Monday, September 08, 2008

A Small German Diaspora Necropolis: The Kind of Place I Like to Visit Sometimes

It was a cool weekend, but only relative to August heat. On Saturday, I went out to get some items from a couple of stores. Unusually, no one else wanted to come, so I decided to stretch the errand into something more. On impulse, I stopped for a look around the St. Peter Lutheran Church Cemetery on Schaumburg Road, which I've passed countless times but never seen up close.

The cemetery is tucked away next to the old St. Peter church, a Romanesque structure dating from 1863. (The new St. Peter, dating from the 1990s, is closer to Schaumburg Road.) "... [It] was decided in 1862, while the Civil War was still raging, to build a new church," notes the St. Peter web site. "The cornerstone was laid on May 12, 1863. Members hauled brick from Dundee and other materials from the surrounding community and furnished the labor for the building. When completed, they looked upon a beautiful edifice 85 feet long, 40 feet wide, and 22 feet high at the eaves with a 127-foot steeple."

And who built the church, and started burying their dead next to it? Germans, of course, many of whom had probably left Germany after 1848. The old church, now a museum, was locked. But I could wander around the small cemetery. Not the prettiest landscaping that I've ever seen, or the most interesting array of headstones, but not bad at all.

The last time I encountered so many dead Germans in one place might have been at the garden cemetery in L√ľneburg, Germany. Whole families who lived in old-time, pre-suburban Schaumburg repose here, mostly under upright stones, many dating to the 19th century, though some are newer: Hattendorfs, Schoenbecks, Withaegers, Redekers, Rohlwings, Wieses, Nerges, Brendemuehls, Biesterfelds, Springinsguths, Pfingstens, Hartmanns and many others. Some of the stones were old enough to feature VATTER and MUTTER and "geb." and "geft." (born and died), but others had made the transition into English.

Those may just be German names, but if you live in this part of metro Chicago for long and you begin to see many of them as street names. Springinsguth and Wise (formerly Wiese) are both major streets around here, and so are Rohlwing, Nerge and Biesterfield. Not a bad little legacy, but difficult to arrange these days, now that all the streets have been named.

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