Friday, August 1, 2014


I could do an entire blog just on people buried at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.  It is such an old and historic cemetery that virtually everywhere you look you see another interesting tombstone.  Here's one I saw there this Spring:

This obelisk marks the final resting place of the Cairns Family:  James and Annie and their son James.  If you move around the obelisk, you will see the following panel:

This Tablet
Is Inscribed To The Memory Of 
James Thomas,
Only Son Of
James and Annie J. Cairns
Who Died Aug. 13, A.D. 1883
Aged 19 Years & 2 Mos.
And To Record The Grief Of His
Bereaved Parents And Only Sister.
A.D. 1884.

I was sure that there was a sad story here and I was right.  Let's see what it was.

James Thomas Cairns was born June 11, 1864 in Clonakilty, Cork, Ireland to James Cairns (1830-1903) and Annie Jones, nee Hughes (1845-1910).  The Cairns family came to the United States in 1865. In fact their other child Lizzie/Elizabeth (1865-1947) was born in Morristown, New Jersey, during the family's journey to Chicago.  James Cairns the elder, was a real estate agent by trade.

They did not participate in the 1870 US Census, but by 1880 they were firmly established in Chicago, living at 1072 (now 2458) Fulton Street. James the elder was a real estate agent and James the younger was a clerk in a grocery store.  A factory now stands at 2458 W. Fulton.

Tragedy struck the Cairns family on August 13, 1883.  Young James died at home from typhoid fever complicated by "severe cholera."  Both diseases are caused by ingesting contaminated food or water.  Both are greatly debilitating diseases, and according to his death certificate, James had been ill for three weeks and two days. Cholera victims often died within hours, so the fact that James held on as long as he did was a testimony to his youth and good health up to that point.  

The loss experienced by the Cairns family left them inconsolable.   Just over three weeks before, young James Cairns had his whole life ahead of him.  He was nineteen years old and had a good job.  In addition, he was part of a close and loving family. Then tragedy struck and he was gone.  The family chose a burial plot at beautiful Rosehill Cemetery and laid their son to rest.  Here is his Death Notice from the Chicago Daily Tribune of August 14, 1883:

The Cairns family wanted to memorialize young James in a way that would reflect how special he was, and also be a visible sign of what a shattering blow his death had been to them.  To do this, they erected an obelisk over his grave - the sign of life eternal:

And on the part of the obelisk that faces the graves, they inscribed their pain into the cold, hard stone:

And marking the actual grave of young James Cairns:

"Our Darling Boy"

James Cairns the elder joined his son at Rosehill in 1903; Annie Cairns in 1910.  Both are buried in the Cairns family plot at Rosehill:

Elizabeth "Lizzie" Cairns, James' sister married Homer R. White in 1903. They ultimately moved to Pennsylvania where Lizzie died in 1947.  She is buried in Rosehill Cemetery in Ambler, Pennsylvania:

So that's the story of a family, greatly bereaved at the loss of their son and brother at the age of nineteen.

James Thomas Cairns - May he rest in peace. 

1 comment:

  1. James and Anna Cairns are my Great Great Grandparents. Their daughter Elizabeth married John Patrick O'Leary in Chicago, IL on 24 Jan 1893. They moved to Wilmington, OH and had two kids - Patrick and Mary. Patrick was my Grandfather. They were divorced in 1898. Lizzie moved back to Chicago with the daughter. My Great Grandfather, her ex-spouse, stayed in Ohio with their son.