CHICAGO — Digging into Chicago's history, it might be hard to find a quirkier story than the grave of Andreas von Zirngibl.
The soldier who helped defeat Napoleon but lost an arm in the Battle of Waterloo died in 1855 and was buried on Chicago's Southeast Side. As the neighborhood has changed and the industries have morphed, von Zirngibl's grave remains, guarded by concrete blocks and fences and now inside a closed metal recycling plant at 9331 S. Ewing Ave.
"It's a neat thing and sort of a neat story that we were able to maintain and keep the grave there," said Rod Sellers, director of Southeast Chicago Historical Museum, which repaired the grave in 1997.
Sr. Editor Justin Breen on the grave of Andreas von Zirngibl.
Sellers in the past has led tours that include visits to the grave, which is on private land currently owned by Sims Metal Management — one of many industrial companies that have owned the site. Sellers said he's always called ahead and never had problems gaining access to the gravesite.
Sims general manager Lew Ross said Wednesday the gravesite is now further protected by fences. Sims owns the land and provides security to the site, but the recycling plant closed in November. Tour groups still could gain access to the gravesite by contacting Sims and having one of its security guards assist on the tour, Ross said.
"It's always been protected and set aside and made sure it's left alone," said Ross, who added the company receives "rare" requests from the public to view the gravesite.
Sellers said other historical boat tours travel on the nearby Calumet River, but guests won't be able to see the gravesite.
Emily Osborne of the Chicago History Museum said the museum's Research Center noted the gravesite is one of the smallest in the city and compares to the Kennison grave in Lincoln Park and the Couch Mausoleum in the history museum's side yard.
Von Zirngibl moved to Chicago's Southeast Side in 1854, well after he had helped the Prussians defeat Napoleon in the 1815 Battle of Waterloo, where von Zirngibl also lost his right arm, according to a 1999 Tribune article.
For decades after he died, relatives said they visited the gravesite, and in 1895 — after Calumet and Chicago Canal and Dock Company had acquired the land where the grave rested — the relatives argued against the company in the Illinois State Supreme Court. The court ruled that the company still owned the land but the von Zirngibl gravesite would remain intact and be considered a cemetery even if other companies bought the land. The family also would have access to the site, according to the Tribune.
Sellers said his museum holds annual member dinners, and some of von Zirngibl's relatives used to attend. But that hasn't been the case in at least 10 years, he said.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: