Category Archives: Politicians

The Roosevelt Family

I’m surprised that not a bigger deal is made of the fact that Theodore Roosevelt’s first wife and mother–and his parents, grandparents, and a whole slew of other Roosevelts– are buried in Green-wood.

I first heard the story of the  tragic deaths of Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt (Teddy’s wife) and Martha Bullock Roosevelt (his mother) on Ken Burns’ documentary, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. It was such a dramatic tale that I decided to read more about it, and lo and behold I found out that they were buried in Green-Wood. Why didn’t I know that? Why aren’t their pictures shown in the margin of the Green-Wood map along with all the other famous residents? This is one of the great stories of American history. I’d rather see Alice Lee Roosevelt on the map than that boring tax dude*.

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It’s easy enough to find the Roosevelt family plot–but it’s a bit of a long walk from the front entrance. I’d suggest if you are going to see it, you enter at the 20th Street/Prospect Park West entrance. From there, it is a straight shot across the middle of the cemetery, past Peter Cooper’s family plot, and past the catacombs. It’s located on the corner of Locust and Grape.

Roosevelt family plot
The Roosevelt family plot is about about a ten-minute walk from the 20th St. entrance.

Oddly enough, I have wandered around this area of the cemetery a million times (It’s shady and sometimes there are terrifying hawks) and yet have never noticed this huge, yet curiously humble plot. Maybe it’s because most of the stones are so decayed , sadly enough. It is difficult to read nearly all of them.

Alice_Hathaway_RooseveltAlice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt (1861-1844) was the beloved first wife of Theodore Roosevelt. She was tall, beautiful, athletic, and charming. She had such a delightful disposition that her nickname was “Sunshine” (a name I have only ever been called sarcastically).

When she was 17, she was introduced to 19-year-old Teddy through a cousin, who was attending Harvard with him. Roosevelt was instantly smitten with Alice, and set about wooing her with a passion. They were married three years later, just after his graduation.

Teddy loved Alice deeply. I mean, deeply. He wrote long, romantic love letters to her, and referred to her as his “purest queen.” In one letter, he wrote:

“Oh, my sweetest true love pray I for nothing but that I may be worthy of you; you are the light and sun shine of my life, and I can never cease thanking the Good God who gave you to me. I could not live without you, my sweet-mouthed, fair haired darling, and I care for nothing whatever else but you.”

It goes on and on like that for several more pages. You can see the actual letter here.

They had a happy life, and planned to have a big family. In 1882, at the age of 22, Alice became pregnant. Teddy was often working in Albany, so she stayed with his mother at their family home in Manhattan during the latter stages of her pregnancy. On February 12, 1884, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl, but immediately afterwards fell quite ill with Bright’s Disease, a serious kidney disorder.

Roosevelt received a letter the next day alerting him to her precarious state of health. He traveled from Albany as quickly as he could through terrible weather to be at her bedside. She died a day later, on Valentine’s Day.

This isn’t even the worst of it. Roosevelt’s mother, Martha Bullock Roosevelt (1835-1884)  had been taking care of Alice during the last few months of her pregnancy. She had also recently fallen ill–with typhoid fever. She died 11 hours before Alice, in the very same house. Roosevelt was there for both deaths–going back and forth between the two rooms where his mother and wife lay dying. It must have been absolutely terrible for him.

Here is what Theodore Roosevelt famously wrote in his diary that day:

Light_has_gone_out

Heartbreaking.

Roosevelt was devastated. So much so that he forbid anyone around him to ever speak of his young wife again. This event was so painful that he didn’t even mention her in his autobiography. He was completely lost, it seems. He quit politics, left the baby with his sister, and moved out to the Dakota territories to live as a rancher and sheriff for a couple of years.

I tried my best to research the other Roosevelt family members buried there–but most of the stones were so decayed that it was difficult to read the names. What a shame. But here are the ones I could come up with:


Theodore Roosevelt Sr. (1831-1878)

theodore roosevelt sr grave
Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. is buried next to his wife

Theodore Roosevelt, Sr.–Teddy Roosevelt’s beloved father, and Eleanor Roosevelt’s grandfather. I could write an entire entry about him alone. This is one great man.

Theodore Roosevelt, Sr.–also known as “Thee”–was described by his son Teddy as “the best man I ever knew. ” He was a model of altruism and morality, and raised his four kids to be kind, goodhearted citizens who help others. One of his major achievements was founding the New York Orthopedic Hospital, so that children with deformed spines could get specialized help. He was also a staunch Union supporter, and a founding member of both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American History Museum. Thee died at the age of 46 from stomach cancer, after hiding his condition from his son for months–he didn’t want Teddy to get distracted from his studies at Harvard.

Cornelius (1794-1871) and Margaret (1821-1861) Roosevelt:

Cornelius and Margaret Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt’s grandparents! Cornelus V.S. Roosevelt  was one of the five richest men in New York City. He inherited his fortune from his father, who specialized in real estate and importing plate glass and hardware. He was one of the founders of Chase Bank (formerly called Chemical Bank). His wife, Teddy Roosevelt’s grandmother, Margaret Barnhill Roosevelt  is buried next to him.

 

Gladys Roosevelt  Dick (1889-1926)

gladys-roosevelt-grave

Gladys Roosevelt Dick was Theodore Roosevelt’s cousin. She died during a fox hunt on Long Island in 1925. Here is the article from the Cornell Daily Sun:

gladys-roosevelt-death

Gladys was a painter, and her work was mainly focused on horses, ironically enough. She would paint horses at the race track, the horse show, the circus, and of course at fox hunts. She was 37 when she died.

Hilborne Lewis Roosevelt (1849-1886)

 

hilborne lewis roosevelt grave

An interesting fellow–this is another one of Theodore Roosevelt’s  cousins. Hilborne, unlike the rest of the Roosevelts, had no interest in making money or being in politics. His love was pipe organs. He invented and patented the first electric pipe organ in the U.S. when he was only 20 years old. Although the Roosevelt family frowned on Hilborne working in the trades, they quickly changed their tune when he started making money. Founding the Roosevelt Pipe Organs Builders company in 1870 with his brother Frank, he established factories in New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia.
His wife, socialite Katherine Shippen Roosevelt (1883-1886) is buried next to him:

hilborne-kate-roosevelt

*In all fairness, Henry George is realy not all that boring at all. But nonetheless I’d still rather see Alice Lee Roosevelt on the map!

Francis B. Spinola

spinola1This rather distinguished and eye-catching memorial belongs to Francis B. Spinola (1821-1891). Spinola is best known as the first Italian-American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

But really, that doesn’t even begin to sum up the life and career that Spinola enjoyed. Born near Stony Brook, Long Island, Spinola grew up in a wealthy, influential family. After a swanky private education, he set up practice as a lawyer in Brooklyn.

In the 1850s he was part of the “Secret Police” that helped to keep peace on the gang-ridden streets of New York. He was an alderman several times, a member of the NY State Assembly, a NY State Senator, and also the Commissioner of the New York Harbor–all before the age of 40.

During the Civil War, Spinola enlisted and was commissioned as a Union Brigadier General. At one point he recruited and organized his own bridge of 4 regiments referred to as “Spinola’s Empire Brigade.”

spin-poster

After the Civil War he served as alderman again, and eventually landed a position in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Brevoort Kane Family

Bear with me here, because pretty much every single person in this family is named Henry or Florence.

hbkane-jrHenry Brevoort, Jr. (1782-1848) was from one of the richest families in Manhattan. Huge areas of downtown Manhattan were owned by his family, including a large farm that stretched along an unpaved road that is now 5th Avenue.

He was referred to as a “gentleman of great wealth and unlimited leisure” by The Evening World. He was a writer and patron of the arts, and hung around with the likes of Sir Walter Scott and Washington Irving (surely he was in the St. Nicholas Club with John William Chase Leveridge).

There’s even a book of his correspondence with Washington Irving, and from what I’ve skimmed it looks pretty entertaining.

In the 1830s, Henry Brevoort, Jr. famously built a huge mansion at 5th Avenue and 9th Street in Manhattan (it was torn down in 1925).
brevoort mansion 1900

According to Daytonian in Manhattan:
The house was designed as much for entertaining as for living. There was a billiard room, a library and two large parlors separated by the entrance hall. William Cullen Bryant would call it “a kind of palace in a Garden.” Upstairs were seven large bedrooms on the second floor and nine servants’ rooms on the third.

His grandson, the Senator Henry Brevoort Kane (1866-1930) married Florence Hartshorne in 1888. They had 2 kids: John Grenville Kane and Florence Brevoort Kane. John Grenville Kane died at age 14 from appendicitis. It was his stone that caught my eye in the first place–it’s a lovely example of the classic tree trunk symbol for a young person struck down in his prime.

kane

kane-obituary

Florence Brevoort Kane (1895-1956), his sister, had quite an interesting life. Afflicted with spinal meningitis at age 3, she was deaf and mute. She couldn’t speak or communicate well her entire life, and turned to sculpture at an early age in order to express herself.

She studied sculpture in both New York and Paris. She eventually settled in to a studio in Paris where she lived and worked for a good 20 years, often traveling to Cannes and the Riviera to visit an aunt.

Imagine being an artist in Paris in the 1920s. Now imagine that you are an extremely wealthy artist who doesn’t have to worry about paying for that baguette. Now imagine you are also a woman, and deaf and mute to boot. I can’t even begin.

Florence Brevoort Kane won several prestigious awards for her work while she was in France, most notably a bronze medal in 1932. She returned to the U.S. after World War II broke out, and was described as “oft-lonely” by this 2012 article in East Side Monthly.

From what I can gather from a lengthy (and quite boring) transcript of a legal squabble she had with a “companion”, I’m thinking that Florence was likely gay. This is pure conjecture of course, but the lawyer in the case repeatedly asks about her being “interested in” the other woman, with whom she lived and traveled. She never married.

The Providence Art Club had a retrospective of her work in 2012. Damn, I would have liked to have seen that. Here’s a picture of her at work:

florence-kane-work

Samuel L. Mitchell

Stumbled across this one today. I figured it had to be someone somewhat important because it still had the iron fence around it. Most of the cast-iron fences in the cemetery were removed and used for scrap metal during the war.

slmitchell
I got home and Googled Samuel L Mitchell, and found that he was quite a big deal: he was a senator in the early 1800’s, and good buddies with New York governor DeWitt Clinton (who is not buried at Green-Wood, but has a large monument). Mitchell and Clinton were both instrumental in the building of the Erie Canal.