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Posting the Dead
Chicago Old Main Post Office


This is a very old story, but it involves a perennial subject here on Pruned. Architect John Ronan apparently wants to turn Chicago's old main post office behemoth—located a mere block away from Sears Tower—into the largest municipal cemetery in the world. In Downtown Chicago!

I'm all atwitter.

Chicago Old Main Post Office

Once the major processing and storage center for interstate commerce and communication, John Ronan wants to return the building to its former function, though this time to process and store something of a different sort: dead bodies — by the millions. And he sees them “floating up the Chicago River, driving down the Eisenhower, riding in on the rails.”

It's worth mentioning that Union Station and the Greyhound Station are a block away, and the Blue rail line, which connects directly to O'Hare International Airport, is even closer. In fact, it sits on top of rails, an expressway, and a subway. It could not have been better sited. The singularity of a spectral vortex. An axis mundi.

Chicago Old Main Post Office

There are a lot things we like about the project. Actually, we like everything about it. Obviously at the top of the list are its location and its fidelity to the existing fa├žade and superstructure.

Also at the top is Ronan's theatrical staging of a funeral: “A funeral barge floats silently down the Chicago River to the site where the Old Post Office once stood. A figure clad in white steps onto the river landing, and leads those gathered at the river's edge up an incline to the foot of the large, rusting steel doors. The figure knocks. A hollow echo precedes the slow opening of the doors to reveal a long hall lined on one side with chapels. The white figure leads the group to the open chapel where the ritual of life and death takes place. The rear wall of the chapel opens wide, leading the funeral party to the crypts above. Upstairs, the funeral procession winds through the glass crypts, past the reliquaries that hold souvenirs of lives now past. The reflection of candle flames flicker in the polished floor, animating the wind that passes through the open facade.”

Chicago Old Main Post Office

In a lot of ways, Ronan's proposal finds close affinity with the current vogue in green burial. For instance, there are no water-guzzling grass lawns, and no lawns also means no toxic fertilizers to maintain a healthy, luxurious shade of green and to intimate a vision of Paradise to soothe grieving visitors.

Additionally, for a planned internment of millions of dead bodies, it's a highly efficient use of so little land, reusing, as it were, what's already there: “Seventy percent of what's in landfills right now is old buildings. The silliest thing would be to put a green building in its place [and] you carted away this three-million-square foot thing.”

Chicago Old Main Post Office

Chicago Old Main Post Office

Owing to its central location, the funeral cortege could make use of public transportation. If a CTA train car can be gutted and transformed into Santa's sleigh — with a Santa, his reindeers, elves and carollers merrily riding back and forth across Chicago, roofless(!!!) in the dead of winter — so can it be converted into a hearse.

Lastly, you can probably set the heater and air conditioner at very low levels.
3 COMMENTS —
  • Geoff Manaugh
  • March 29, 2006 at 10:37:00 PM CST
  • They could also mail the dead around the world in a continuous loop of postal packages, the world's first airborne, performative cemetary. The cemetary – that is also an event.


  • e-tat
  • March 30, 2006 at 2:35:00 AM CST
  • Heck, they could combine death with shopping! An old post office in Birmingham, England has been converted to an upmarket shopping mall called The Mailbox. Space limitations probably prevent it from become a fully-fledged mausoleum, but I'm sure they could accommodate a few of the wealthier patrons in stylishly-designed cubes, or other forms of contemprary art.

    Thus, instead of the tasteless display of death celebrated through TV dinners, converted post offices around the world could become metaphors for the ability to take it with you, where 'it' is eternal status as a high-profile shopper! Eternal rest between Harvey Nicks and Shogun.


  • e-tat
  • March 30, 2006 at 2:55:00 AM CST
  • Ooh, and aside from the glorious funerary architecture at the Mailbox, there's also a canal out the back! WET® is good! The recently deceased will have waterborne entourage in the Egyptian style, fit for a King, or a Princess™.

    Cities without canals will have to rely on solemn dirigibles gliding through dusk draped in black, illuminated with candles that wink out one by one as the procession nears its final stop.

    Meanwhile, chthonic technicians will be preparing the ground for the largest campaign ever, mapping out virtual realms of hierarchical and cartesian regimentation necessary to the realisation of an eternal afterlife. Or at least until the next one comes along.


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