Jean-Michel Basquiat

I’ve had several people tell me that it’s difficult to find the grave of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. I honestly think the main problem is reading that damned tiny map they give you at the entrance! It’s not hard to find–it is about a ten-minute walk from the Fort Hamilton entrance to Green-Wood.

So here you have it, a larger map showing exactly how to get to it:


It’s very simple–enter at Fort Hamilton, and walk straight ahead down Vine. Turn left on Sassafras. Keep walking past the intersection of Grape Avenue a ways, and look on your left for a big bank of hostas in front of a long line of short headstones, set back-to-back. Basquiat is about halfway up, on the left.

You can’t miss it once you get this far. Basquiat’s grave has probably the most interesting collection of memorial items in the cemetery. (I counted at least 3 lip balms–is that some kind of inside joke, or did the poor man always have chapped lips?)

For those who don’t know, Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) was a fairly famous New York artist. He rose to notoriety in the 1980s as part of “SAMO” (“Same Old Shit”), a graffiti group on the Lower East Side.

One of the items left nearby says “SAMO IS ALIVE”:

Beyond graffiti, Basquiat was also a clothing designer, musician, and of course a painter. When he was a mere 19 years old, he met Andy Warhol. The two became close friends, and collaborated on over 80 pieces of art at Warhol’s infamous Factory.


Basquiat battled depression and addiction throughout much of his adult life. After Warhol’s death in 1987, Basquiat grew increasingly depressed and isolated. He died of a heroin overdose on August 12, 1988.

I could attempt to describe his paintings, but what purpose would that serve? Just take a look at a few for yourself.

By the way, if you ever visit Basquiat’s grave, it is worth it to also check out the beautiful sculpture of St. Michael on Santo Matarazzo’s grave, just across the street (see map).


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.



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:


Skull & Crossbones

Pretty cool. I’ve read about skull & crossbones symbols, but this is the first time I’ve actually seen one. Shame you can’t read the name on it–all I can make out is the year 1856 at the bottom.

From what I’ve read, this is a fairly rare find. I’ll have to go back and figure out where this one is located exactly; as usual, I was just wandering around without any sense of direction (which is also how I drive and grocery shop). It’s somewhat close to the 20th Street entrance to Green-Wood.
Apparently this symbolism doesn’t really mean anything all that significant. Some people mistakenly think it marks the grave of a pirate or buccaneer. There are also theories that it is a Masonic symbol. From what I can gather, it is simply intended as a reminder of our mortality.

Walter Hunt

Just down the lane from the massive Elias Howe family plot–practically in the shadow of it–is the humble grave of Walter Hunt.

walter_hunt1Anyone who has read the long and complicated story of the invention of the sewing machine will know the name Walter Hunt. He is one of the inventors who fought bitterly in court with Howe over the patent for the “lock stitch” machine that was so revolutionary. Hunt had invented a similar machine eight years prior to Howe; however, he failed to ever get around to getting a patent or mass-producing it. He lost the fight, clearly, but there is no doubt that his lack of follow-through had cost him millions of dollars.

It’s more than a little ironic that this poor guy has a small, subdued grave about 50 feet from the huge family plot and giant bust of Howe.

Talk about adding insult to injury.

Hunt was a prolific inventor, working literally up until the moment he died–which was suddenly, in his workshop. He invented a number of other things, many of which were quite ingenious. Sadly, he struggled financially for most of his life, so he sold a lot of the patents for paltry sums to pay off his debts.

Hunt is credited with inventing:

  • the first sewing machine in 1833
  • the safety pin in 1849
  • an early model of a Winchester repeated rifle
  • a flax spinner (for making rope)
  • a knife sharpener
  • a foot-operated streetcar bell (after witnessing a child get run over by a trolley)
  • artificial stone
  • the street sweeper
  • the velocipede (no idea what that is)
  • the ice plough
  • the fountain pen/inkwell
  • the paper shirt collar

Alex Askaroff has a great biography of him here, if you want to read more.

Little Rosa and her Mother

Happy Mother’s Day! Let’s celebrate by being confused about a dead child and her dead mother. Hooray!

Couldn’t find out too much about this one. I can’t seem to find anything about this family on the Internet. I also am not even really sure which family this monument belongs to–there are several stones nearby, most of which are for the Mead and Shute families. I couldn’t find out anything about them online, either. Internet! What good are you?


It looks like Rosa and her mother were both named Rosa–it’s difficult to read, but the badly decayed back-side of the stone lists “Rosa Marion” and “Rosa Virginia.” Sadly, that was about all I could make out.

I also didn’t recognize the expression across the bottom, “Even so father”. Turns out the full phrase is, “Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in your sight” and it’s from the Old Testament (Matthew 11:26). From the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary:

26. Even so, Father; for so it seemed good—the emphatic and chosen term for expressing any object of divine complacency; whether Christ Himself, or God’s gracious eternal arrangements.

Still doesn’t make sense to me, but ah well.

Peter and Jensine Lawson

map-lawsonThis is one of my favorites. I don’t think it needs too much explanation, just look at the photos. Peter Lawson–“Grandpa”–died at age 84 in 1887. His granddaughter Jensine (love that name) died a year later at age 24. In the statue, she is holding a rose to his lapel.

The earth, the earth has lost a gem,
Heaven has gained a star
The Angels saw it shining here
And called it from afar.

Elias Howe / Fannie

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 lieth 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.

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.

James Smith & Family

Sigh. More dead children. Another somber household. It must have been really hard to be a kid in the 1800s.

And here I thought the Aldrich family plot was one of the saddest things I’ve seen. This poor family had six children, most of whom died before the age of three. Only one of their children, Pamela, made it past that–and she died at the age of nine. The parents themselves didn’t even really live to be that old. It’s just sad.

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:


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 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.