Guest Post: Chicago’s Peabody Tomb Legend

Back in October, we sent out a post called “A Spooky Call To Action: Share Your Experiences With Us.”  Recently, our good friend of the blog, Joseph D. Kubal, answered that call. He’s the co-creator of the sensational Curious Traveler Route 66 blog.

Joe said the reason he wrote the story was because it is a well-known Chicago-area urban legend, and, he’s a volunteer at the Peabody estate doing research on the Peabody family and all things Peabody.

Joe says “Lots of people my age probably got chased by the monks on the property when they were in their teens and the legend flourished.” Joe also has an interest in examining supernatural phenomenon.

Here’s Joe’s post, with Spooky Things commentary (ST designation and bolded) when appropriate or when we feel like it.

And thank you Joe!

Peabody Tomb Legend, by Joseph D. Kubal 

One of the most prolific and infamous ghost-like legends in the Chicagoland area concerns itself with Gilded Age coal mogul, Francis S. Peabody and his tomb (ST: Just how “Gilded?” Peabody amassed a personal fortune of $35 million and a business one of $75 million, in 1922 dollars. So that’s really good).  Peabody died on the grounds of his country estate in what was then Hinsdale, IL on August 27, 1922 during a drag hunt (ST Drag hunting is similar manner to fox hunting, with a field of mounted riders following a pack of foxhounds hunting the trail of an artificial scent. Not sure what is exactly caught, but that’s not important for our purposes).

Peabody MansionRecent photo of Maylake mansion, former St. Francis Retreat House (Courtesy of Mayslake Peabody Estate, all rights reserved)

There are several varying versions of the tale of what happened afterwards to the corpse.

Scenario #1 –  A glass coffin containing Mr. Peabody’s corpse covered in oil or formaldehyde to preserve his mortal remains is located on the Mayslake grounds.   Within this scenario, there are also three different accounts relating to the location of that glass coffin.

Account #1 –  The final resting place was in the estate’s replica of the Portunicula Chapel of St. Francis of Assisi.

Chapel002The replica of the Portunicula Chapel of St. Francis of Assisi, (Photographer: Dr. Casimir Rogalski, Date: unknown, Courtesy of Mayslake Peabody Estate, all rights reserved)

Account #2 –  The final resting place was on one of the lakes on the property.

Account #3 –  The final resting place was in a mysterious hallway in the Peabody mansion.

Let’s discuss this scenario and each of the respective accounts individually.  After his death, the Peabody estate was sold to the Franciscans, a Roman Catholic order of brothers.  The brothers received a relic of mummified remains of an early second century martyr, St. Innocentius.  These earthly remains were encased in a glass and gold-plated case and were on display at the St. Joseph Seminary Chapel located about one-quarter mile west of the St. Francis Retreat House (i.e., Peabody’s former mansion), both on what had become Franciscan property in 1924.

It is extremely plausible that rumors spread regarding the small “coffin” and that the information was transmogrified into the belief that it was the late Peabody that was entombed instead of the eight-year old Roman boy, St. Innocentius.   St. Innocentius Post Card Post card of the St. Innocentius reliquary (Courtesy of Mayslake Peabody Estate, all rights reserved)

Also, the Franciscans did not hide that Mr. Peabody was indeed buried on the property, nor did they hide that they possessed a relic in a glass case.  Over time, perhaps these two facts (with a healthy dose of Imagination) became joined into one fantastic story.” (Freeman, 2013)

(Spooky Things commentary: Yes, this post comes with footnotes. That’s pretty intellectual and classy when you think about it. Thanks Joe! (as a footnote to a footnote, I usually just Wikipedia most things, like I did on Peabody’s wealth and on what a Drag Hunt is)

With respect to the final resting place of Mr. Peabody, it is understandable why there is confusion and speculation as the body had been moved and re interred several times, both on the property and off.

After his death, Mr. Peabody was first buried in nearby Bronswood Cemetery.  In 1926, the small chapel replica was commissioned by Mr. Peabody’s son and widow to be built by the Franciscans.  About 1936, Mr. Peabody was exhumed and re-interred beneath chapel (Account #1) but the diminutive chapel probably was viewed as being a “mausoleum” by more imaginative people including creative teenagers.  Thus, started a legend that promoted the midnight escapades and destructive unsanctioned visits by youth over many years.

The Brothers did not take kindly to this type of activity and tried to dissuade adventurous teens by chasing them which further exasperated and romanticized the situation.  “Rumors that ‘Peabody’s Tomb’ was haunted spread thickly over the western suburbs.” (Bielski, 2009)

In 1974, the chapel moved and Mr. Peabody along with it.  This time, Peabody was buried adjacent to the chapel in the Friars’ Cemetery.  In 1992, the Forest Preserve of DuPage County acquired the Mayslake property and Peabody (along with all the deceased friars) were moved to Queen of Heaven Cemetery in nearby Hillside.

With respect to Account #2, the burial never was in the lake.  There was, however, a grotto, a replica of the Miraculous Cave in Lourdes, France where St. Bernadette saw apparitions of the Virgin Mary in 1858 (coincidentally the same year Francis Peabody was born).  This grotto was built by Brother Theophilius after 1927 behind the retreat house between the two lakes on the property and may be the impetus for the rumor of Peabody’s lake burial.

The evolution of Account #3 is a bit of a mystery.  However, we do know that the St. Innocentius relic was moved from the seminary, which closed in 1977, to the retreat house where it may have been situated in one of the hallways.  This may have been the origin of this particular myth.

Scenario #2 – Peabody and his infant son are buried together on the Mayslake grounds.  This bit of folklore again has grains of truth.  Peabody was buried with his son, Stuvyesant (fondly known as Jack) on the property next to him.  However, Jack was not an infant at the time of his burial.

Scenario #3 – Peabody was buried in a tomb on the property with much of his fortune.  This myth is very common after the death of wealthy people who may be viewed as “trying to take it with them.”

So, Where Is Mr. Peabody’s Final Resting Place? 

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