Category Archives: Historical Figures

James & Margaret Bogardus and Father Maclay

James Bogardus’ grave caught my eye because of this small plaque at the base of it:


James Bogardus (1800-1874) is considered the “Father of Cast-Iron Architecture”. His invention of cast-iron building facades had a profound impact on contemporary architecture. For one thing, they were fire-proof, which was quite a plus during the days of gas lighting. Also, they were prefabricated; they could be built at his factory here in New York City, and then shipped to construction sites anywhere in the world. Used mostly in commercial and industrial buildings, these facades were more than just ornamental–their design was revolutionary. From the Encyclopedia Brittanica:

This method of supporting the weight of construction by columns, rather than the walls, was a significant step toward later development of skeleton framing and skyscrapers. Bogardus’ first use of these methods (1848) was in his own five-story factory in New York City.

Five of the buildings he designed/built are still standing. Four of them are in downtown Manhattan, and one is in Cooperstown, NY. Here are the four that are in NYC:

Bogardus was also a prolific inventor. In the 1830s he invented an engraving machine, and was subsequently hired by the U.S. Mint to engrave dies in bank notes. Other inventions include a machine for cutting watch dials, a gas meter, a cotton-spinning machine, and the “eccentric mill”, which is a machine used to grind and finish metal. It is still used today for lens grinding and for applying a smooth finish to the surface of ball bearings.

James Bogardus
James Bogardus

Despite his genius, Bogardus struggled financially for a number of years, and had to rely on income from his wife to get by. Which brings us to… Margaret Bogardus.

Margaret Bogardus (1803-1878) is just as intriguing as her husband. Margaret and James were married in a double wedding (with Margaret’s teenage sister) in her family’s home in 1831. Her father, the Reverend Archibald Maclay performed the ceremony (more on him to come). For many years the couple lived with Margaret’s family in their modest brick row house on East Broadway in Lower Manhattan.

Margaret was a renowned miniature portrait artist, and the living she made from selling her paintings was crucial to their financial stability. From Cast-iron Architecture in America: The Significance of James Bogardus, by Margot and Carol Gayle:

Painted portraits were much in demand until it became possible to product likenesses by photographic means. Those who could afford them commissioned pictures of family members or loved ones as tokens of affections, sometimes to mark such special occasions as weddings. …a miniature was a small portable personal memento that was more affordable (with standard prices ranging from $25 to $50 in the 1830s and 1840s).

Here are a few examples of her work:

These paintings are now in the National Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian.

Here’s a self-portrait she painted in 1842, when she was admitted to the National Academy of Design:


This was a pretty big deal at the time–there were very few women allowed in the National Academy of Design. She also showed her work in London at the Royal Academy. Way to go, Mags!

Margaret’s father was the Reverend Archibald Maclay (1776-1860), a prominent Baptist minister. A native of rural Scotland, he spent thirty years as the pastor at the Tabernacle Baptist Church on Second Avenue in Manhattan. According to The life of Rev. Archibald Maclay, D.D., 1776-1860, by Isaac Walker Maclay (his grandson), he was greatly beloved by his congregation, and was affectionately nicknamed “Father Maclay”.

Here’s a painting of him by Margaret:

Father Maclay is not buried near his daughter and James, but he is buried in Green-Wood. He’s in a different lot some distance away. Just for fun, I tracked down his grave today, which took me FOREVER to find because it’s so worn-down:

Precious Georgie

georgieI have this dumb rule when I walk around Green-Wood: If you see a hill, walk up it. There is almost always something interesting at the top of a hill. Here’s one result.

“Precious Georgie” and his twin brother Theodore were born in 1863, to renowned Presbyterian minister Theodore Ledyard Cuyler. Georgie died suddenly from scarlet fever when he was five years old. Clearly the family was heartbroken, so much so that his father went on to write a book about the experience, entitled “The Empty Crib, A Memorial of Little Georgie”. It concludes with this passage:

I close this love-tribute to my boy, in the very room whence his spirit took wing for heaven. The pillow in the crib is all smooth and undisturbed to-day. A picture of Jesus blessing little children hangs before me on the wall. Every shelf in yonder closet is filled with his keepsakes; and on the nail hangs his little velvet cap. As I look at all the playthings, and at the precious little slate on which he tried to mark, with feeble hand, on his dying day, I cannot believe that he is dead. He must be somewhere in my dwelling yet.

I actually got sucked in to reading this book online, and practically read the entire thing. It’s genuinely sad and heart-felt, particularly the part about his brother Theo coping with his twin’s death. You really feel for the Cuylers.

Georgie and his brother Theo
Georgie and his brother Theo

The sides of the monument are inscribed with the story of his last exchange with his mother before dying:

He look up at his mother and whispered, “Does Jesus love me? What will He say when he first sees me?” All through that April Sabbath with head on the mother’s breast the sweet child murmured of Jesus ’till the sun was low in the west. Then the door of Heaven opened that had been ajar all day. And our darling alone could answer what will Jesus say.

Ack! Heartbreaking.

It is worth noting that this beautiful portrait was created by sculptor Charles Calverley (1833-1914), who is responsible for a number of beautiful monuments throughout Green-Wood. (I’ll have to keep an eye out for more of his work.)

Theodore Cuyler
Theodore Cuyler

Georgie’s father Theodore Ledyard Cuyler (1822-1909) was a prominent religious figure in the 1800’s. On top of writing several books, he founded the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church here in Brooklyn, which boasted the largest Presbyterian congregation in the country. He also lead The New York Anti-Suffrage Association (no fun), and was a staunch proponent of the temperance movement (really no fun).

On a side note, there are two other small markers nearby for an infant son born to the Cuylers on December 25th, 1873, who only lived for about 10 days; one of the stones simply reads, “Our Christmas Gift”.

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.

Commodore McKeever

“The post of danger is the post of honor.”

As the placard will tell you, Commodore Isaac McKeever, 1791-1856, had a long and distinguished career in the U.S. Navy.

Commodore McKeever’s father, Captain James McKeever was a wealthy Scotsman who emigrated to Philadelphia just before the Revolution. James McKeever was one of the first people to come up with the idea of using steam to power and navigate boats. He even dragged his teenaged son Isaac along on a raft filled with machinery down the Allegheny and Ohio rivers in an attempt to engineer such a feat. The experiment failed (and he was ridiculed), but he kept working on this idea for pretty much the rest of his life.

commodore-mckeeverIsaac McKeever joined the navy in 1809 (at 18 years old) as a midshipman. By the time the War of 1812 broke out, he had become a Lieutenant. In 1814, McKeever was commanding a gunboat on Lake Borgne in Louisiana, when the British forces attacked.

From the Military Hall of Honor:

The [U.S.] gunboats mounted collectively 23 guns, and were manned by 182 men. The British expedition consisted of 42 large barges and other boats, manned by over 1,000 seamen and marines. The engagement, which was very severe, lasted more than three hours, and over 200 of the British were killed and wounded. Lieutenant McKeever’s vessel was the last one attacked, and he was severely wounded, together with most of his officers, before he surrendered.

During his 47-year career in the navy, he was promoted through the ranks from Commander to Captain, and finally Commodore in 1850. A mere 4 years before he died, he commanded the flagship Constitution, a.k.a., “Old Ironsides” down in Brazil, and helped to maintain peace while revolution was threatening Buenos Aires (and that is making a very long story short).

Old Ironsides is still around. It’s now a museum boat, docked in Boston:


It’s worth noting that Commodore McKeever’s second wife was Mary Thomson, daughter of the famous Captain Thomas Thomson.

He died at the Norfolk, Va., Navy Yard, in 1856. From The Heroes of the American Revolution and Their Descendants, by Henry Whittemore:

In 1855 he had charge of the navy yard at Norfolk Va when a pestilence broke out in that city and the adjoining towns which terrified the people of the whole southern country. Commodore McKeever was authorized by the navy department to suspend operations in the yard for a time should he see fit but he decided to remain in order that work might be given to those who depended upon it for support of their families. His reply to the department was, “The post of danger is the post of honor.” His death was attributed directly to his overtasked energies during this terrible period.


William Tecumseh Sherman & Family

I try not to get too personal here because I know that the Internet is made up of 90% axe-murderers, but in this case it can’t be avoided. I do not spend all of my time getting lost in cemeteries–I am also a painter. And a few years ago, I found myself captivated by Mathew Brady’s photographs of Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman.

These may be my favorite photographs of all-time. They are just endlessly fascinating. When you look at Sherman, you see his entire crazy, mixed-up world come shining through. You see the past and present weighing on him. You also see a number of raw emotions, including a rage that seems to simmer just below the surface. I could look at these photos forever.

So I painted one:
And another:
And another:

And from there, I was off and running. I painted 14 more portraits (not all of Sherman, of course), and created The American Civil War series, which you can see on my web site.

So as you can imagine, I was pretty excited (and a little bit surprised) to find out that General Sherman was buried in Calvary Cemetery, in my hometown of St. Louis, MO.

The Sherman family plot is located somewhat close to the entrance to Calvary–it was pretty easy to find (despite the fact that I am hopeless at reading a map, ANY map, and cemetery maps are the worst). William Tecumseh Sherman is buried alongside his wife, daughter, son, and a number of other relatives.

Sherman’s stone itself can best be described as venerable-looking. Located at the top between two American flags is the badge for the XV Corps, which had been commanded by Sherman in Vicksburg.

This badge has a great story behind it–from Sherman’s Memoirs:

“It was on this occasion that the Fifteenth Corps gained its peculiar badge: as the men were trudging along the deeply-cut, muddy road, of a cold, drizzly day, one of our Western soldiers left his ranks and joined a party of the Twelfth Corps at their camp-fire. They got into conversation, the Twelfth-Corps men asking what troops we were, etc., etc. In turn, our fellow (who had never seen a corps-badge, and noticed that every thing was marked with a star) asked if they were all brigadier-generals. Of course they were not, but the star was their corps-badge, and every wagon, tent, hat, etc., had its star. Then the Twelfth-Corps men inquired what corps be belonged to, and he answered, ‘The Fifteenth Corps.’ ‘What is your badge?’ ‘Why,’ said he (and he was an Irishman), suiting the action to the word, ‘forty rounds in the cartridge-box, and twenty in the pocket!'”

A number of people have left coins on the stone:


I noticed that a lot in the cemeteries I visited in St. Louis: People leave coins rather than pebbles–and not just on military stones, on all graves. I rarely see coins on graves in Green-Wood. Huh.

eleanor shermanSherman’s wife, Eleanor “Ellen” Boyle Ewing Sherman is buried next to him.

Ellen was from a prominent family; Her father was Thomas Ewing, an important Whig politician, and three of her brothers served as generals in the Civil War. Thomas Ewing was good friends with Charles Sherman, William’s father. When Charles Sherman died suddenly in 1829, Thomas Ewing adopted the young William and raised him as his own.

Wiliam and Ellen grew up together in the same home, eventually falling in love. Oh, the drama in that house must have been grand! They were married in 1850. From what I’ve read, her father did not quite approve.

Ellen was a devout Catholic, and one of the key organizers of the Catholic Indian Missionary Association. She was also active in politics; she was a staunch supporter of Abraham Lincoln, despite the fact that women weren’t allowed to vote at this time.

Ellen and William had eight children together. Their second-oldest daughter Mary Elizabeth Sherman (a.k.a., “Lizzie”) is buried to the left.

I couldn’t find out much about her other than the fact that she never married, and died in Massachussetts in 1925.

But perhaps the most poignant part of the Sherman family plot is the stone for Sherman’s 9-year-old son, “Our Little Sergeant Willie”. Willie and his brothers and sisters had joined their father in Mississippi after the surrender of Vicksburg. They stayed with him at the military camp on the Big Black.

Apparently, Willie loved the military, and was a great favorite with not just his father, but with all of the soldiers, who made him an honorary sergeant.

He died from “Camp Fever” while bound for Memphis on the steamer Atlantic:

Apparently, Sherman held himself responsible for his son’s death. He believed it was his fault for bringing his family down to Mississippi and exposing them “to so fatal a climate at so critical a period of the year”. Many believe that he was driven mad with grief, which explains why he marched through the South burning and killing with a vengeance.

Here’s an article about Sherman’s funeral from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.


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.

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.

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.


Harvey B. Dodworth

From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 26, 1891:

Harvey B. Dodworth, the famous band master, died at his home, 22 Hill street, West Hoboken, Saturday, at the age of 68. He was born in Sheffield, England, and came to America when very young. His father was a band master before him, and was the organizer of the New York city band, which became famous. Harvey B. Dodworth played the piccolo in the orchestra of the old Park theater in New York when he was only 10 years of age. Years after he was leader of the orchestra at Niblo’s theater,and subsequently at Daly’s. The fame of his Dodworth band was well known in Brooklyn. The deceased was the first man in this country to arrange Wagner’s music for military bands. He leaves a wife and three sons.


And according to Wikipedia, he “conducted with a band of sixty musicians in between salutes and boxing matches, as well as opening in Madison Square Garden, in which he had plans to lease in 1879 to turn it into a “music garden”, where he would conduct a 123-piece band.”

Here are a couple of playbills (posters?) for his performances:

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.

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. Mitchell and Clinton were both instrumental in the building of the Erie Canal.