Following a long research project, today I’ve published an article on The Order of the Good Death about Julia Buccola-Petta, the “Italian Bride” of Mt. Carmel cemetery.
Most Chicago ghostlore fans know the basics: at Mt. Carmel stands a statue of a woman, Julia Buccola, in her wedding dress. Beneath the life-sized edifice is a photograph of the Julia in her coffin. Though she appears not to have decomposed much, an inscription below states that the photo was taken when she had been dead for six years.
Legend has it that her mother, Filomena, had nightmares in which Julia demanded that her body be disinterred, and, though there are various scientific explanations, some say the well-preserved state of her body is a sign of holiness. I’ve been researching the story heavily for the last few months, including conducting interviews with Filomena’s great grandchildren, who provided a few photographs that have never been in circulation before. Much of what I found came too late to be added to my new Ghosts of Chicago book, so I’m publishing it online, both here and in a new article for Caitlin Doughty’s Order of the Good Death.
|Photo by Hector Reyes|
And for you Chicago Unbelievable followers, I’m presenting here a new podcast on the subject (our first in over a year!), and, below, a detailed timeline of the Buccola and Petta families, as pieced together from records and interviews, with never-before-seen photos:
|Joseph and Henry Buccola. Henry
paid for Julia’s exhumation and the
new monument. Courtesy of
Antony Edwards, used by permission.
1910 – According to the census, Henry is living in Chicago with Joseph Buccola and his wife Anna in Chicago (per the census). Henry is working as a tailor, Joseph is a designer. Both are going by the “Americanized” versions of their names in records.
1913/09 – The famous “Devil Baby” rumors swirl around Hull House. Filomena and Julia didn’t live in the Hull House neighborhood, but I’ve always liked to imagine that one of Filomena’s first acts as an American might have been to join the crowd of other old world women who went to Hull House demanding to see the (non-existant) devil baby.
|Filomena and Flora, her granddaughter,
in Chicago, a year or two before
Julia was exhumed. Courtesy of
1921 – March 17 – Julia dies giving birth to a stillborn son, just over nine months after the wedding. Her funeral is held at Rago Brothers, next to the church, and she is buried at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside two days later.
1926: According to the family, it was after the move to L.A. that Filomena began to have nightmares about Julia. The exact content of the nightmares is not known, though folklore in Chicago states that Julia was demanding to be dug up, or that Julie was still alive. If nightmares weren’t involved, it may be that Filomena wanted Julia moved out of a Petta family plot (though there’s no evidence that she was ever buried in a spot other than her current one). In any case, Filomena begins to lobby for Julia to be disinterred. If this is really when the nightmares started, it was a fairly quick process.
“Filumena (sic) Buccola I offer this Gift to My Dear Daughter Guilia.”
|The seldom-noticed inscription on the back|
Notably, Julia’s married name, Julia Petta, appears nowhere on the monument.
There is no record as to what the original monument (if any) looked like or said.
The immense cost of the new monument (believed to be in the 10k range) creates a great deal of friction in the family – Henry Buccola’s wife is said to be furious, and Henry himself apparently isn’t happy about it, either. But the monument is built. No one knows now what the cost is, but family lore speaks of Henry lamenting that if they just had that ten thousand dollars, they’d be set for life.
|Filomena in the 1930s with Rosalia, her daughter
(Julia’s sister). Courtesy of Antony Edwards
1930 – In the census, Filomena is listed as being back in Chicago, living with Rosalia and Mariano and their children, Rosaline (Lynn Sadie) Lunetta (17) and Joseph Lunetta (14).
1930s: In the new house, Flora shares a room with Filomena. Later in life, she’ll tell her children stories about Filomena loudly praying the rosary at all hours, prompting her to shout “Shut up, Nonna!”
|Filomena with grandchildren Gaetano (Guy) and Flora
in California. Courtesy of Antony Edwards.
1940 – The census states that Filomena is now living with Rosalia and Mariano in an apartment just around the corner from Julia’s old place. By now, Rosalia and Mariano’s daughter, Rosaline / Lynn Sadie is in Los Angeles.
|Filomena’s burial plot (space 8), a few feet to the left
of Julia’s (space 5), at Mt. Carmel Cemetery.
The Muscato family plot is between the two.
1945/10 Filomena dies in Los Angeles. She is buried in Chicago, a few feet away from her daughter’s grave. Her space is unmarked, but only a few feet away from the massive monument that bears her full name twice.
2006 – Flora Buccola-Edwards, Julia’s niece and Filomena’s granddaughter, dies in Los Angeles, in the very house where she once shared a room with Filomena. Described in her obit as a “fierce liberal” and “staunchly pro-labor,” the family suggests donations to the United Farm Workers of America in lieu of flowers.
note: I’ve left out a handful of exact dates, addresses, and the name of one person still living.
Note: I’m grateful for the family and children of Flora Buccola-Edwards for the photographs and information, especially Antony and Mariana Edwards.
Again, for the full story, see the article on The Order of the Good Death.