The First Burial at Calumet Park Cemetery (1929)

Story and images submitted by Karen Koch

In March of 2020, I found myself with my siblings cleaning out our father’s house for the first and last time. In January, three weeks after his 94th birthday, he had a horrific fall.

Our highly independent father, after living in the same home for 60 years, had reached a point where
it was no longer safe for him to live alone. We moved him to an assisted living facility in February and began the work of getting the house ready to sell. It was the house where mom and dad raised five children (I was the middle child), took in a niece for six years, and hosted 9 grandkids.

Since mom’s passing almost 25 years ago, dad had already done much of the work cleaning out the house and discarding unwanted items. But while cleaning out the final items in the closet, I came across a photo of my Dad’s younger brother, George Nicholas Fagen — “Baby George.”

Growing up, there were very few stories of my father’s youth. I had first heard the short story of baby George when I was about 10 years old from my grandmother. George had died when he was an infant and was buried at Calumet Park Cemetery in 1929. I remember as a child going to Calumet Park, but the trips were few. When I, myself a mother of four, pulled that photo from the closet, I knew that I needed to find a permanent home for it.

A couple months later, dad and I were having our outside visit at his new home (coronavirus meant no visitors allowed inside), and he shared with me that he wanted to move my mother from her original gravesite to the Fagen Family plot at Calumet Park.

Over the coming weeks and through the process of arranging my mother’s move, I learned more about the Fagen Family Plot and how it came to be at Calumet Park as my father opened up and shared more of the story.

My grandmother, Cora Demmon Fagen Hollis, purchased six plots from Ray Madden, who would eventually go on to become an Indiana congressman for 34 years. George took the first plot and was the first person to be buried at Calumet Park on January 15th, 1929. George was the only person at Calumet Park for nine months. I’m sure my grandmother, grieving for her infant son, questioned her wisdom placing George at Calumet since he was alone all those months. Eventually, my great grandparents, and both my grandparents on the Fagen side were buried in the original Fagen plot.

The final two plots are for mom and dad. There were many pieces and moving parts to have mom moved. Proof of ownership needed to be established and transferred, siblings needed to be on board, plots needed to be visited, and meetings needed to take place at both cemeteries. But finally, on August 12th, my mother was moved to her new home.

My sisters and I visited mom at her new resting spot. It is absolutely beautiful and extremely peaceful. I like to think my Mother would be pleased. I showed my dad photos of mom’s new gravesite. He said, “My mother would be pleased to know all those years ago she made the right decision to bury my brother there, and your mother would be pleased to know she is in a beautiful place. Eventually, we all return home where we started from.”

And as for George’s photo, I’ve donated it along with the original deed and deed of transfer to Calumet Park. Since Calumet Park is George’s permanent home, it seems only right.

I cannot thank Misti Ferkull, David Semlinski, and the entire staff at Calumet Park enough for making this move as smooth and as quickly as possible.