A life-size hooded statue walks with a bent head, towards an unknown destination. Some call it a guardian, others the Grim Reaper, however there is a cautionary tale about looking at the shadowed face.
The statue was designed by Czech-American sculptor, Albin Polasek (1879 – 1965). In 1927, to celebrate its 50th anniversary the Bohemian National Cemetery located in Chicago's north side, commissioned Polasek to create two sculptures.
The first one, named, Mother was erected by the crematorium.
In 1929, he created the second one titled The Pilgrim, which depicts a gaunt, barefoot form holding a walking stick as it approaches the door of the classical revival Stejskal-Buchal mausoleum. Some have mistaken it as a representation of the Grim Reaper or the Hag of Death.
It marks no specific grave.
It's not surprising that a statue that immediately reminds one of Charon waiting to carry you across the River Styx, has developed a local legend. It warns of a curse brought upon those who peer under the hood to look at the incurious features. It's that you will die within a year.
However there was a time, when those visiting this cemetery did not see portends of doom at every turn. Over a hundred years ago cemeteries were seen as a place to gather for a picnic or take a stroll. By then the traditional graveyard near a church had gone by the wayside as victims of disease and plagues numbered too many, and beautiful, park-like acres were set aside for the burial of the dearly departed, especially in highly populated cities.
The Bohemian Cemetery had three different picnic areas (Scheiner's, Atlas and Nagi's Grove) and held its own liquor license to cater to those who came for a walk or who attended a ceremony. Adjacent to the cemetery greenhouse was Scheiner's Beer Hall and Road House.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by Marlene Pardo Pellicer