Monday, October 5, 2015

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Disappearance of Robert Harper

This lovely monument with a heavy, tasseled pall draped over a marble shaft and a wreath of flowers encircling an urn with flames is located on the slope of the Middle Ridge just across from the Cemetery's chapel.

The monument marks the grave of Robert Harper and the inscription notes that he died January 22, 1870.  He was buried on April 24 of the same year.

Born in Ireland around 1811, Robert Harper is listed in Albany city directories as a vegetable merchant, first at the city's central market and, later, at 90 State Street.  His home was on Lydius Street (now Madison Avenue) near Partridge Street.  City directories also show as John Harper at the same house and give his occupation as a gardener.  Robert and John appear to have been brothers.  Robert also served as an alderman in the city's 10th Ward.

According to an article which ran in The Albany Evening Times, Robert Harper had "risen from obscurity to affluence and an honorable position among our citizens."  Property maps shows that his property covered about twelve square blocks from old Lydius Street south to Gansevoort Street between Partridge Street and Main Avenue

Late on night of January 22, 1870, he was seen leaving the Watkins House, a restaurant at 100 State Street, but he never arrived at home.  There were rumors that he was kidnapped, robbed, and murdered.  There were even several arrests made in connection his disappearance, but no one was charged.

The following April, after a period of spring rains, a body was found in the Hudson River at Coeymans by John Hounstein, an "old gentleman" who had charge of the lights on the Coeymans dyke.  Described as "poor, honest, and hardworking" by the newspapers, Hounstein spotted the body near the dyke, fastened it to his little boat, and towed it to land.  It was April 19, a little over four months after Robert Harper walked out of the Watkins House for the last time.

A doctor was summoned to examine the body.  The doctor detected no signs of violence and it was decided that no foul play was involved in the death;  it was presumed that Harper fell into the river basin at the foot of State Street and his body was held in place over the winter by boats, only to be washed downstream in the spring.  An examination of his pockets found a copy of Harper's Magazine, a gold watch on a chain, keys, a pocketknife, a corkscrew, a pocket ruler, and a packet of personal and business papers. 

Justice McNamara, identified in the newspapers as a relative of Robert Harper, rushed to Coeymans by tugboat in the company of the coroner and two detectives who had been investigating Harper's disappearance.   They identified the body as Robert Harper.  A further search of the deceased reveal several packets of money totaling $829.

Robert Harper's remains were returned to Albany and brought to the Morange undertaking rooms, then located at 39 North Pearl Street.

 The Morange Undertaking Ware Rooms ca. 1871 - photo from the Albany Public Library and the Albany...The Way It Was group archive on Flickr.

Robert Harper was buried in Lot 3, Section 62.  The burial records note that his second wife, Susan, instructed them to bury him beside his first wife, Sarah E., whose date of death is not listed in the records.  His first wife must have died at some point after the 1860 census.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Automobiles May Enter

This brief article comes from the April 20, 1910 issue of The Horseless Age, a periodical which covered automobile-related topics.  That year, the Cemetery trustees first allowed automobiles to enter the Cemetery grounds, but only through the South Gate and with certain restrictions.

"At the half-mile circle, to which they will now be permitted to run, a man will be stationed constantly, and if any motorist passes the point, all gates will be closed by telephone orders until the violator of the rule is caught."

Thursday, August 6, 2015


 In a lovely contrast to the recent vandalism of a mausoleum and headstone, the broken wings of an angel have been restored.

This pretty monument is hard to see from the main roads and paths;  it's tucked in a very quiet and shady corner of the South Ridge near Moordanaers Kill.  Still, it's a popular subject for photos and it's not unusual to see flowers tucked in the hands of the statue or in the two little urns on the pedestal.

The wings have been detached for many years.  Twenty years ago, when I first saw this monument, one wing was resting upside down on the base (and reminded me of a giant shell) and the other was propped up behind the monument.

December 2012

Sometime during the last month, someone refitted the wings back into their slots on the angel's shoulders.  A closer look shows how they've been secured with thin bits of stone and what look like coins.  The tips are long since broken and missing, but with the wings back in place, the pretty figure is now quite stunning.

This monument marks a single grave;  Elizabeth "Libbie" Lathrop.  Born in Albany in 1852, she was the daughter of Francis and Alida Griswold.  Her father was a gold beater whose home was 307 Hamilton Street (his place of business is listed in city directories as 23 Beaver Street.  She married Charles Lathrop, brother of Jane Lathrop who, with her husband Leland Stanford, founded Stanford University.  Charles served as the school's first treasurer.

Libbie died the same year the University was founded;  she passed away of heart disease in San Francisco on July 3.  She was thirty-three years old.  Her remains were returned to Albany and interred in this peaceful nook of the Cemetery on July 19.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Albany Marble Works

An advertisement for Thomas K. Kenny's Albany Marble Works from an 1844-5 city directory.  The ad feature a decorative mantelpiece and a scene reminiscent of popular late 18th and early 19th century mourning art;  a woman sadly contemplating a headstone beneath a stylized tree (see The Mourners for examples of similar imagery on gravestones and for links to two such scenes attributed to painter Ezra Ames). 

The ad lists the various types of marble articles of "every description" produced by the Marble Works, including  monuments and grave stones.  Several monuments by Thomas Kenny can be found at the Albany Rural Cemetery, including the Delavan monument and the signed Mary Kane headstone.