Forest Home Cemetery resulted from the union of two beautiful historic cemeteries: Forest Home and German Waldheim.
The site of Forest Home was a graveyard long before the coming of European settlers to Illinois. The Pottawattamie People, who originally occupied much of the Chicago area, had established a graveyard here before the land was acquired by Ferdinand Haase.
Ferdinand Haase, an immigrant from Prussia, purchased the site of Forest Home from trapper Leon Bourassa, whose wife was Pottawatomie. Haase built a house and farm. The natural beauty of the site prompted Haase to open a public picnic grounds. By mining the land for gravel, he was able to arrange for a railroad spur line to be built, providing easy public access. Haase's Park was a popular recreational spot for Chicagoans of the 1850s
Part of the land continued to be used for its original purpose. In 1854, Haase's 21-year-old brother-in-law Carl Zimmerman was buried on a small mound that had been part of the Pottawattamie burial grounds, becoming the first non-Native American buried at the future Forest Home.
The closure of Chicago's City Cemetery due to public health concerns, and the outlawing of other cemeteries within city limits, prompted Haase to think of another use for his land. He sold one section to a group of German Masonic lodges, which created Waldheim Cemetery in 1873.
Haase and several other prominent citizens of the Oak Park area traveled to Spring Grove cemetery in Ohio to study an example of the "rural cemetery" movement. They opened Forest Home Cemetery in 1876 on land south of Waldheim.
Unlike many other cemeteries of the time, Waldheim and Forest Home were open to all, not discriminating on the basis of ethnicity or religion, and therefore became very popular with immigrants. Funeral parties and families visiting graves could ride the Chicago and North Western railroad from the city, transferring to a Des Plaines Avenue streetcar.
When the Eisenhower expressway was constructed in the 1950s, it was necessary to remove over 2,500 graves from the northern parts of Waldheim. As the law required, all known descendants of the persons in those graves were notified by registered mail or public notices in the newspapers. This caused several years' delay.
At about 11pm on July 27, 1960, a helicopter crashed in Forest Home's western half, east of the mausoleum of Congressman Sabath. It had been on an eleven-minute commuter flight between Midway and O'Hare. All thirteen persons aboard were killed.
The two cemeteries merged in 1969, and are now collectively known as Forest Home. Some land in the southeast was sold and the grand entrance gates town down. Only a modest entrance remains, at the location of the original Waldheim entrance.
Forest Home is split into eastern and western parts by the Des Plaines River. Until recently, due to the deterioration of the bridges over the river, it was impossible to walk from one side to the other without leaving the cemetery. This is no longer true, as a new bridge was installed in about 2003.
The pages below are listed in an order that approximates a convoluted path through the cemetery. On this virtual tour, the visitor enters through the northeast entrance and explores German Waldheim; crosses the river and explores the west sections; crosses the river again and explores the original Forest Home cemetery, ending near the Des Plaines river and Roosevelt Road.
A map and list of points of historic interest is available at the office.