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The Mausoleum of George Halas

by Randy Snow

Original to www.theworldoffootball.com, Friday, August 19, 2022

Since 2006, I have visited many graves of former football greats, but this was the first time I have ever visited someone whose final resting place is in a mausoleum!

I made the two and a half our drive over to Chicago from Kalamazoo and met up with fellow Pro Football Researchers Association member Greg James. Together, we headed out to find the grave of legendary Chicago Bears owner and head coach, George Halas.

Halas was born in Chicago in 1895 to immigrant parents who came from the Czech Republic. He attended the University of Illinois and played football under legendary college head coach, Bob Zuppke.

The summer after his freshman year, Halas was working a summer job at Western Electric in Chicago. On July 24, 1915, the company was sending a number of its employees across Lake Michigan by boat to Indiana for a company picnic. Halas overslept and missed the boat that day, but in hindsight, it saved his life. The boat he was supposed to take, the S.S. Eastland, was over-filled with passengers. The boat capsized in the Chicago River and 844 people were killed. 

Just before he was supposed to begin his final semesters at Illinois, Halas left school, joined the Navy and was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Academy. There he organized the service teams in football and baseball.

After his time in the Navy, he had a brief stint in professional baseball with the New York Yankees in 1919. He then went to work as a civil engineer for Western Electric in Chicago designing railroad bridges.

In March 1920, Halas received a call from the Staley Starch Works Company in Decatur, Ill. They offered him a job and the opportunity to manage and play on the company football team, which began playing in 1919. Halas immediately accepted the job. One of his first decisions was to adopt the team colors of black and orange from his college team at Illinois.

In the fall of 1920, he and Ed “Dutch” Sternaman a halfback on the team and a former teammate from Illinois, traveled to Canton Ohio to attend a meeting to organize a new professional football league. It was called the American Professional Football Association. The Staleys would become a charter member of the new league and finished second in the 1920 standing with a 10-1-2 record  behind the Akron Pros.

After one season, the owner of the Staley company told Halas that he did not think professional football would do well in the small town of Decatur. He gave Halas $5,000 and told him to take the team to Chicago, but keep the Staley name for one season. The Chicago Staleys played their 1921 home opener in Decatur and then played the rest of their home games at Wrigley Field in Chicago. They won the 1921 APFA title with a 9-1-1 record. In 1922, at the suggestion of Halas, the APFA changed its name to the National Football League and the Staleys officially became known as the Chicago Bears.

Halas made a big splash in the NFL when he signed Red Grange to play for the Bears in 1925. Grange was the biggest star in college football at the time. It was the first time that a college football superstar had signed on with an NFL team. The signing immediately brought some much-needed attention to the NFL, which was looked down upon by most college football fans. 

Halas remained a player/coach on the team through 1929. He then stepped away from the sidelines and concentrated on handling the day-to-day operations of the team. In 1930, Halas hired Ralph Jones to coach the team. Jones had been the freshman football coach at Illinois years earlier and was the one who had encouraged Halas to come out for the team.

Halas and Dutch Sternaman had been 50/50 partners in owning and running the Bears since the beginning. But by the late 1920s, their relationship had soured. By the summer of 1931, Sternaman was in real financial trouble due to the stock market crash of 1929. Halas seized the opportunity to buy out Sternman’s 50% share of the team for $38,000, making Halas the sole owner of the Chicago Bears.   

Halas returned as the Bears head coach in 1933 and remained in that position through the 1942 season. During that time, the Bears won three NFL titles in 1933, 1940 and 1941. The 1940 title was especially impressive as the Bears defeated the Washington Redskins 73-0 by using the new T-Formation offense.

With World War II looming on the horizon, Halas left the team after coaching them to a 5-0 start in 1942 and rejoined the Navy at the age of 48. He was a Lieutenant Commander and started out training aviation mechanics in Norman, OK before he was shipped out to the South Pacific. There he served as the Welfare and Recreation Officer for the Seventh Fleet. Halas was released by the Navy after the war in late 1945 with the rank of captain and returned to the Bears as head coach in 1946.

During his time in the Navy, the Bears were co-coached by Hunk Anderson and Luke Johnsos. The two led the Bears to the 1943 NFL title.

Halas picked up right where he left off, leading the Bears to the 1946 NFL title in his first season back from the Navy. He stepped away from coach again in 1956 and 1957. Paddy Driscoll replaced Halas as head coach. The two men had been friends since they met while serving in the Navy in 1918. Driscoll had been the head coach of the cross-town rival Chicago Cardinal from 1920-1922. Halas returned as head coach in 1958 and won one more NFL title as head coach of the Bears in 1963. After the 1967 season, he stepped away from coaching for good. Halas coached in 497 games over 40 seasons and his overall record as the Bears head coach was 318-148-31. He led the team to six NFL titles.

George Halas passed away on October 31, 1983 at the age of 88. Since then, his initials have been permanently added to the sleeve of the Chicago Bears uniforms. He was a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 1963.

Finding His Grave

With Greg James at the wheel, we headed to Niles, IL on the north side of Chicago. Halas is in the Saint Adalbert Catholic Cemetery, located at 6800 Milwaukee Avenue. He is interred in a family mausoleum along with several other family members. It is located in Section 2, along the Milwaukee Avenue side of the cemetery, and it is hard to miss. (This was grave visit #36)

But this was not the only football grave that Greg and I visited that day. Oh, no! There were two more in another cemetery about five miles away. But that is a story for another day.


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