Saturday, October 15, 2011

Notes from a Cemetery Tour - Part Two

This is the moving gravestone that I mentioned yesterday in my post. It was carved and shipped from Italy, and depicts the family in a garden setting. The statue can rotate 360 degrees on it's base. This is so it can face the four plots in front or in back of the monument.
The "bottom half" is the back side.
Mayor Joe begins turning the tombstone
Tombstone from the back
Tombstone - front view. Notice the pictures of the patriarch and matriarch on the gravestone.
close up of the family

Meet Julia Buccola Petta, nicknamed, "The Italian Bride"

Julia was 29 when she died of complications from childbirth. "For Sicilians, it is customary to bury a mother who sacrifices her life for her child in her wedding dress. Her stillborn infant was placed in her arms and the casket was lowered in a modest grave."*

Shortly thereafter, Julia's mother, Philomena Buccola began having nightmares that Julia had been buried alive.  Due to all the red tape and legalities back then, it took 6 years to have her daughter's body exhumed. When Julia's casket was opened, everyone was shocked. Normally a body would be badly decomposed.....but Julia's body was as perfect as the day the casket was closed. Here is a picture of her in the casket after it was exhumed. This photo is on the tombstone!

In the Catholic religion, if the body does not decompose the person may be considered a saint. The baby is not shown in the above photo because it was decomposed, as was the one arm of Julia that was holding the baby. A myth that is told is that the arm that held the baby had turned to gold. Julia's mother then had this monument erected of Julia in her wedding gown. This picture is also on the gravestone - Julia on her wedding day.

What I don't understand is why Julia's mother felt the need to put her own name on the gravestone. Don't  you find that a little odd?

There have been several reports over the last 40 or more years of a woman in a white dress that walks the cemetery at night.

  • Police have admitted to seeing a woman in a white dress while either patrolling the cemetery or passing by on Harrison Ave.
  • Students who attended a dance from the high school across the street spotted a woman in white going in and out of the tombstones around Julia's grave. When they came to the fence to get a closer look, they were surprised to find that the woman remained dry even though it was pouring rain out!
  • Parents had "accidentally " left their young son in the cemetery near Julia's grave and when they frantically returned they saw their son off in the distance holding the hand of a woman in a white gown. As the parents got closer, the woman released the little boy's hand and disappeared among the headstones.

I'm sure that December 1, 1958 started out like any other normal school day at Our Lady of Angels Catholic Elementary School in Chicago. But it sure didn't end like one. Shortly before dismissal, a fire broke out in the basement . Although the school had passed a recent fire inspection, it did not have to comply with all the fire safety guidelines due to a "grandfathering" clause in the 1949 standards. Although the outside of the school was made of brick, the inside was entirely made of wood; the floors had be coated several times with flammable petroleum waxes; there was only one fire escape which was blocked, and there were no smoke alarms or sprinklers - the students and teachers on the second floor were doomed. The first floor students and teachers were able to get out okay. By the time the fire department arrived (they hadn't been notified till about 15 minutes AFTER the fire had started), students were jumping 25 feet out of the second story windows to their death. Others died of smoke inhalation; still others were burned beyond recognition. A total of 92 students and 3 nuns perished in the fire.

Front page of Chicago American newspaper 12/5/58

Firemen don't yet realize the number of children still trapped inside the fiery inferno. Firemen rescued about 160 children and teachers before the classrooms burst into flames one by one, killing all who remained.

Forty-five of these children are buried at Queen of Heaven cemetery; 11 are buried at Mt. Carmel, along with the 3 nuns. This is the memorial for the children at Queen of Heaven.

On either side of this monument are these large tablets listing the names of the victims from the fire and where they are buried:

One of the victim's graves. I wonder who still remembers her and visits her grave?

I learned three interesting "tidbits" on this trip.
  1. The word "cop" comes from the abbreviation of "Constable On Patrol".
  2. Back in Italy and Sicily, if a child was born out of wedlock, he/she did NOT take the mother's last name, but that of the TOWN. We see a LOT of "Palermo", for instance, which is a town in Italy.
  3. Also back in the day in Italy, if a baby was left on the doorstep of an orphanage, he/she was given the last name of "Esposto" meaning "to place outside". A variant of this name is Esposito. When Italy was united, laws were introduced forbidding the practice of giving surnames that reflected a child's origins.(Wikipedia)

Soon our tour was over and we returned to the village hall for lunch. There were various cold cuts and salads, chips and fruit to eat.

Each of us were given this goodie bag when we left.

It was filled with all kinds of stuff: a coffee mug, water bottle, 2 key chains, folder with info on famous people buried at Mt. Carmel, pill dispenser, fall candy dish with candy, "things to do" tablet, and book that is listed below* signed by the author.

I had a great time and learned a lot. I'm so glad I took this trip. I found it fascinating.

*From the book Images of America Mount Carmel and Queen of Heaven Cemeteries (available at Amazon)


Anonymous said...

such works of seems funny to say that about grave stones, but they truly are...beautiful.

Smiles to you my friend

Country Gal said...

Facinating post. WOW Some of those graves are amazing . I do beleive that kindered spirits do walk the grave yards at night, I beleive in ghosts as I have seen one or two myself they do exist. Have a wonderful day !

Brian Miller said...

ugh on the story of all the deaths...some of these tombstones are kinda creepy...the picture ones particularly...and the turning tombstone...neat but weird!

Eva Gallant said...

That was an amazing post! I can't imagine what the price tag was on that revolving gravestone. Once again, you've given us an excellent tour with lots of interesting tidbits of information!

Ami said...

I learned a bunch while reading this blog today. Best kind of learning, too... no exam, no one telling me when I've learned 'enough' or the right stuff... and thanks for all the photos, too.

Amazing stories.

Jeannelle said...

My goodness...that rotating tombstone is really something! Add a wind-up and some music and it could be a music box for a giant! I've really enjoyed your posts about this cemetery. What an interesting place!

Scrappy Grams said...

really interesting post!

Lynda said...

Pat - - That info is so interesting! I love the cemeteries where they have the statutes. They are beautiful. The origin of names was fascinating, too - - - stuff I didn't know.

Gail said...

What an amazing story and such a terrible tragedy.

Thanks for allowing me to tag along.

becky said...

Really kinda spooky about Julia....
and so sad about all those that perished in the fire.
Very ornate cemetery!

becky said...

Oh, PS- sent ya an email, would love to see your tea cup!

Carletta said...

Fascinating story once again!
It's posts like this that make me very envious of your 'mobile' life that takes you to all these wonderful places.

The Bipolar Diva said...

fascinating. you had me captivated!

Valerie said...

It certainly was fascinating to read about, particularly the description of the 'bride' ... Oooh creepy.

DesertHen said...

Julia's story is indeed a fascinating one. While reading it I got chills! So sad about the fire and all the lives lost! Thank you for taking us along on this tour!

SUGAR MOON said...

This was a very interesting post. I couldn't stop reading it. The story about Julia was very interesting and the one about all the kids dying was so sad. I wouldn't mind taking that tour some time in the future. Thanks for sharing. Enjoy your week!!

Pieces of Sunshine said...

Very interesting and sad stories. Many unanswered questions too.

Ruth said...

I've never seen nor heard of a rotating tombstone. It is a fascinating memorial, isn't it?

"Mayor Joe"?

The back story and ghost-y stories surrounding Philomena are really something. I wonder if people take advantage and scare people in the Halloween season.

Fascinating post, as always! You do and see the most interesting things. Thanks for sharing them.

Liz said...

I've always had a fasination with cemeteries and beautiful head stones (and, even the not so beautiful). I'm not sure why. I think all the stories that could be told draw me to them. I've been thinking about taking some tours like this (done some in New Orleans only). I'll have to research some more. Thanks for sharing your tour.