During our 2015 Tales Tombstones Tell, we highlighted some of the graves that shed light on disease and medicine through our community’s history. We ended the tour at the grave of Walter M McAuley who suffered from a common 19th century disease, tuberculosis.
Walter McAuley was born in 1826 in New York to George and Mary McAuley. George McAuley may be a familiar name to many of you, as he donated the land for the McAuley one-room schoolhouse that still stands on Route 38, one the two National Landmark Buildings in West Chicago (the other National Landmark Building is the Turner Town Hall, built in 1884 and now the home of the West Chicago City Museum).
In 1841, Walter arrived in DuPage County with his brother William and settled on the family farm just to the west of what would become West Chicago.
During the Civil War, Walter and his brothers William and John fought for the Union—with Walter and William in the 124th Regiment of Illinois Volunteers, and John in the 55th Regiment. When Walter’s regiment was mustered out of service in July of 1865, it was noted that Walter was absent due to illness. Many soldiers became sick during the war due to poor living conditions and crowded camps which aided the spread of diseases, such as tuberculosis which was highly contagious. Although we cannot be sure what Walter was suffering from at the end of the war, it is no doubt that he left service with a weakened immune system.
After the war, Walter married Isabella Gilbert and the couple lived in DuPage County for some time, but the illness that had plagued Walter since the Civil War led him to seek better air first in Florida and then in Colorado. Sadly, the change of scenery and the hope promised in Colorado’s “World’s Sanitarium” of dry air did not improve Walter’s condition.
Walter died of tuberculosis on August 17, 1888, in Garfield County, Colorado. A newspaper reported that Thomas McAuley, Walter’s brother, arrived in Turner accompanying the remains of his brother Walter. For the first time in all those years the brothers, Thomas and John T. McAuley, now of Chicago, met. The tragedy of their brother’s death had brought them back to the McAuley farm and to the family plot here in Oakwood.
When Walter returned home with his brothers, it is no doubt that the community understood their pain, as tuberculosis had affected many in town. George Gregory lost both of his wives to the disease; both of them, Melissa Brundage and Ella Baker, are buried near Walter’s grave.
Stop by the City Museum during our open hours to learn more about health and wellness through time in our “Be Well” exhibit which is part of the City-wide initiative Healthy West Chicago.