Archive for the ‘Cemeteries’ Category

Identifying the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire victims

March 22, 2014

TriangleshirtwaistcorpsesThe fire started at 4:40 p.m. It was Saturday, March 25—a workday in 1911.

As flames quickly turned the top three floors of the Asch Building at Greene Street and Washington Place into a “roaring cornice of flames,” dozens of employees crowded the windows and fire escapes.

Half an hour later, when the fire had been extinguished, 146 Triangle Waist Company workers were dead, many burned beyond recognition. The grim task of identifying so many victims had begun.

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Over the next several hours, their corpses were laid out on the sidewalk, tagged, put in coffins, and loaded into wagons.

They were going to Charities Pier, off East 26th Street—nicknamed “Misery Lane” because it was the makeshift morgue where city officials routinely brought victims of lethal disasters.

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“When the wagons arrived, they were met by a team of homeless men dragooned from the Municipal Lodging House, who were assigned to open the boxes and arrange them in two long rows,” wrote David Von Drehle in Triangle: The Fire That Changed America.

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“At midnight, the doors opened. The first in a growing line of friends and family members began shuffling up one long row and down the other. Low voices, slow footsteps, the cry of gulls, and the lapping of water punctuated the heavy silence.

“A faint sulfuric glow fell from the lights hung high in the rafters. They did little  to illuminate the coffins, however, so policemen stood every few feet holding lanterns.

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“When a loved one paused at a box and peered close, the nearest officer dangled his lantern helpfully.

Trianglememorialevergreens“The light swayed and flickered over the disfigured faces. Now and then a shock of recognition announced itself in a piercing cry or sudden sob splitting the ghastly quiet.”

The task of identifying the dead lasted four cold, rainy days. Pickpockets and the morbidly fascinated lined up along with family members.

Within a week, all but seven bodies had been ID’d.

In April, they were honored in a procession (above) and buried together at the Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn.

The East Village is a crowded necropolis

March 10, 2014

I don’t know how many New Yorkers are officially buried inside the borders of the East Village.

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But considering that the neighborhood has three burial grounds dating back to the late 18th century—and had at least one more on 11th Street, now the site of apartments—it appears to be a part of the city that officially hosts more than its share of dead.

NewyorkcitymarblecemeteryThe New York Marble Cemetery, founded in 1831 as the final resting place for members of the city’s oldest and most distinguished families.

The narrow entrance is on Second Avenue between Second and Third Streets, and along the walls are vaults containing Varicks, Motts, Pecks, and Deys.

The last of the 2,080 internments took place in 1937, though most vaults date from 1830 to 1870.

Around the corner on Second Street is the similarly named New York City Marble Cemetery, home to 258 vaults housing Roosevelts, Willets, Blackwells (at right), Kips, and the wonderfully named merchant Preserved Fish.

This graveyard, also once set amid undeveloped land, filled up fast; by 1835, it reached its limits.

At the northern end of the neighborhood is the cemetery ground at St. Mark’s Church, at Second Avenue and 11th Street.

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The remains of Peter Stuyvesant, who died in 1672, are contained here. Walk along the brick paths, and you’ll see that the churchyard features dozens of marble markers noting the vaults of ex-mayor Philip Hone and ex-governor Daniel Tompkins, among others.

11thstreetcemeterySt. Mark’s Church also had another graveyard across Second Avenue on 11th Street dating to 1803, according to the New York Cemetery Project website (seen here on an old city map).

“An unknown number of individuals were buried at St. Mark’s Cemetery until burials there were prohibited in 1851,”  the website states.

“The remains from this graveyard were removed to Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn in 1864 and residences were built on the site.”

Whoever was once interred here now resides in the necropolis that is Brooklyn.

A little girl’s diary sheds light on the 1849 city

January 9, 2014

“I am ten years old to-day, and I am going to begin to keep a diary,” wrote Catherine Elizabeth Havens on August 6, 1849.

CatherinehavensandfatherCatherine only kept her diary for a year. But lucky for us, as an adult, she had the foresight to publish it in 1919.

Now, future generations can peek into what day-to-day city life was like for kids in the mid-19th century.

Well-off kids, that is. The daughter of a businessman (with her father at right), she first lived on exclusive Lafayette Place, then in Brooklyn, where she tells us her brother “liked to go crabbing.”

Her family finally settled on Ninth Street near Fifth Avenue. “It is a beautiful house and has glass sliding doors with birds of Paradise sitting on palm trees painted on them. And back of our dining room is a piazza, and a grape vine, and we have lots of Isabella grapes every fall.”

CatherinediaryexcerptThe city is getting too built up, she writes. “I walk some mornings with my nurse before breakfast from our house in Ninth Street up Fifth Avenue to Twenty-Third Street, and down Broadway home.

“An officer stands in front of the House of Refuge on Madison Square, ready to arrest bad people, and he looks as if he would like to find some.”

Catherine goes to a girls’ school; she likes piano lessons but dislikes history. Her family occasionally attends the “brick church” on Beekman Place and Nassau Street (below). She and her school friends raise $300 to help victims of the Irish potato famine.

Like all super-aware city kids, she knows all the leading attractions. She visits Vauxhall Gardens, mentions a wax figure at Barnum’s Museum, and remembers how moved her father was when he saw Jenny Lind sing at Castle Garden.

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She gets cream puffs from Waldick’s Bakery on Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street and chocolate on Broadway and Ninth Street. “Down Broadway, below Eighth Street is Dean’s candy store, and they have molasses candy that is the best in the city.”

CatherinediarymarblecemeteryShe tells us about the sounds of old New York. “Stages run through Bleecker Street and Eighth Street and Ninth Street right past our house, and it puts me right to sleep when I come home from the country to hear them rumble along over the cobblestones again.”

Catherine shops A.T. Stewart’s store on Chambers Street and likes Arnold and Constable on Canal Street, where “they keep elegant silks and satins and velvets, and my mother always goes there to get her best things.”

CatherinediarybrickchurchAnd she loves playtime in the park. “I roll my hoop and jump the rope in the afternoon, sometimes in the Parade Ground on Washington Square, and sometimes in Union Square.”

 The adult Catherine dedicated her published diary to her nieces and nephews, so perhaps she had no children of her own. I would love to know what happened to this thoughtful, literate girl, whose words give us a wonderful window into the pre-Civil War city.

[Third image: The Spangler Farmhouse, once on 14th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue and included in the published version of Catherine's diary]

Poster stamps of the city’s top draws in 1915

January 2, 2014

I’d never heard of poster stamps until an Ephemeral reader told me about them.

Popular in the mid-19th century into the early 1900s, these advertising labels, each a little larger than a postage stamp, were a trendy collectible at the time.

Hippodromeposterstamp

They generally featured products and services—and in the case of these poster stamps, found in a thrift store and dating to about 1915, the product was New York City.

Astorhotelposterstamp

The reader who brought them to my attention was kind enough to send me images of 15 stamps, all by acclaimed poster artist Franklin Bittner.

StPaulschapelposterstamp

Many are of the tourist attractions found on postcards today: the Statue of Liberty and the Plaza Hotel, for example.

Yet some feature places and buildings that don’t necessarily make it on the double-decker bus tours these days . . . or no longer exist at all.

Washingtonarchposterstamp

The Hippodrome, once on Sixth Avenue at 43rd Street, is gone, and Times Square’s Astor Hotel no longer exists either.

St. Paul’s Chapel on Lower Broadway is mostly known now for its role as a relief center on and just after September 11, 2001. The Washington Square Arch is still there and must-see for out-of-towners. But no cars anymore.

Thanks to Lisa for sending them over!

Strolling through Riverside Park to Grant’s Tomb

April 24, 2013

A few solitary, turn-of-the-century New Yorkers took advantage of the quiet, lovely paths of the upper portion of Riverside Park in this vintage postcard.

Grant’s Tomb, opened to much fanfare in 1897, looms ahead.

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The road beside the Hudson River looks more like the Henry Hudson Parkway, not Riverside Drive, no?

Up ahead, north of Grant’s Tomb, lies another little-known tomb of a child that still exists today.

Thankfully, these were not built in Central Park

April 12, 2013

New York City has a long history of grand, ambitious plans that never make it past the idea stage.

Centralparktimesheadline

A few examples? Moving sidewalks in Mahattan, a subway tunnel to Staten Island, a bridge spanning 125th Street to New Jersey, and 100-story housing projects in Harlem.

But some of the wackier or just-plain-wrong proposals were focused on Central Park. And that’s just in the park’s first half-century of existence.

Centralparkmallnypl

“If the various persons who have sought to invade Central Park in the last 60 years, for projects in themselves often worthy, oftener grotesque, and frequently purely commercial, had had their way, there would now be nothing left of the park except a few walks and drives, and a lake on which steamboats and full-rigged ships would be plying,” states an amusing New York Times article from 1918 (headline above).

Terracestepspostcardnypl

Among the ideas, according to the article: a theater seating 100,000, a sports stadium, a burial ground for the city’s “distinguished dead,” Grant’s Tomb, the paving of the lower end of the park, free swimming baths, and a speedway that would encircle the entire park.

More outlandish: straightening the circular paths throughout the park so they made the park into a “checkerboard,” a “street railway” running through the park, and cutting up the park and turning it into building lots!

[Vintage postcards: NYPL Digital Gallery]

The tragic end of an alcoholic 19th century actor

December 27, 2012

GeorgefrederickcookecolorGeorgefrederickcookeiagoAt the turn of the 19th century, George Frederick Cooke was the A-list star actor in his native England.

He was deemed a figure of the “first rank of the London stage” whose portrayal of Richard III at Covent Garden Theatre in 1800 cemented his rep as “the leading tragedian of the day.”

But like many artists, Cooke was an alcoholic. He’d vanish from the stage for long periods, and when he made it to a performance, he was “often so drunk as to not be able to come on the stage at all,” recalls the New York Times in 1873.

As with countless other actors, his addiction torpedoed his career. So Cooke left London and went on tour in New York in November 1810.

Here, he played Richard III to rapt, star-struck audiences at the Park Theatre, then on Park Row.

GeorgefrederickcookeplaqueUnfortunately, he never made it back to England. The War of 1812 left him stuck in the city, and the 56-year-old actor died here that year of cirrhosis.

Now his story gets more dramatic. Cooke was buried behind St. Paul’s Chapel on Fulton Street in a pauper’s grave, supposedly without his head, which he’d willed to science to pay down his debts, according to rumors.

His skull was also reported to have made it on stage—as a prop in a British performance of Hamlet later that century.

A monument to Cooke was erected at St. Paul’s by his protegee, British thespian Edmund Kean in 1821. His body was reburied there, but whether it was intact remains a mystery.

[Photo at right: from Findagrave.com]

The mournful sculptures at a Bronx cemetery

December 21, 2012

Pastoral, gentle Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx doesn’t have the recognition of Green-Wood Cemetery or The Evergreens, both in Brooklyn.

Woodlawncemeterytietjen

But it’s a similar kind of final resting place: an 1863 “rural” cemetery created after burials were banned in Manhattan for health reasons, and designed almost as parks, for leisure as well as mourning—composed of rolling hills with the remains of 300,000 New Yorkers underneath.

Woodlawncemeterypeacido

Like Green-Wood and The Evergreens, it’s open to visitors, who are allowed to navigate the landscape and gaze at the angels and other figures that decorate many of the mausoleums and graves.

Woodlawncemeterycaptain

Captain G.H. Winter was a firefighter, the hat tells us. Could he be the same G.H. Winter awarded a medal for bravery in 1944? This grave looks older than that.

Woodlawncemeteryleuze

This Botticelli-tressed figure at the Curtis family tomb isn’t merely in mourning—she’s despondent and heartbroken.

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Many of New York’s leaders and hometown celebs are buried at Woodlawn: actors, politicians, sports stars, musicians. A complete list is here.

The “hangman’s elm” of Washington Square Park

October 11, 2012

Was the gorgeous elm tree at the northwest corner of Washington Square Park (at left in 1936) used for public executions?

It’s a legend passed down over the years.

On one hand, a Parks Department web link seems to imply that people were indeed hanged from the 110-foot tree, estimated to be at least 300 years old.

“The [sic] English elm (Ulmus procera) at the corner of Waverly Place and MacDougal Street acquired its reputation during the American Revolutionary War,” the site explains. “According to legend, traitors were hung from its branches.”

In 1797, the city acquired the land for a potter’s field. “The field was also used for public executions, giving rise to the tale of the Hangman’s Elm. . . ” another Parks Department link states.

In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette, visiting from France, supposedly witnessed the hanging of 20 highwaymen here in 1824.

Newgate State Prison was just a stone’s throw away on Christopher and 10th Streets; inmates sentenced to death were reportedly walked over and hanged here.

Newspaper archives through the 19th century contain several stories that refer to the “hanging elm.” But perhaps the articles simply repeated the legend.

The only actual recorded execution in the vicinity was of a young woman named Rose Butler, convicted of arson and strung up on a gallows across the street in 1820.

Here’s the story of the city’s other most notorious tree . . . until it was knocked down.

[Top photo: NYPL Digital Collection; middle photo: Wikipedia]

The teary-eyed angel of a Brooklyn cemetery

June 28, 2012

This angel looks to be weeping or wiping away a tear as she (he?) guards a grave at the Evergreens Cemetery on the Brooklyn-Queens border.

More angels just like this one stand by tombstones all over this necropolis of about half a million, which includes the graves of many German immigrants who settled in nearby Bushwick in the 19th century after the cemetery was founded in 1849.

It’s a lovely place to visit on a warm summer day.


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