Category Archives: Rich Folk

William Augustus Spencer

Ever since I found out that there were several victims of the Titanic disaster buried at Green-Wood, I have been keeping an eye out for their stones.

This pursuit, of course, was proving to be futile considering that Green-Wood has over 560,000 residents, and I have difficulty finding my way out of a Rite-Aid. So I cheated. I looked it up.

For the record, that goes against my self-imposed policy of only writing about stuff that I find while wandering around aimlessly. That said, there was still a lot of wandering around aimlessly because despite the fact that I had a map, it still took me 2 freakin hours to find this plot.

On the other side of Sylvan Lake is a small circular lot– on it you will find the rather regal plot for the Spencer family. It’s a nice little stroll from the main entrance.

green_wood_map-1

William Augustus Spencer (1855-1912) was born into a large, fabulously wealthy family. He had two brothers and four sisters. One of his sisters famously married into Italian royalty, becoming Princess di Vicovaro Cenci. His brother Lorillard was a publisher who founded the well-known Illustrated American Magazine. The family split their time between houses in Switzerland, Paris, and New York.

By the way, one of the houses their family owned was Halidon Hall, in Newport, Rhode Island. This is not only an interesting example of Gothic Revival architecture, but it was later home to “The Cowsills”–a corny singing family act that had a string of #1 hits in the 1960s. They were the original inspiration for the also-corny TV show, The Patridge Family. They often featured Halidon Hall on their record covers.

But I digress…

William’s brother–Lorillard Spencer–died in March of 1912, so William, his wife, and their maid were taking the Titanic back to New York to deal with his will.

On April 14, the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank into the icy waters of the Atlantic. William perished–his body was never found. His wife, Marie-Eugenie Spencer, and the maid Elise Lurette, found refuge in one of the Titanic’s lifeboats and were eventually saved.

Marie-Eugenie and Elise were in lifeboat #6, which is probably the most famous of the Titanic lifeboats thanks to the presence onboard of “the unsinkable” Molly Brown.

Lifeboat #6
Lifeboat #6

But more on them in a bit.

William Augustus Spencer–like the rest of his family–was crazy about books. He had a huge collection of the finest illustrated and bound French books in his Paris home. From the New York Public Library’s site:

Sometime in 1910, according to an often-repeated story that has acquired the status of legend, William Augustus Spencer visited the new central building of the New York Public Library, still under construction at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. He was impressed—so impressed that he vowed there and then that he would bequeath his personal collection of fine illustrated books in fine bindings to the Library.

After William’s death, the Spencer Collection was established, and these books were amongst the first exhibitions at the newly-built New York Public Library. Here’s an example of one:

spencer collection book

You can look at all of them on the NYPL Digital Archives.

The book collection itself was worth over $40,000 (that is 1 gigabillion dollars by today’s economy), and was augmented by a generous cash donation for the future purchase of illustrated and finely-bound books. He also left behind a considerable estate. From the New York Times, July 10, 1914:

William Augustus Spencer, who was drowned when the Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, left a net estate of $2,218,650, according to an appraisal filed yesterday. The beneficiaries are Mrs. Marie Eugenie Spencer, his widow, $1,273,071; Lorillard Spencer, his nephew, $396,683; the New York Public Library, $394,095; and Eleanora L. S. Cenci, Princess de Vicovaro, his sister, $50,000.

Marie-Eugenie Spencer (1864-1913) died in Paris the next year at the age of 48. She was from a lower-class family, had been born out of wedlock, and was generally not accepted by the rest of the Spencer family. When Marie-Eugenie and William married in London in 1884, not a single member of the Spencer family attended. I’ve also read in several places that she was a manic depressive and morphine addict, which could account for her poor health and early demise.

The maid–Elise Lurette–was with Marie Eugenie until her death. She lived a long and comfortable life shuttling between Paris and Switzerland until her death in 1940 at the age of 87. When she was rescued from the lifeboat, she had in her pocket a menu from the Titanic’s dining room and a first-class deck plan. Just prior to the disaster, she had mailed this postcard to her nephew:

titanic-postcard

James Gordon Bennett

Another random find. And this is why I love Green-Wood.

James Gordon Bennett
James Gordon Bennett
James Gordon Bennett (1795-1872) is best known for founding The New York Herald in 1835. It wasn’t long before The Herald was the most popular newspaper in the country, and Bennett’s strong editorial opinions were helping shape the political landscape during this tumultuous time in America. The Herald was truly revolutionary; it was the first newspaper to utilize interviews and first-hand observations in its reporting, rather than simply stating dry fact. It was also the first to cover more sensational, gossipy stories.

From “The Penny Press”. A Brief History of Newspapers in America:

“James Gordon Bennett’s 1835 New York Herald added another dimension to penny press newspapers, now common in journalistic practice. Whereas newspapers had generally relied on documents as sources, Bennett introduced the practices of observation and interviewing to provide the stories with more vivid details… Bennett reported mainly local news, and corruption in an accurate style. He realized that, ‘there was more journalistic money to be made in recording gossip that interested bar-rooms, work-shops, race courses, and tenement houses, than in consulting the tastes of drawing rooms and libraries.’ He is also known for writing his ‘money page’ which was included in the Herald and also coverage of women in the news. His innovations made others want to imitate him as he spared nothing to get the news first.”

James Gordon Bennett
James Gordon Bennett
Bennett’s newspaper first rose to fame in 1836 when it covered the murder of society prostitute Helen Jewett. This was a very dishy story at the time: Jewett had become romantically entangled with 19 year-old Richard Robinson, who was by all accounts a good kid from a good family (except, I guess, for the part where he sleeps with prostitutes). He was accused of hitting her three times in the head with a hatchet and setting her bed on fire. Despite the testimony of several eye-witnesses who placed him at the brothel the night of the murder, he was found not guilty at his trial. This story had everything–sexual deviance, steamy love letters, prostitution, a love affair, a murder. The Herald‘s readership ate it up. Competing newspapers–such as fellow Green-Wood resident Horace Greeley‘s Tribune–had to follow suit with similarly sensational reporting.

Bennett was also a sharp critic of Abraham Lincoln, who was elected President in 1861 at the height of The Herald‘s popularity. Bennett was in and out of favor with the Lincoln Administration throughout the Civil War; at one point he donated a yacht to the administration, in exchange for insider information and favors (such as a cushy position for his son).

vanity fair illustration about Bennett "badgering" Abraham Lincoln
vanity fair illustration about Bennett “badgering” Abraham Lincoln

The Herald also detailed the comings and goings of Mary Todd Lincoln, who was vacationing one summer in Long Branch, New Jersey. Bennett assigned a charming and socially wily millionaire named Henry Wikoff to ingratiate himself to Mrs. Lincoln and her Society pals. The regular column, “The Comings and Goings of Mrs. Lincoln” was all ridicule of the First Lady at the beginning–but that changed quickly when she started writing letters personally to Bennett in response. They struck up an unlikely friendship, and Bennett realized that he could garner favor and gather inside information by changing the tone of this column to one of flattery (almost to a ridiculous extent). At one point, Wikoff was able to charm his way in to Mrs. Lincoln’s inner circle and steal an advance copy of Lincoln’s Congressional address, which was then published by The Herald.

(On a side note here, Henry “Chavalier” Wikoff sounds absolutely fascinating. He was born into great wealth, and spent his entire life traveling, writing, hob-knobbing with the rich and famous, and of course romancing the ladies. His relationship with Mary Todd Lincoln was the subject of a lot of scandal at the time.)

Bennett was known as a workaholic who spent endless hours obsessing over the news at his desk, which was built out of two barrels and some planks of wood (love that). A native of Scotland, he had a thick Scottish brogue, and his eyes were severely crossed. He married Henrietta Crean in 1840, just five years after founding The Herald.

The monument is lovely, but very sad–it shows a mourning woman kneeling in front, and a seemingly gravity-defying statue of an angel releasing an infant into the heavens. On the front, you can see two young children listed: Cosmo Gordon Bennett, who was five, and three-month-old Clementine Bennett. Sad.

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

Elias Howe And His Dog

map-howeIf you walk up Battle Avenue and continue past the Civil War Memorial, at the next shady intersection on the right is a large family plot. I found this one on my own, and for the longest time thought it was only interesting because this family had such a lovely and touching headstone for their family dog:

Only a dog, do you say, sir critic?
Only a dog, but as truth I price,
The truest love I have won in living
Lay in the deeps of her limpid eyes.
Frosts of winter nor heat of summer
could make her fail if my footsteps led.
And memory holds in its treasure casket
The name of my darling who liesh dead.

Christ, that kills me. The first time I read it, I burst into tears.

So yeah, on my walks I would routinely go visit Fannie, and like a dumbass I never thought to look up Elias Howe, the familiar-sounding name on the monument.

howe6Elias Howe’s name is one of those that triggers an I-Remember-That-From-Junior-High-Social-studies, but that you can’t quite place. Well let me (and the Internet) help you: He’s the guy who is generally credited with inventing the sewing machine.

Howe was born in 1819 on a farm in Spencer, Massachussetts. His father was also an inventor– he came up with the idea of putting springs in mattresses (instead of hay, which was commonly used at the time)(and sounds horrible in so many ways).

Howe worked on the family farm doing some pretty hard labor starting around the age of six.  When he was sixteen he went to work at a textile mill; he quickly learned how to do repairs on the machinery, and thus began the engineering/mechanical education that eventually lead to the invention of the sewing machine.

The sewing machine, by the way, was not a new idea. There had been several primitive models prior to this, but none of them really worked very well. It wasn’t until Howe invented the “lock stitch” –the needle had the hole in the bottom rather than the top–that the machine truly became successful.

From Alex Askaroff‘s excellent biography:

Shortly before Elias had his machine patented he had to prove its worth. In a hall at the Quincy Clothing Company Elias set up a large demonstration of his sewing engine.

For 14 days Elias Howe Jr sat at his chair and sewed up every bit of clothing that was brought to him. Tailors brought him the worst they could find but he sewed it all. He sewed against the best and the fastest ladies and bets were wagered, he beat them all.
howe7

Long story short, he patented his machine in 1846, and then spent the next decade or so battling bitterly in court with Isaac Singer (of Singer Sewing Machines) and Walter Hunt (inventor of the safety pin and fellow Green-Wood resident), both of whom claimed to have invented it. He eventually won.

Howe’s estate was worth $13,000,000 when he died in 1867 at the age of 48.

John Campbell Maben

What a fantastic angel. I LOVE THIS.

mabenJohn Campbell Maben (1839-1926) was born into a wealthy Richmond, Virginia family. His father was a tobacco and cotton merchant, and he grew up on a bucolic estate called “Strawberry Hill”. (I wonder if they had slaves? SURELY they had slaves.) Educated in the finest private schools, Maben dropped out of Princeton just shy of graduation to enlist in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He served in the Twelfth Virginia Regiment, where he was eventually commissioned as a captain.

After the war, he moved to New York where he worked on Wall Street as a high-finance banker. When his firm failed during the financial panic of 1873, he set about to start his own company. Maben was the first director of the “Terminal Company”, which eventually became the Southern Railway.

Later in life, he was the president of the Sloss-Sheffield Steel and Iron Company, where he was a huge proponent of the notorious “convict lease system” in their coal mines.

From the Encyclopedia of Alabama:

Between 1875 and 1928, the state and counties of Alabama profited from a form of prison labor known as the convict-lease system. Under this system, companies and individuals paid fees to state and county governments in exchange for the labor of prisoners on farms, at lumberyards, and in coal mines. Following their convictions, prisoners were transported directly to the work site and remained there for the duration of their sentences.

His son Spencer Merchant Maben is one of the few stones I noticed around the plot. I found this little tidbit about his society marriage from the “What’s Going On In Society” column of the February 5, 1902 NY Times:

mabenxx2

John William Chase Leveridge

John William Chase Leveridge, 1792-1886, was a prominent lawyer. It was difficult to find anything about him (or even his full name, since the other gravestones nearby are so worn down), but I did find this paragraph on his findagrave.com listing:

“At the time of his death he was the oldest lawyer in New York City, and possibly the oldest resident in NYC according to his NY Times obituary. His home was at 141 East 41th Street. He served as a Pvt. in the War of 1812 and was later appointed Corporate Council under Mayor Harper in 1840. In his early days he was one of the most influential lawyers in this city. He was said to remember distinctly the funeral of George Washington as he stood at the corner of Broadway and Vessey Streets in front of St. Paul’s Church. He was one of the founding members of the St. Nicholas Club. He attributed his longevity (he lived to 94) to a strong constitution, temeperance, and activity.”

The St. Nicholas Society, founded by Washington Irving, Mr. Leveridge, and other prominent rich-folk types in 1835, is still around today. Their mission is to preserve the Dutch history and heritage of New York City. It’s a very exclusive crowd; according to their web site, “Membership is by invitation only and limited to those men who can demonstrate descent from a resident of New York State before 1785.”

I just like the little demon head on the monument.

 

Charlotte Canda

canda-dewittI’ve visited this site several times, and have always been amazed. It’s so huge and ornate, and there’s so much to look at.  No amount of picture-taking ever seems to do it justice. Who in the world would deserve such a 3-ring circus of a monument?

According to Wikipedia:

Charlotte Canda (February 3, 1828 – February 3, 1845), sometimes referred to simply as “Miss Canda”, was a young debutante who died in a horse carriage accident on the way home from her seventeenth birthday party in New York City. She is memorialized by a Victorian mausoleum in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York by Robert Launitz and John Frazee. The ornately and expensively decorated monument attracted thousands of visitors to Green-Wood Cemetery in the late 19th century.

This story is even better on the Green-Wood Cemetery Web site. Apparently she was sketching out some elaborate plans for the gravesite for her aunt when she died, so her father went ahead and used them for her grave, adding her initials and a bunch of other personal touches, like figures of her pet parrots. There’s a life-sized statue of her, and she is adorned with 17 roses around her head, one for each year of her life.

She was engaged to a Frenchman named Charles Jarret at the time of her death. He was so grief-stricken that he committed suicide a year later. Sheesh! OK, you win, Charlotte Canda. You do deserve such a dramatic monument.

UPDATE: After reading all this, I visited again. I couldn’t find any parrots in the monument(as described on the Green-Wood web site), but I did find the fiancé’s grave. It is right next to hers.

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.

John F. Delaplaine

John F. Delaplaine held the title of the Secretary of the American Legation in Vienna for many years. This legation was first established in 1838, so I’m assuming Mr. Delaplaine was one of its first ministers. He maintained lavish homes in both Vienna and New York.

While Mr. Delaplaine doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry, I did manage to find out quite a bit from digging around in the NY Times archives. As inscribed on his grave, he was a very wealthy man who left almost all of his money to charity. He notes in his will that his family possessed “ample wealth and whose happiness would not be increased by their receiving more than I have given them.” Oh, BURN.

He was also a lifelong bachelor who filled his two homes with “fine pictures and costly bric-a-brac” (accurate or not, I am picturing Liberace’s mansion). He was well known for his fabulous dinner parties with “Princes and Archdukes and lesser nobles”. When he died in Vienna in 1885, he was surrounded only by his servants, which the NY Times describes as being “all male, who were nearly as well-known to the Viennese as their venerable master.”

I wish I could find a picture of him. He sounds fabulous.

In an April 4, 1884 article, the Times reports that he became “mentally impaired” and convinced that he was poor and a burden on his friends. “To guard against this event, he procured 6,000 florins and put it into a belt which he strapped around his waist.” The article goes on to propose that Mr. Delaplaine be “formally declared a lunatic.” Sad.