Wednesday, November 20, 2013

James Gray

The grave of James Archibald Gray of Boardman & Gray, one of Albany's best known manufacturers of pianos.  Albany, at one time, was home to a number of piano makers.

All Over Albany - The Piano City

Gray's two wives and son are also buried here.  The monument was made by Young & Son in Troy as can be seen by a small inscription on the right side of the base.

Monday, November 18, 2013

John Tweddle

It's impossible to walk down State Street below the Capitol and not notice the Gothic bell tower of historic St. Peter's Episcopal Church.  That tower, with its gargoyles and carved faces, was erected in memory of John Tweddle.

John Tweddle is best remembered for Tweddle Hall, a large building which occupied the corner of State and North Pearl Streets.  The site is now the location of a rather stark modern building which houses a bank, Starbucks, and various offices.

Tweddle Hall was built in 1859 on what was previously known as Elm Tree Corner and Webster's Corner.  This vast building feature a brownstone facade by William Gray who was also responsible for a number of monuments at the Rural Cemetery (including "Sara and Her Babe") and numerous businesses (including tailors, druggists, art and music dealers, law offices, and shoe stores). 

Click here for an antique photo of Tweddle Hall on the Albany Institute of History & Art's site. 

Above the stores was a hall that could seat a thousand people.  Tweddle Hall would host everything from musical performances to conventions.  One of the most notable people to appear at the Hall was Charles Dickens who gave two sold-out readings there.  Like a modern-day rock concert, people lined up for hours in front of the Hall to buy the $2 tickets which sold out quickly or paid high prices to scalpers.   

Tweddle Hall burned in January 1883.  The many stairwells, flammable stage scenery and curtains, and long halls quickly spread the fire from the second floor throughout the building.  It was a total loss and, when it was rebuilt, it was a commercial edifice - the Tweddle Building - without the large performance hall.

John Tweddle was born in England in 1798 and orphaned at the age of nine.  He emigrated to the United States at twenty-one and, by 1847, was involved in the brewing business in Albany.  He was a founder and president of the Merchant's Bank and a Presidential elector voting for Abraham Lincoln's second term.

John Tweddle died of cancer on March 9, 1877.  He was buried on the South Ridge the following May where his grave is marked with a modest marble obelisk.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sara and Her Babe

When twenty-six year old Sara Weed died in childbirth, her husband William commissioned William Gray to create this monument.  The soaring marble shaft bears the words Sara and Her Babe and it is topped by a figure of a robed woman cradling a bottle close to her face. 

The touching to a tribute to a wife and stillborn child was described by Edward Fitzgerald wrote in his Handbook For The Albany Rural Cemetery:

Many ridiculous notions have prevailed concerning the meaning of the figure by which it is surmountedIt is intended to illustrated some Scriptural ideal; but what that ideal is, we have been unable to discover.  The memorial is very neat and appropriate.

The ridiculous notion mentioned by Fitzgerald refers to the publication of a cheap paperback novel entitled Sara and Her Babe.  The book told the sordid tale of a lovely young woman who met an early death thanks to a love of rum.  According to the book, the statue of Sara cradling her bottle of rum and that her grieving husband erected the monument to warn others of the dangerous of drink.
The bottle held by the marble lady is actually a "tear bottle."  Also known as a lachyrmatory, these vessels were used to collect a mourner's tears.  They were popular in Ancient Rome and again came into fashion for a time in the 19th-century.  It's certainly not a bottle of rum!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Drowned In The Albany Basin

The inscription on this very worn marble headstone reads:  The Grave of Alexander Smith of the city of Hudson who was drowned in the Albany Basin on the night of the 4th of April A.D. 1829, aged 49 years.

The Albany Argus carried a short news item about Smith's death which noted that his body was found a week after he was seen aboard a steamboat bound for Albany.  It was presumed that he attempted to go ashore in the dark, missed the pier, and fell into the water.  He left behind a wife and child in Hudson.

He was originally buried in the Episcopal section of the old State Street Burying Grounds, but was not part of the mass removal to the Church Grounds to make way for Washington Park.  He was instead reburied on the North Ridge.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

John W. Wood

The Rural Cemetery had only been open for about two years when sixteen-year old John Wood was laid to rest on this South Ridge hill.  At the time, this area was known as Mount Olivet, though now it is merely identified as Section 5.  The white marble monument features a broken column - a popular and sentimental symbol of a young life cut short - draped with a floral garland.  There is also a lovely carved rose just above the inscription on the pedestal. 

Based on the burial records, it appears that his father, Samuel, died in 1833 at the age of thirty-three and was interred in Havana, Cuba.  The lot was purchased by John's mother, Sarah, who passed away in Albany on March 28, 1886.  She was seventy-nine and, three days later, was laid to rest in the same lot she had purchased for her son forty years earlier.

The brownstone monument of the Strong family can be seen in the background.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Strong Roots

The roots of this old tree have grown right into the stone of the embankment where Moordanaers Kill crosses from Wild Flower Dell and Oak Hill Grove into Sylvan Dell (those old section names come from the map of the grounds found in Henry Phelps' 1892 book The Albany Rural Cemetery - Its Memories, Its Beauties.)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

James Eights

James Eights's watercolors are among the few visual records of early 19th-century Albany.  Painted in the 1840s, the pictures illustrate the city as it appeared in 1805 (and, in some cases, earlier).  Eights worked not only from his own memory, but from maps, documents, and personal recollections of locals.

Eights was born in Albany in 1798 to Dr. Jonathan Eights and his wife, Alidea Wynkoop.  His maternal grandfather, Jacobus Wynkoop, was a skipper, boatbuilder, and veteran of the Revolutionary War.   Jacobus reportedly built the sloop Experiment which was famous for its 1786 voyage to China.

As a young man, James Eights was appointed as a draftsman working on the geological surveys made for the construction of the Erie Canal.  By 1829, he was at sea as a surgeon and naturalist on a voyage to Antarctica.  Despite publishing his accounts of the voyage and the later naming of the Eights Coast in his honor, he was not a member of a follow-up expedition to the Southern Hemisphere, apparently as a result of the same alcoholism which would leave him broke later in life.

He returned to Albany in 1830 to live with his parents and, in the 1840s, began work on his series of paintings of his native city.  An excellent visual comparison of his historic views with the present can be found here.  In addition to painting, he wrote and published a number of reports on geology and history.

Unmarried and destitute, James Eights moved to his sister's home in Ballston Spa where he died of Bright's Disease on June 22 1882.  He was eighty-four years old.  Two days later, he was buried in his family's plot on the Middle Ridge.  The eastern face of the monument bearing his name is rather worn and difficult to read, but his parents' names on the north face of the marble are fairly legible.