In what is to be the first installment of a series of posts on Chicago cemeteries, I would like to start with the cemetery mentioned above: Rosehill. In these posts, we'll briefly explore the history of the cemetery itself, and then take a look at the fascinating people reposing therein.
Leonard Volk was born in Wellstown--now Wells, New York, in 1828. He followed into the family trade of marble cutting. After working in New York and Massachusetts, in 1848, he moved West to St Louis and studied art. In 1852, he married Emily Barlow, and settled in Rock Island, Illinois, where he worked at Volk's Rock Island Marble Works. In 1855, he took a trip to Rome, Italy, to pursue further study. This trip was financed by Chicagoan Stephen A. Douglas, who was Emily's cousin. When he returned in 1857, Volk opened a studio in Chicago. He would remain in Chicago for the rest of his life.
OK, so what makes this guy so special? Volk helped to found, and went on to teach, at the Chicago Academy of Design, which was the forerunner of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). In my book, that makes him pretty influential. But wait, that's not all! In 1858, Volk was introduced to Abraham Lincoln, a downstate lawyer and politician. That year, Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, Volk's cousin-in-law, went head to head for the office of Senator from Illinois. This campaign featured the seven Lincoln-Douglas debates, probably the most famous debates in American History. As such, both of these men were the political rock stars of their day. While Lincoln would lose to Douglas in the Senate race, the two would square off again in the Presidential race of 1860. It was in that year that Lincoln agreed to sit for a casting, or life mask.
What makes Volk someone I wanted to write about, however, is more local. As a child, I attended St Philip Lutheran School. It is located on the Western side of Rosehill. As I lived in (and still do!!!) Edgewater, the easiest way to get to school was cutting through the cemetery. So the school carpool did a round trip through Rosehill five days a week. Two monuments have always stood out to me.
As he approached the end of his life, his final work was actually a self portrait, completed in stone, by the Gast Monument Company, of Chicago. In it, Volk depicts himself sitting in a chair, resigned to a life well lived coming to an end. Leonard Well Volk died on 19 August, 1895, and is buried, yep, you guessed it, in Rosehill Cemetery!
I hope that you have enjoyed this tribute to one of Chicago's great, but lesser known, artists. Another installment of Bring Out Your Dead will come out soon. Stay tuned!
As always, comments are welcomed and encouraged.