Friday, June 20, 2014

Wife of John Lansing, Jr.

John Lansing, Jr. had quite an impressive career behind him when he left his New York City hotel to mail some letters on December 12, 1829.  The son of Albany silversmith Gerrit Lansing, he began as a teenaged law clerk in the years before the Revolution.  During the War, he served as a secretary to General Philip Schuyler before entering politics.  A delegate to the Constitutional Convention and member of the Continental Congress, his resume over the years would include several terms in the New York State Assembly, including two as Speaker.  From 1786 to 1790, he served as Mayor of Albany.  Later, he would serve as the State Chancellor and Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court  During the former, he used his own money to fund a survey of the Catskill and Helderberg Mountains.

In 1781, he married Cornelia Ray.  Born in Manhattan, she was the daughter of a New York City businessman who had sought safety for his family in Albany during the Revolution.  John and Cornelia had ten children, five died as children (including both sons).  Lansing Manor in North Blenheim, Schoharie County (now on the grounds of the New York Power Authority owned Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage Power Project) was built by Lansing as a country home for his daughter, Frances and her husband John Sutherland in 1819.

On December 12, 1829, Lansing left the City Hotel in Manhattan.  He failed to keep a dinner appointment and was never seen again.  For years, conspiracy theories abounded about his disappearance.  It was assumed that he was murdered, but no body was ever found and theories pinned the crime on everyone from the Freemasons to medical students who wished to dissect and study the old gentleman's cadaver.  Other people speculated it was suicide or just an accidental drowning along the Manhattan waterfront (he was going to post a letter by a boat heading back to Albany).

It's unlikely the true story will ever be known.  Some years later, prominent Albany editor Thurlow Weed was given a letter which was said to detail Lansing's fate and name the responsible parties.  Weed was given the information on the condition that he would not reveal it until the persons named were all deceased.  However, when all the parties allegedly involved had died, Weed decided that too much time had passed and destroyed the letter!

Several printed sources state that Lansing's family later placed a cenotaph in his memory in the plot at the Albany Rural Cemetery.  Cornelia died in 1834 at the age of 76.  Records don't indicate where she was originally buried before the Rural Cemetery was established, but she was eventually be re-interred at the Rural Cemetery in the Rensselaer Westerlo family lot on the North Ridge.  Westerlo was the husband of Cornelia Lansing's daughter, Jane.

However, there is no cenotaph for John Lansing in the lot.  His name appears on his widow's headstone, but there is no separate stone for him.  I've gone over this lot several times and even carefully prodded a sunken area a few feet away from the headstone and the large Westerlo cross, but there is no sign of such a monument.  Unless, of course, it vanished as mysteriously as he did.

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