Judy Miller

A Backward Glance

I recently had an e-mail from a gentleman who had recently read my Postcards from Pullman series. He asked if there was a fourth book in the series as he wanted to know if George Pullman had ever acknowledged the error of his ways before he died. I e-mailed back to tell him there wasn’t a fourth book, and then went on to add a bit about George Pullman’s death and burial, so I thought I’d share that with all of you, as well.
When I’m conducting research, I often visit cemeteries.  There are lots of reasons I do this, but over the years I’ve become aware that you can learn a lot in cemeteries.  In fact, I often choose names for characters from headstones in cemeteries. Discovering a headstone that’s been in place since the 1800’s with a name that would fit one of my characters to a “T,” pleases me. At times I use a first name from one stone and a last name from another, or even use a middle name as the last name. You can tell a great deal about communities and people by reading headstones and visiting cemeteries.When I was conducting research for my Postcards from Pullman series, I visited Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.  I wanted to see the place where George Pullman had been buried. (That’s me beside his memorial in the picture above.) I’d been told that Graceland was a virtual “who’s who” of the powerful men who lived in Chicago during the 1800’s. I saw the graves of Potter Palmer, Marshall Field, (that’s Marshall Field’s memorial on the left) Dexter Graves, (that’s Dexter Graves memorial on the right) John W. Root, Louis H. Sullivan and Allen Pinkerton (Allen Pinkerton’s memorial is lower right). I’d been told George Pullman’s memorial wasn’t showy or ornate. After seeing it, I beg to differ.

While researching, I was amazed to learn that because Pullman feared his body would be kidnapped by disgruntled former employees, he had his body placed in a lead-lined box that was wrapped in tar paper and coated with an inch of asphalt. The casket was lowered into a pit thirteen feet long, nine feet wide and eight feet deep, and rested on a concrete flooring 18 inches thick.

Once it was properly positioned, workers filled the space surrounding the casket with concrete to its upper lid. They then built the enclosing walls up to one-half inch above the asphalt coating on the coffin and placed 8 heavy T-rails transversely across the top. Resting on the concrete walls at either side, their lower surfaces cleared the asphalt cover by half an inch to allow for settling and to prevent the heavy steel from crushing the casket’s top. After the rails were bolted together by two long rods, more tar paper was placed on top to prevent the flow of additional concrete into the half inch space between the rails and the asphalt surrounding the coffin. Covered by even more concrete, the rods lay like a wall of stone and steel between Pullman and any wood-be grave robbers. A joke circulated after Pullman’s death that it was his wife who had actually made the austere burial arrangements because she wanted to be certain George didn’t return–a rather cruel joke!

How about you? Do you ever visit cemeteries or do you steer clear of them? Leave me a comment and tell me about the most interesting cemetery you ever visited and what made it unique. I’d love to hear about your visits.
May you find joy as you discover both the old and the new.


  • Sparksofember says:

    I love cemeteries and the older, the better! (I don’t meet a lot of people who also enjoy visiting them.) Have you seen the book, Stories in Stone by Douglas Keister? My sister gifted me with it a few years ago and I loved learning about the symbols & icons on tombstones and memorials. (I’ll have to look and see if Pullman’s memorial is mentioned – the story sounds familiar to me so I bet it is!)

    One of my favorite visits was at the church I grew up at in the rural Florida panhandle. One day the pastor took us on a hike through the woods (quite a distance from the old cemetery) to show us hidden deep in the forest a small grave-site. Apparently, long ago, a small wagon train was passing through the area and everyone got sick and passed away. They were all buried at that spot and the wagons broken down into fences surrounding the plots. 4 or 6 small enclosures. No engraved stones to mark the places. No one knows anything about them. Most people aren’t even aware the little grave-site exists.

    I can spend hours walking up and down the rows in cemeteries, reading the epitaphs, comparing the dates, deciphering the symbols & iconography on the headstones. Imagining the heartbreak a mother felt at the row of 4 tiny stones that all say “baby Gellar”; markers for children, the eldery, those alone, and those surrounded by family. God was there in those lives as much as He is part of ours today and only He knows how many of those passed on I might one day meet. To me it’s awe-inspiring and also fertile ground for imagining their stories.

    • Judy Miller says:

      I haven’t seen Stories in Stone. I’ll have to look for it. Love the story about the pastor taking you for a hike to see the graves of those early pioneers. Like you, my imagination takes flight when I see and hear these stories or read the headstones.

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