Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Solomon Van Rensselaer

Solomon Van Rensselaer's tall marble monument is perched on a slope overlooking Ravine Side Way, a path that begins near the remains of Consecration Lake and runs parallel to the Middle Ridge Road at the top of the same slope.  Since it overlooks this somewhat secluded walk and faces away from the main road, it's fairly easy to miss.  Two of the early histories of the Rural Cemetery - Henry Phelps' The Albany Rural Cemetery - Its Beauties, Its Memories and Edward Fitzgerald's Handbook For The Albany Rural Cemetery - both make substantial mention of this grave site.

Solomon Van Rensselaer was, among other things, a soldier, a U.S. Congressman, postmaster of Albany, and owner of Cherry Hill which had been built by his father-in-law.  He is perhaps best known, though, for his service during the War of 1812.  Serving under his cousin, General Stephen Van Rensselaer III, he took part in the Battle of Queenstown Heights.  During the American defeat there, he was said to have been "riddled" with shots.

He died at the age of seventy-seven on April 23, 1852.  His wife, Harriet, had passed twelve years earlier.  They were originally buried in the Dutch Reformed Church's cemetery (part of the old municipal burial grounds), but were later moved to this large family plot on the Middle Ridge.  However, several newspaper clippings from the 1960s identify his original resting place as Capitol Park where Colonel John Mills was also buried for a time.

More on Solomon Van Rensselaer

Friday, October 10, 2014

David Zeh

This fascinating stone lies well off the main road along the North Ridge.  It faces away from the road and looks towards the Kromme Kill ravine.  In between mowings, it can quickly be swallowed up by the tall grass and clover.

The monument is made of a reddish-brown sandstone and, considering how easily this material erodes, the carved details are in fantastic shape.  If you look closely at the bottom right corner below the name, you'll see it's signed by James Gazeley.  It's likely one of his earlier works. 

The style is almost whimsical and folksy;  an angle bearing tablets carved with the words "EVEN SO" emerges from puffy clouds that almost resemble clusters of grapes.  Below the heavenly messenger, there are old-fashioned scales piled with scrolls.  There is a passage from Corinthians on either side of the scales.  Above the angel, it reads, "Scripture Balance."  Below, it reads, "On Earth Peace Good Will Toward Men."  The top of the monument is certainly missing something;  a column or urn or obelisk would've have completed it. 

This unusual stone marks the grave of David Zeh who died on April 8, 1880, but was likely erected well before his death to mark the graves of other family members.  The first burials in this lot took place in the 1850s and David Zeh probably commissioned the monument then.

David Zeh, who was born in Berne, New York in 1802, was a Trustee of the First Universalist Church in Albany.  City directories identify him as a merchant at the corner of State and Hawk Streets (with a residence nearby at 7 High Street).  Based on the burial records, it would seem he married twice;  his first wife, Catherine, died in 1833 at the age of twenty-eight.  His second wife, Mary Janes, survived him and passed away in 1893.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

October 7, 1844

 Nothing could exceed the order and decorum with which everything was done.
---The Albany Argus, October 8, 1844

It was one hundred and seventy years ago today that the Albany Rural Cemetery was consecrated.  The event was marked with a great deal of ceremony;  a procession of dignitaries, civic organizations, and "a great concourse" of private citizens made their way from North Pearl Street to the new Cemetery where the dedication took place in a glen just below Consecration Lake.  That section now overgrown and forgotten but once considered one of the Cemetery's finest attractions.

It had taken three years from the formation of the Albany Cemetery Association to the opening of the new Cemetery grounds.  During this time, several other sites were considered for the Cemetery, but there were obstacles to obtaining them.

The ceremony - which began at nine in the morning and didn't end until half past three - was reported on in great detail by the local newspapers, including the Argus which printed the full text of several hymns written for the occasion, Reverend Doctor Pohlman's readings, and Alfred B. Street's poem.  They did not immediately reprint Daniel Dewey Barnard's lengthy dedication speech, but published it a day later and it can be found in Henry Phelp's The Albany Rural Cemetery - Its Beauties, Its Memories.  

The Argus concluded the account by noting the weather which seems to have been quite like this morning's.

The weather was not at all that could have been desired – the sky being overcast and threatening rain. The grounds in consequence did not appear in all their beauty – but none who visited them could fail to be impressed with the adaptation of the place to the purposes to which it is to be sacredly devoted. Many, we presume, visited it for the first time yesterday – but few we presume will not omit an opportunity to re-visit in. We hope soon to see the walks and carriage-ways laid out, and a beginning made towards converting this retired and inviting spot into a general place of burial.

Below:  The gate mentioned in the advertisement above.  It was erected some time after the dedications and was later replaced with the current gates which were designed by Marcus T. Reynolds.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Stephen Lush

Set on the edge of the North Ridge overlooking the Kromme Kill ravine, this tall marble monument marks the grave of Stephen Lush and his family.

A native of New York City, he studied law and moved to his brother's home in Albany just before the Revolution.  He served very actively during the Revolution.  He was a member of the Albany Committee of Correspondence and served captain of the New York Volunteers.  He later joined the Fifth New Jersey Regiment and served as an acting judge advocate general.  As an aide-de-camp to General George Clinton, he was captured by the British when Fort Montgomery fell in 1777.  He was released in a prisoner exchange the following year.

After the war, he returned to Albany and married; his wife, Lydia, was the daughter of Dr. Samuel Stringer.  One of their children who died in infancy is buried in the Church Grounds.  Their Market Street house adjoined that of Dr. Stringer.  Lush was among the last slave owners in Albany, owning slaves as late as 1820.  A successful attorney, he served multiple terms the State Assembly and Senate.

Lush died in 1825 at the age of seventy-two.  Since he is not listed in the Common Council's inventory of interments in the State Street Burying Grounds, it's likely he was originally buried in the String family vault which stood in a small private cemetery leased by David Vanderheyden at what is now the northwest corner of Washington Avenue and Swan Streets. 

His wife, one son, and his brother are also listed on the east face of this monument.  When it was originally erected, this plot commanded a very fine view of the ravine below with two ornamental bodies of water, Lake Bethesda and Indian Lake. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Correspondence of the Boston Traveller

The following account of a visit by "The Boston Traveller" to the Cemetery appeared in the Albany Argus on July 31, 1845.  The account was dated July 22 and signed only "A Son of the Pilgrims."

I have just visited the new Cemetery, about three miles from Albany. It is in the township of Watervliet on the Troy road, and a little more than halfway to that city. It affords a drive, inside the fence, of five miles. The entrance and grounds are not yet completed, but they certainly bit fair to excel any similar ones in the country. Soon after entering, you pass through an oak filled opening, filled with gradual mounds, and approach to ravines suitable for burial places. These glens are among the most picturesque that can be conceived. In crossing them, and the streams which flow through a portion of them, you traverse bridges built of the trunks and limbs of tress, cut from the grounds. These rustic structures are strongly put together with railings formed in various shapes, adapted to the place. It is intended to plant trailing vines at each end, and thus cover their upper sides with foliage.

The views from these natural passage ways are some of the most charming the eye ever beheld. The gentle sloping or steep banks – the shady coves, hidden away among the overhanging trees – the palisades of mossy rocks, wreathed with rude crowns of bending bought – the opening river in the distance, with its dotted banks and vessels – present a scene of rural beauty rarely equaled. Intermingled among the bridges and winding paths are several of the most delightful lakes and cascades. Sufficient wood has been cleared away from their borders to admit the light of the sun and moon to the greatest possible advantage, affording the sky, clouds, trees, and hillsides a perfect reflection in the limpid waters. Here, overlooking mimic seas, burial spots have been already selected. Most cordially do I commend the good judgment of those that choose them. – Several open knolls and eminences are to be found, from which the river, Troy, and the public road are finely commanded. On one of these is admirable site for an observatory to overlook the enclosure. A large lot in the rear is intended for a flower garden and shrubbery nursery, where those who wish to obtain such memorials for their loved ones, can be readily supplied – the avails to be devoted to improving the Cemetery.

There have been, as yet, no burials, but it is probable, there are some bodies to be removed from other grounds. The place cannot but be a favorite with the Albanians, and all who pay visits to its sacred, silent shades. The movement was first suggested in a sermon preached by one of the clergymen of Albany – Rev. Dr. Welch. He is now on the Board of Manager, and is one of the most efficient members. Should you ever visit Albany, gentlemen, be sure to drive through this very sweet spot.


The author of the article states that there were no burials yet, but records show that David Strain was buried here in May of 1845.  There was likely no monument in the Strain lot yet.  The rustic wooden bridges described were later replaced with iron bridge;  most of these are long gone, too. 

The photo above shows an old monument hidden away in one of the picturesque glens the Boston Traveller expressed admiration for.  It stands near the remains of Consecration Lake.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Cemetery and Its Waggon

From the July 1, 1879 edition of the Albany Evening Times, news of a more affordable and less fatiguing way to visit the Cemetery.

In accord with the recommendation of the Evening Times, Mr. Thomas, the superintendent of the Rural cemetery, has made arrangements whereby a careful driver and a comfortable waggon await the visitors at every train. Those who desire it are taken to their lots and brought back for only ten cents the round trip. As it becomes better understood, – the number of visitors will doubtless greatly increase; for delicate women who can hardly walk to the upper or more distant parts of the cemetery, can now reach such portions of the grounds without fatigue. Mr. Thomas deserves the thanks of all those who cannot afford to pay five dollars for carriage hire to enable them to make a trip from Albany to the cemetery. We hope enough patronage will be given to this new method of conveyance to make it a success, as it well deserves to be.

The cemetery, since the recent rains, is a very beautiful place. The vegetation is in the very height of June verdure; the views, varying with every different stand-point, are simply superb. It is recognized by every lover of the beautiful in nature as the loveliest situation of all the cemeteries in the country.

See also:  The Trolley To The Cemetery

Monday, September 22, 2014

Pye The Englishman

Around 1800, an Englishman named John Pye opened a tavern on the road between Albany and Troy.  It stood just a little south of the present entrance to the Rural Cemetery along Route 32.

Born in England around 1752, he first appears in local records after the end of the Revolutionary War and was known to be a good friend of General Philip Schuyler and his family.  The Schuylers were, of course, his neighbors; their large farm known as The Flatts lay just a few yards northwest from the Pye Tavern.

John Pye is best remembered for a robbery at his tavern on a wintery night in 1808.  Robert Johnson, later described as "a highwayman," entered the tavern seeking $1,000 in cash and gold that Pye was rumored to have beneath his bed.  He surprised the sleeping innkeeper and his wife and, drawing a pistol, demanded, "Your money or your life."  When Pye hesitated, Johnson fired and wounded him in the neck.  Some accounts say that Pye's wife, Elizabeth, then fired at the highwayman with her husband's own pistol.

Johnson fled, racing back to Albany on horseback.  He attracted attention when he jumped his horse across a toll barrier and escaped across the river.  By then, the alarm had been raised and William Winne, a letter carrier and watchman pursued the highwayman through the snow.  When Winne confronted Johnson, the robber pulled a knife on him and managed to knock out Winne's front teeth.  Winne, however, was able to subdue him by seizing his bandana and choking him with it.  Johnson was apparently wounded by Mrs. Pye's shot and died shortly after being taken into custody.  His skeleton was reportedly kept in the office of an anatomist in Troy for some years after.

John Pye survived the attack and continued to manage his tavern.  The incident caused quite a sensation in the local papers and an account was published in 1836 with the lengthy title, "The robber, or A narrative of Pye and the highwayman, Being a detailed and particular account of an attempted robbery of the inn of John Pye, between the cities of Albany and Troy, N.Y. in 1808, and of the outlaws' final capture and end: as related by Mrs. Pye herself, and others who were most intimately acquainted with the whole tragical affair..."  The story was not without embellishments, some contributed by William Winne himself.

Pye died in 1817 and was buried among his friends in the Schuyler family burial ground at The Flatts.  His widow married their bartender, William Nutt, and continued to manage the tavern.  She died in 1846 at the age of 90 (or 97, according to some sources).  She and her second husband were also buried at The Flatts.

In the 1920s, all of the graves at old Flatts burial ground was removed to the Rural Cemetery.  A number of headstones were brought over from The Flatts with the remains, but most are now illegible.  One of the worn stones above may be that of Pye The Englishman.