The January 24, 1873 edition of the Albany Daily Evening Journal published the following article looking back at the state of the Cemetery the previous year.
THE RURAL CEMETERY
Latest view of the City of The Dead
Incidents in its History – New Monuments and Tombs – Improvements During the Year 1872 – Gov. Dix Once a Trustee
Among the many public institutions of our city there is none in which Albanians generally manifest more interest, nor which they point out to the stranger with a greater degree of pride, than that silent academy of art and conservatory of nature, our peaceful Rural cemetery.”
Only a few years ago the “Rural” was not extensively known as one of the finest cemeteries in the country – a distinction which it certainly merits, but latterly the daily concourse of summer visitors is largely composed of summer visitors who have heard of the wonderful natural beauties of the place, and hearing come to see.
Of course, the great mass of the visitors are residents of the surrounding cities and villages. It was supposed that the opening of the new park would tend greatly to keep away from the cemetery the large number of Albanians who had been accustomed to visit the grounds merely for a pleasant stroll; but thus far such has not proved to be the case. Together with the annual devotees who during the season of flowers, go regularly to decorate the mounds of their loved ones, are to be see crowds of persons, in all conditions of life, who can have no higher purpose than a quiet, recreative ramble among the leafy meandering paths, and limpid lakes, and through the shady, cool ravines which combine to lend so much of the picturesque to this enchanting garden of graves.
Because we speak of persons visiting the cemetery for “recreation,” it must not be supposed that applications for admission are indiscriminately entertained. Far from it, as the utmost vigilance is employed to guard against the entrance of rough and improper characters. Again there are doubtless persons who object to the bare idea of “recreation,” even of the contemplative sort, in such a place. Washington Irving was of a different opinion. Another author says that a cemetery should not be exclusively devoted to scenes of sorrow, and another that such institutions should be made “schools of instruction in architecture, sculpture, landscape gardening, aboriculture and botany.” The author of “Thanatopsis” and kindred poems of the serious order, would seem to be decidedly partial to “meditation among the tombs,” by those who meditate in congenial pairs, for he says:
And what if, in the evening light,
And what if, in the evening light,
Betrothed lovers walk in sight
Of my low monument?
I would the lovely scene around
I would the lovely scene around
Might know no sadder sight nor sound.
The increasing celebrity of the Albany Rural cemetery is principally due to the extensive improvements of the last few years. During the year recently closed a great deal was achieved toward enchancing the architectural beauty of the grounds; and here we propose to notice a few of the principal monuments and tombs erected or finished in 1872.
On the south ridge Mr. Robert L. Johnson has erected a very costly and handsome sarcophagus of granite. The lot of Douglas L. White has been ornamented by a massive granite monument, and attendant memorials of unique design, in the same material. A most attractive and creditable addition to the architecture of the place is the tomberected by Stillman Witt. This is constructed of the attractive Cleveland sandstone. On either side of the door are three Scotch granite columns surmounted by highly wrought marble caps. The combination of the pure marble, the dark, rich granite, and the delicate colored sandstone produces a very novel and happy effect, and the Witt vault is certainly destined to be greatly admired. The fine Scotch granite obelisk of S. & B.F. Watson – the fourth monument of this material which has been erected here – is very attractive. Judge William W. Reed and George W. Hoxise have also placed fine memorials upon their respective lots. Another noticeable structure is the marble cottage monument reared by J.J. Austin to the memory of his father.
On the middle ridge the monuments erect by Stephen Paddock and Lawson Annesley of Albany and George B. Fraser of West Troy appropriately ornament that locality, and the Townsend vault on the north ridge is one of the finest erections of the last year.
While the lot owners have been doing so much to add to the attractiveness of the grounds, Superintendent Thomas has not been idle during the past season. The large and romantic Tawasentha lake has been deepened and otherwise improved. Unsightly portions of the ground have transformed into nicely graded sections of desirable and valuable lots. Unoccupied spots, not available for burial purposes, have been planted in evergreens, artistically grouped, and various other evidences of progress are visible.
A glace at the cemetery records shows that one by one the fathers of the institution are passing away. Last year one of the most efficient of the trustees and the cemetery lost one of its best friends by the death of Wm. H. DeWitt. Dr. Welsh, who first brought the project of a rural cemetery for Albany prominently before the public preceded the former to this garden of graves by about a year. John I. Wendell, whose monomania was the improvement of the cemetery, is long since dead.
The two gentlemen last named were members of the original committee of twelve oppointed on December 31, 1840, to seek out and locate suitable grounds for a rural cemetery. This statement suggests to us a historical reminiscence, which at this juncture may be of interest to our citizens: One of the most ardent advocates of the expediency of founding a rural cemetery for Albany when that question was first agitated, is now governor of the state of New York. Gov. Dix was one of the original committee of twelve previously spoken of and one of the trustees of this institution in the year 1846. An unusual record appears upon the register of interments for last year – that of the burial of Diana Mingo, a colored lady aged 106 years. She was the oldest person ever buried in the cemetery.
A bit more on Diana Mingo can be found in this article on the town of Schodack where she was born in 1766. Her grave does not appear in the Cemetery's on-line records or index cards, but it might still be possible to locate it by checking the 1872 burial records in person.
The image at the top of this post is from an antique stereoview showing one of the old bridges which linked the South and Middle Ridges around the time this article was published. The bridge no longer exists.