Soon after its founding in 1901, the Bohemian American Cremating Association asked Bohemian National Cemetery to build a crematorium/columbarium. After more than a decade of discussion, the cemetery agreed, and hired František Randák to design a building to house a cremation facility, meeting halls, and a columbarium.
In 1913, construction began on the first Bohemian crematorium in the world. It was in use by the following year, but the furnishing and decorating wasn't completed until 1919.
Although the first cremation took place in November 1914, major construction of the crematorium/columbarium building was completed in February 1916. It was the first Bohemian crematorium in the world.
"Let us remember that this building will survive us,
that it will stand when those who speak our beautiful
Bohemian language are probably fewer in number.
And if, by the cessation of immigration and by the
complete assimilation of our fourth or fifth generation
into an American nation of one single language,
the Bohemians should disappear in this country, this
building will remain as a permanent monument to their efforts
and to their Bohemian characteristics, the most marked feature of which
is courage - courage to seek truth and to fight for liberty."
Dr. František Iska, Speaker,
Bohemian Freethinkers of Chicago
1913 cornerstone ceremony
The showplace of the crematorium/columbarium is the Ceremony Hall, an elegant, circular room capped by a massive dome. In 1918, the cemetery awarded a contract for the artistic decoration of the hall to Moravian-born artist John Anton Mallin (born Johann Malinkowitsch).
Mallin was born in Hlohovec Moravia on April 14, 1883. In 1898 Mallin traveled to Vienna to study at the School of Interior and Decorative Painters Guild. In 1907 Mallin moved to Chicago where he began his own interior decoration business.
When Mallin died in 1973 his services were held at Bohemian Natonal Cemetery. Mallin's cremains are in the columbarium of the building where he left an artistic legacy.
Over the course of his career, Mallin decorated banks, theaters, courthouses, homes, more than 100 churches, the facades at Chicago's Riverview Amusement Park, and several rooms in the home of the wealthy businessman John Cuneo in Vernon Park, Illinois. The Cuneo mansion and gardens were opened to the public as the Cuneo Museum.
Mallin redecorated the hall twice, first in 1928, using gold leaf instead of gold paint, and again in 1948, repairing some of his previous decorations and adding new ones.
Mallin decorated the walls of the hall with symbols of fraternal and patriotic associations whose support was integral to the success of the cemetery. The Ceremony Hall provides a unique retrospective commemoration of these historical organizations, some of which still exist today.