Book on cemeteries captures final resting places of Cubs fans, moguls, mobsters
In an old Chicago cemetery, Larry Broutman stumbled upon the Raithel family plot and a lasting reminder of a sister's grief.
Marie Raithel commissioned a sculpture to mark the death of her older sister, Margaret, in 1906. As Broutman tells the story behind the hand-carved monument in his new photography book, "Chicago Eternal," you understand why he has come to view cemeteries not with a morbid fascination but as beautiful "sleeping cities."
Broutman would learn that the Raithel sisters had only each other. Their parents and two siblings had died. They never married and lived together.
Most of the other graves at Wunder's Cemetery are modest, Broutman writes, but Marie Raithel's memorial to her sister and their mutual devotion is the outlier. It bears a German inscription, translating into "faithful until death."
"I was so overwhelmed by the touching aspect that the sculptor was able to create of two women embracing one another," Broutman said. "Oh, God, it's just when you're there, when you think of the story, I was overcome by it."
Broutman pulled the story out of obscurity through his book, the product of five years of photographing cemeteries in Chicago and suburbs that include Des Plaines, Niles and Hillside. His images capture grave sites that are lavish and unassuming, profound and personal.
"It is a book of cemetery photographs, but I really like to think of it as stories of individuals or families that happened to have lived most of their lives in Chicago and have interesting stories to tell, and I'm trying to tell them," Broutman said.
He meticulously researched the stories for his 330-page, 5-pound book. "Chicago Eternal" isn't just a collection of stunning images - Broutman picked up photography only in retirement, by the way - but a history of the region and 300 of its deceased.
Featured are the final resting places of figures synonymous with Chicago - Capone, Field, Daley and even Harry Caray. But Broutman pays equal attention to folks who lived and died out of the public eye.
'Cubs Fans Forever'
Perhaps not surprisingly, Broutman, a Chicago resident, features two memorials that focus on the city's loyal baseball fans.
In one, Cubs fans are depicted leaving green apples at Harry Caray's headstone at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines during the 2016 World Series. Fans made the pilgrimage in tribute to the legendary broadcaster's declaration:
"Sure as God made green apples, someday, the Chicago Cubs are going to be in the World Series."
Dennis Mascari wanted to show his loyalty to the team even after death with a columbarium built to look like a replica of an outfield wall at Wrigley Field.
"He went to a lot of trouble to have that wall built and get the chairs from Wrigley Field and put them in front of it. Really created quite an exhibit there, so to speak," Broutman said.
Mascari's remains have been kept inside the ivy-covered brick structure at Chicago's Bohemian National Cemetery since 2011. The faithful also can have their ashes stored in the structure with a stained-glass scoreboard that reads, "Cubs Fans Forever Beyond the Vines."
Broutman said the book reflects what he suspects are shifting attitudes toward memorializing the dead. In the 1800s through the turn of the century, the elite displayed family wealth and power through monuments and mausoleums that can't be replicated.
At Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, for example, Marshall Field and the descendants of the department store founder are buried by a seated figure that bears a strong resemblance to another work of sculptor Daniel Chester French: the statue of a seated President Abraham Lincoln in Washington.
"Monuments designating a loved one tend to now be done - and it may be just due to lack of space or cost, or maybe again some cultural difference, I'm not sure which - monuments tend to be simple gravestones or family headstones without much verbal wordage on them other than the family name," he said.
'I couldn't believe it'
Photographing 31 cemeteries for the book, Broutman was struck by some of the ironies.
Bobby Franks, his parents and the families of his killers are interred at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago. Newspapers called the teen's gruesome slaying in the 1920s by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two University of Chicago students, the "Crime of the Century."
Their families are buried in a "physical proximity that mirrors the entanglement of their fate," Broutman writes.
"I just stumbled across that," he said. "I couldn't believe it when I found that."
In another twist of fate, Al Capone's remains were relocated from Mt. Olivet Cemetery because of vandalism and buried in concrete at Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, several hundred feet from rival gangsters.
"Chicago Eternal" is the third book Broutman has published of his photography, and two more are in the works. He donates all of the proceeds from book sales to Access Living, a disability rights group, and The Chicago Lighthouse, a social service organization for people who are blind or visually impaired (Broutman is a board member).
He developed the passion relatively late in life, initially focusing on wildlife and landscape photography while traveling with his wife, Susanne, after he retired as an engineer and professor. But he now concentrates on Chicago scenes and public art.
"Even though I'm a Chicagoan, born in Chicago, I, probably like a very large percentage of Chicagoans, somehow never take the time to really absorb what's around us," he said. "We walk by statutes and monuments without thinking much about them, and so I began to really notice what was around me."
He treats his work with sensitivity and respect, backing off if he sees mourners.
"I never attempted to clean a gravestone," he said. "I didn't want to disturb it. I did my best to walk around the grave."
How did he deal with an emotionally draining subject? Not easily, he concedes.
"Going to other cemeteries, I think I have an empathetic or sympathetic feeling. I know what it's like to lose someone close to you," said Broutman, whose first wife died after a five-year struggle with breast cancer. "I know what that grief is like. I think somehow it's helped my choose what I'm photographing."
What: An appearance by Larry Broutman to discuss his new book, “Chicago Eternal”
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 11
Where: Wesley Place, 1415 W. Foster Ave., Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood