Monday, August 25, 2014

The Great Bibliopole


 This large granite headstone with its little carved flowers in located in a very obscure corner of the Rural Cemetery, just up a grassy steep path from a wildly overgrown row of charity plots.  It's a hilly area just west of the South Ridge and labelled Summit Ridge on some older maps of the grounds.

While it's not carved deeply and a little difficult to read, the epitaph on this monument caught my eye.  Maybe the light was at just the right angle, but the words, YE OLDE BOOK MAN stood out and certainly required a closer look.

1834 Joseph McDonough 1917 - Ye Olde Booke Man - Here lies McDonough The Great Bibliopole.  Shall he be forgot?  Oh no.  He no promise broke, served no private end.  Unblamed through life, lamented in the end.  A wise old sage was he but not severe.  His manly sense checked no decent joy.  A graceful looseness he could put on, Enjoying life's enchanted cup to the brim.

McDonough was a well-known seller of used books in downtown Albany, beginning in 1870.  He was a native of Ireland who sold books in Liverpool before continuing that trade here.  He did business at a number of different locations in downtown Albany;  over the years, various ads and directories place him at 53 and 55 State Street, 98 State Street, 30 North Pearl Street, and 39 and 41 Columbia Street.  Later, he had a shop on Hudson Avenue.  An ad in The Literary Collector for Ye Olde Booke Man, offers "libraries, or odd lots, or remainders of editions purchased" and "monthly catalogues of second-hand books mailed free on application."  He was also a publisher;  one of the more noteworthy local titles he produced was Players of A Century which traced the history of theatre in Albany and was authored by Henry P. Phelps who also wrote The Albany Rural Cemetery - Its Beauties, Its Memories.

He died on April 8, 1917 following what the Albany Evening Journal described as "a three weeks illness." The newspaper noted he had a "wide circle of friends"  He was survived by a married daughter and a son, Paul Arthur McDonough, who was described as "an actor in London."  Also buried with him are his wife and an eighteen year old daughter, Jane, who died of tuberculosis on Christmas Day, 1881.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Albany Medical College Lots


Located not far from the massive Winslow family tomb at the low, eastern edge of the North Ridge, these small granite mark lots reserved for the remains of individuals who have donated their bodies for anatomical research and other study at the Albany Medical College.


The Times Union has a feature on yesterday's service in honor of over three hundred people newly interred here.



Monday, August 11, 2014

Doctor Thomas Elkins

This weathered marble monument stands near the crest of a low hill overlooking the Arsenal Burial Ground on the North Ridge.  Though eroded, the lettering can still be read:  DR. THOS. ELKINS 1818-1900.

Elkins was a doctor, an inventor, and a prominent member of Albany's 19th-century African-American community.  He studied surgery and dentistry under Dr. Alden March, a founder of the Albany Medical College.  Elkins operated a pharmacy on North Swan Street which he later relocated to Broadway at Livingston Avenue (the latter was still called Lumber Street at the time).  According to contemporary newspaper reports, the front window of the pharmacy was blown in by the powerful explosion of a nearby locomotive on February 25, 1867.

He seems to have taken at least a passing interest in horticulture as well;  in 1886, a committee of the African Methodist Episcopal Church agreed to plant a memorial tree in Washington Park and the tree in question was one grown from seed by Dr. Elkins.  The committee included a son of Samuel Mando.  Elkins also made a trip to the then newly-formed nation of Liberia and is reported to have brought back a collection of African artifacts, shells, and minerals, though the fate of his collection is not known. 

Elkins is perhaps best remembered as part of Albany's Underground Railroad. For a time, he lived a few doors away from Stephen and Harriet Myers on Lumber Street and actively took part in their work.  He is identified as a member of the local Vigilance Committee which assisted slaves fleeing The South.  As a trained doctor, it is more than likely he was able to offer medical assistance to those fugitives in need of such care.  During the Civil War, he served as a medical examiner to the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (the unit made famous in the film Glory).

Elkins was also well-known as an inventor.  His work as a medical examiner led him to develop and patent a unit for the cold storage of corpses which is said to have been a forerunner of the refrigerator.  For this innovation, he received a certificate of "highest merit" from the New York Agriculture Society.  He also patented several pieces of multifunctional furniture, including a combination of a commode, washstand, bureau, mirror, chair, table, and bookshelf intended to save space in a small room. 

Elkins died in on August 10, 1900.  He was eighty-eight years old and the cause of his death was listed as apoplexy.  His funeral from his home at 888 Broadway was presided over by the canon of the Cathedral of All Saints and his pallbearers were the sons of several of his closest friends.


More on Elkins' inventions can be found here, including diagrams. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Private James Armstrong


Private James Armstrong was only sixteen when he was killed in action in Belgium during World War I. 

The son of a coal handler (who, according to census and burial records, lived at 1226 Fifth Avenue in Watervliet), he died in Belgium on August 3, 1918 while serving in Company G of the 105th Infantry. 

Originally interred in Belgium, his body was exhumed by the U.S. Government and returned to his family for reburial in the Albany Rural Cemetery on April 10, 1921.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Trolley To The Cemetery


For people who wished to visit the loved ones graves at the Rural Cemetery or to simply stroll the scenic grounds, a trolley like this was the best option for people who didn't have a carriage or other vehicle of their own.  Earlier in the Cemetery's history, horse-drawn omnibuses traveled the same route between downtown Albany and the Broadway gates.  The Cemetery also had its own little depot for trains.  That station is gone, but freight trains still regular pass by.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Mama Sarah and Clary-Boy

This pretty marble monument on the South Ridge includes one of the more unusual epitaphs I've encountered in the Albany Rural Cemetery and one I didn't actually notice until I looked at the photo later.  The marble is in very good condition for its age, still fairly clean and its lettering still legible.  It is topped with a very simple draped urn and marks a lot belonging to the Parker and Britton families. 

The upper half inscription on the face shown above reads:  Sarah N. Parker wife of Winchester Britton Died November 15, 1854.  Aged 20 years And 22 days. 

The lower half read:  "I am coming to take you away, Clary-Boy"  "I do see, Mama Sarah.  I will come,"  January 29, 1857 Verified February 6, 1857 Clarence P. Britton Aged 2 years 10 mos. 8 dys.

Sarah Nelson Parker was the first wife of attorney Winchester Britton whose interesting obituary appeared in the Albany Evening Times on February 15, 1886.


After Sarah's early death, Winchester had married her sister Caroline (also buried here).  They had eleven children. 

The dialogue quoted on this side of the monument, though, seems right out of a sentimental novel or tract of the era with the spirit of the deceased mother calling to the young son that will soon join her in the family's cemetery plot and little "Clary-Boy" ((who was only nine months old when "Mama Sarah" died) responding to her summons.  It's not quite clear what the word "verified" means in this context or what the significance of the January date is.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Ellen Herndon Arthur


With its tall bronze angel and polished black sarcophagus, the monument of Chester A. Arthur is easily the most famous in the Albany Rural Cemetery.  Small metal markers throughout the Cemetery point the way to it and annual wreath-laying ceremonies honor the 21st President of the United States.

President Arthur isn't - as a few visitors (and authors) have mistakenly assumed - buried inside that black stone sarcophagus.  His grave is actually just behind the massive monument.  And that is where the delicate white marble sarcophagus-style headstone of his wife is located.


Ellen Herndon was born in Culpeper Court House, Virginia in 1837.  She was daughter of Captain William Lewis Herndon, a Mexican War veteran and Naval explorer who headed an expedition to the then largely uncharted Valley of  the Amazon in South America.  Herndon was hailed as a hero when he went down with his mail steamer, the SS Central America.  When the ship was crippled during a hurricane near Cape Hatteras, Captain Herndon arranged for over a hundred and fifty women and children to be transferred to another vessel before Captain Herndon went going down with his ship on September 12, 1857.  

Chester Arthur, then a promising young lawyer, proposed to Ellen on the verandah of the U.S. Hotel in Saratoga Springs in 1856 and they were married in New York City three years later.  The couple had three children;  William Lewis Herndon Arthur who was named after the Captain, Chester Arthur II, and Ellen, known as Nellie. During the Civil War, Ellen quietly sympathized with the South because of close family ties in her native Virginia while her husband served as Quartermaster General of the Union Army.

Ellen Arthur, known to those close to her as Nell, died at the age of forty-two on January 12, 1880.  She had caught a cold while waiting for her carriage after a benefit concert in New York City which quickly developed into pneumonia.  She died before Arthur could reach her bedside. 

Ellen was buried in a family plot at the Rural Cemetery originally purchased by her father-in-law and her grave was marked by a sarcophagus-style monument of white Italian marble on a bluestone base. It was erected in early 1883 by William Manson who was also responsible for creating the Fireman's Monument, the Col. Mills monument, and the massive granite monument in the William Appleton lot. The top of this sarcophagus is carved with a cross which runs the length of the monument.  During Chester Arthur's lifetime, the lot in which Nellie was buried was beautifully landscaped with rose bushes, geraniums, and ornamental trees. At the time, this area, rather near the western edge of the Cemetery, was known as “Sunset Lawn.” 

When Vice-President Chester Arthur became President after the assassination of James Garfield, he had freshly-cut flowers in front of Nell's portrait every day and he had a stained glass window depicting the “Annunciation To The Shepherds” installed as a memorial to her in the south transept of St. John's Episcopal Church which he could see from his White House windows, especially at night when the church was kept lit. A talented singer, Ellen Arthur had been a member of that church's choir during her youth.

A year after his own Presidency ended, Chester Arthur died in 1886 and was buried near Ellen in the family plot.