#482: Little Narnias

May 27th, 2015

When I was a kid, I read books about hidden kingdoms.

I wanted every wardrobe to be a passage to Narnia, each twister a ticket to Oz. I was born a few decades too early for magical fractional train platforms, but I craved hidden places, longed for Secret Gardens and Terabithias (although with fewer dead children than the latter allows).

I had nothing in particular I wanted to escape from. My childhood was pleasant to the point of heartwarming. But I dreamed of running away to places I could only get to by going where I shouldn’t, and where everything I was told not to do would be rewarded.

The rain on Tuesday hadn’t so much surprised me as I had underestimated it.

I knew from the moment I pulled my bike out of my basement that I was in for a ride in a light mist. I hadn’t predicted the mist would become a sprinkle, the sprinkle a soft rain, the soft rain a regular rain and the regular rain a downpour that stranded me under a Metra overpass between Rosehill Cemetery and an industrial-looking vinyl shop where chubby hipsters smoked in the doorway.

Across from a bus bench advertising the implausibly named mortgage lender “Kiki Calumet,” I shook myself as dry as the wicking fabric would allow and waited for the rain to ebb.

Rosehill Cemetery was named by mistake, a flipping of letters by a city clerk after Hiram Roe sold his land based, in part, on the promise it would forever be called Roe’s Hill.

In 1859, Dr. Jacob W. Ludlum’s was the first body to enter the ground at Rosehill. Ludlum would soon be joined by several hundred Union soldiers, three Confederates and 3,000 corpses dug up and wagoned north from the former city cemetery in Lincoln Park.

Today, chubby hipsters smoke to the south and watch a soaked man in wicking fabric inspect a hole in the chain link fence by the Metra overpass.

The peeled back fence left an opening the size of a moderately skinny human.

I’m a moderately skinny human. At the odd moments I stopped caring what the smoking vinyl shoppers thought, I peered into the neverland inside.

It was a mud-and-grass slope gripped by scrubbled, sideways trees too stubborn to give. The top of the slope was the Metra track. The bottom was a separate chain-link fence keeping the hill and cemetery apart.

Among the mud and stubborn trees, there was garbage. Empty tallboys of malt liquor, plastic bottles of sports beverages, a developer sign that fell down or was tossed through, something that looked like a pizza box. It was a place for bums to sleep and teens to get high. It was a place I shouldn’t go.

Across the street, the hipsters leered. The rain clapped down and I scampered back under the train tracks. I didn’t go into my Narnia.

When I was a kid, I read books about hidden kingdoms. I wanted to live in a world filled with secret places, places I could only get to by going where I shouldn’t, and where everything I was told not to do would be rewarded.

I do. We all live in a world of secret places, of Narnias hidden by a peeled chain fence.

Read about the history of “Roe’s Hill”

Learn about the removal of city cemetery bodies

Find a hidden graffiti cavern in Chicago today

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