing a cemetery is one of the first priorities of a new Jewish community. The first burial in Waldheim was held in 1873.  Jewish faith dictates for burial to be held within the first 24 hours of death.  Funerals are prohibited on the Sabbath (Saturday) and Jewish holidays.  Tradition calls for a wooden casket without metal parts to allow the natural processes of nature.

Waldheim Cemetery
Photos on Stones
Waldheim Cemetery is the largest Jewish burying ground in Chicago, comprised of over 200 acres. Over 175,000 are interred in these densely designed, but beautiful grounds.  At one time, gates and fences divided each cemetery from its neighbor, and each of the 250 cemeteries had its own rules, regulations, and caretakers. 

A Walkway through the Cemetery
Stones Among the Trees
By the 1970’s, the few remaining founding organizations and caretakers were consolidated into the Waldheim Cemetery Company.  The various cemeteries were renovated and returned to a dignified traditional Jewish cemetery. Waldheim is one of the oldest and largest, still active Jewish cemeteries in the country.

Hebrew and English
Deer in the Cemetery
Today, over 100 gates still stand.  Narrow walks may divide the cemeteries, but few fences remain.  Tombstones usually have an inscription in Hebrew and English, or Hebrew and German. Wild life can be found near the forest preserve and the Des Plaines River.

Stones with Photos
Covered Photo
Hundreds of cemetery stones bear photos of a past age, immigrants new to the country, but very traditional in their dress and customs. Many photos are protected with a bronze hinged covering.  The cover may be lifted to view the photo. 

Detailed Tree Stone
Catalog Tree Stone
Tree stones abound in Waldheim.  Many are hand carved with exquisite details.  Some are catalog-ordered in granite or limestone.  All are beautiful and intriguing.

Glasser Mausoleum
Schwenk Mausoleum
There are also many mausoleums.  According to Jewish law, you must be buried in the earth. In order to comply when burial is in a mausoleum, the deceased may be buried in the ground and the mausoleum built above, or earth may be placed in the wooden coffin.  Many times, cemeteries require concrete vaults.  For this, earth is put in the liner and then the casket is placed on it.

Balaban-Katz Mausoleum
Stained Glass Window
This mausoleum is the largest private crypt in the cemetery.  Built with an Egyptian-influence, it is dedicated to the memory of Ida Balaban-Katz.  The stained glass mausoleum windows throughout the cemetery are gorgeous.

Peller's Grave
Clara Peller
A couple of well-known people are buried in Waldheim.  Clara Peller, who became famous for her line “Where’s the beef?” in commercials for Wendy’s fast-food restaurants is interred here.  Peller was 81 when she did the ads.  She died August 11, 1987, one week after her 85th birthday.

Mike Todd & Elizabeth Taylor
Todd's Grave
Avrom Hirsch Goldbogen, who took the name Michael Todd, was a theatre and film producer known for his motion picture, Around the World in Eighty Days.  He also co-developed a wide-screen film format called Todd-AO (with American Optical) that was used for Oklahoma, Around the World in Eighty Days, South Pacific and many other films shot during the 1960’s.  Todd was married to Elizabeth Taylor on February 2, 1957.  He died in a plane crash on March 22, 1958 and was buried here.

A Stained Glass Window
Waldheim Cemetery
Waldheim Jewish Cemetery is located at 1400 Des Plaines Avenue in Forest Park.  The cemetery is open Monday through Friday, and Sunday from 8:30 A.M. to 4 P.M. The cemetery is closed on Saturday for Shabbat and also on all major Jewish holidays.  The phone number is (800) 222-4541.  Visit their web site at for directions and genealogical information.

Photo and Hebrew on Stone
Many Different Stones
If you are a cemetery buff, this is one you will not want to miss!  Plan at least half a day, if not more. Once you begin wandering among the stones, gazing at photos and carvings, you’ll forget the busy city outside the gates…lost in time and nature.

~ Joy


  1. Thank you for your description and beautiful photos of this piece of Jewish American history. I have relatives buried in the Roumanian First Congregation area of the cemetery. Apparently there was quite a large Roumanian Jewish community in Chicago, arriving in the late 1800s.

    1. You are welcome, Sharon. This is such a peaceful place, but is amazingly still located in the city. Very beautiful and reverent ...