Kane County History: Elgin’s Bluff City Cemetery Memorializes City's Past

Kane County History: Elgin’s Bluff City Cemetery Memorializes City’s Past

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was contributed by Elizabeth Marston of the Elgin History Museum.

In 1889, Elgin opened its third cemetery along Bluff City Boulevard in the southeast section of town with rolling hills surrounded by a beautiful natural area. To date, 39,066 people are buried in the cemetery, many with artistic memorials symbolizing their life.

There are monuments that highlight a person’s hobby such as bowling or golf or a group affiliation:

Or a person’s furniture business:

There are monuments that symbolize a life cut short:

What can a cemetery teach us?

  • A person’s history.
  • A family’s history.
  • A community’s history.
  • Art and architecture.
  • Funerary customs and society’s customs at a time and place in history.
  • Symbolism.
  • Nature’s resources.

One of the museum’s roles is to remind the community of the people who came before us, and their contributions to the city’s development. On a local level, this type of remembrance happens at a cemetery or local monument, such as for military personnel at Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day.

This September, the Elgin History Museum offers three programs focused on memorializing citizens from Elgin’s past.

Silent City Memorial Dedication at Bluff City Cemetery

  • 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14
  • FREE event

When Bluff City Cemetery opened in 1889, many of the graves and monuments from Channing Street Cemetery moved to this location. When there were no family members to pay the cost of moving the graves, the remains stayed at Channing.

When they started to dig the foundation for Channing School in 1968, many remains surfaced during the digging and were brought to Bluff City for re-burial in a common grave.

Although the city of Elgin buried the remains, a memorial marker was never placed on the site.

Local Elgin historian Steve Stroud and author of the booklet, Silent City: A History of Elgin’s City Cemeteries, was working toward creating a marker before he died earlier this year. With the funds received in memory of Steve, his vision of a memorial headstone for those buried in the common grave will become a reality.

Join Elgin History Museum to dedicate a granite memorial marker in memory of the remains buried in the common grave area in Bluff City Cemetery. A tree and bench will also be dedicated in memory of the late Steve Stroud.

Illinois state Rep. Anna Moeller, Elgin Mayor David Kaptain and Elgin’s poet laureate, Chasity Gunn, will speak. Cake and coffee will be served.

32nd Annual Bluff City Cemetery Walk

  • 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22

  • Bluff City Cemetery, 945 Bluff City Boulevard, Elgin
  • $10 per person for Elgin History Museum members and Seniors 65+
  • $12 for non-members.
  • Kids 12 and under are FREE.
  • Purchase tickets online https://elginhistory.org/shop-category/event-tickets/
  • Tickets will be sold for $15 on the day of the event

At the Elgin History Museum’s 32nd Annual Cemetery Walk on Sunday, Sept. 22, a guide leads visitors on a 90-minute tour through the scenic Bluff City Cemetery. The tour takes visitors to the grave sites of five former residents, portrayed by actors in period costumes.

Artist Laura Bray

As a young Elgin artist, Ms. Bray designed an iconic World War I recruiting poster.

Businessman A.B. Church

Alfred Church House

One of the greatest personal benefactors Elgin ever knew, the Church family donated the first Elgin Public Library in honor of their famous stepfather, Gail Borden.

Entertainers Carl and Maude Parlasca


Mr. and Mrs. Parlasca spent their lives organizing the Hiawatha Pageant for the Elgin community for 50 summers, from 1929 to 1979.

Businessman Benjamin Pearsall

This intrepid entrepreneur made money making margarine in a butter town.

Artist Trygve Rovelstad

Another talented Elgin artist who designed the American Roll of Honour in London and many American war medals and other government medals. Trygve Rovelstad also created the Pioneer Memorial along the Elgin Riverwalk.

Other Fascinating People

Visitors will also learn about other fascinating people buried in the cemetery and various cemetery symbolism all while strolling the expansive cemetery grounds. Tours leave constantly starting at 11 a.m. with the last one leaving at 3 p.m. The walk is about three-quarters of a mile in total, and there will be chairs available at most stops.

The purpose of this event is to provide insight into Elgin’s unique history, enjoy the beauty of the Bluff City Cemetery grounds and educate people about the importance of preserving cemeteries. Volunteers at the Elgin History Museum organize this much anticipated event that attracts hundreds of people each year.

A bus tour is provided for guests with limited mobility. Please fill out a form online or call the museum at 847-742-4248 for more information. Bus tours will leave at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Please make your reservation by Sept. 21, 2019.

A tour presented in American Sign Language will leave the entry at 1 p.m. No special reservations are needed for this tour.

Bathroom facilities are available at the beginning and mid-way through the tour. Food trucks will be at the entrance to the cemetery. The tour goes on rain or shine.

Tickets can be purchased with credit card online at https://elginhistory.org/shop-category/event-tickets/

Tickets can be purchased with check or cash in-person at:

  • Elgin History Museum, 360 Park St., Elgin
  • ACE Hardware, 215 N. Spring and 1158 Lillian St., Elgin
  • Bluff City Cemetery Admin Office, 945 Bluff City Boulevard

Theater Production of Bluff City Cemetery Walk: Silent City Speaks

  • Iglesia Principe de Paz Church, 263 DuPage St., Elgin
  • Tickets sold at the door for $10 on the day of the event. Cash or charge.

If you cannot make the Cemetery Walk at Bluff City, the museum will be hosting the Elgin History Museum’s first indoor Bluff City Cemetery Walk titled Silent City Speaks at the recently renovated Iglesia Principe de Paz Church.

The same volunteer actors that portrayed characters in the Bluff City Cemetery Walk on Sept. 22 will bring the characters to life on the stage. Artist Laura Bray, businessman A.B. Church, entertainers Carl and Maude Parlasca, businessman Benjamin Pearsall, and artist Trygve Rovelstad will be featured.

Built in 1892, Iglesia Principe De Paz was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on Nov. 7, 1980. It was first reopened to the public this year in May for the Mayor’s Preservation month award ceremony.

The museum welcomes you to see the church, then sit back and relax and watch our volunteer actors portray some of Elgin’s past residents talk about their lives in Elgin.

About The Elgin History Museum

Visit the Elgin History Museum at 360 Park St. in Elgin. Step back into history as you enter Old Main, the stately Greek Revival school building opened in 1856.

Two floors of interactive exhibits help you time travel back to Elgin’s beginnings in 1835. Hear the tick of an Elgin Watch or the roar of the crowd at the Elgin Road Races.

Be sure to see the new exhibit, A  Fox River Testimony – Selected Works, an art exhibit by Joel Sheesley and the Conservation Foundation, opening on Friday, September 13, 2019 at 6:30. Open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Admission is free for members, $3 for guests, $1 for students and free to children.

Read The Kane County History Series!