Friday, December 16, 2011

Tragic Schoolgirl Hattie Engert

When I’m in a cemetery --be it for work or leisure --a monument or mausoleum will catch my eye and I’ll want to learn more about the story behind the family name. Such was the case with the Charles Engert mausoleum in St. John Cemetery. I’ve seen this mausoleum numerous times as it is prominently located across the road from Charles Lucania, and on the way to the Cloister. This week, I stopped to really look. From the look of the structure I felt fairly certain that the family was prominent and one of means. These assumptions were borne out, along with the tragedy which prompted the construction of this mausoleum. Here’s what I learned:

Charles Engert was a Brooklyn-born builder and realtor. Prosperous and well-known, he was a founding member of the Hanover Club. In April of 1899, his only child,16 year old daughter M.J. Henrietta (known as Hattie) died at her school-- Mt. St. Vincent Academy on the Hudson --from spinal meningitis. Hattie had recently returned to school after Easter recess. During that time, the Engerts made plans to take their daughter abroad over the summer. On the day of her funeral, family and friends came to pay their respects at the Engert’s Bedford Ave. home before Hattie’s Funeral Mass was at the Church of the Transfiguration on Marcy Ave. in Brooklyn. Following the religious service, the girl’s body was placed in a receiving vault at St. John Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens while the family mausoleum was being built. Hattie’s tragic death came only four years after her first communion, a grand affair replete with an orchestra and a big name caterer, which--–because of the family’s prominence--invited newspaper coverage. In June of 1895 the Brooklyn Eagle noted that “The dining room was made lighter than day by a framework of incandescent lights and the temperature was materially lowered by the presence of several electric fans.”

Charles Engert. died on March 17 in Bad Nauheim, Germany, leaving an estimated fortune in excess of 700,000. The bulk of his estate went to his widow, Mary, with other monies left to various Catholic charities and educational concerns. The largest bequest was left to the city of Volksen, Germany, to establish a free kindergarten in the name of his father, Kaspar, who died in 1877. In addition, $2,000 was left to the St. John Cemetery Corp. for the perpetual are of the family mausoleum.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Messrs. Robert Ferdinand Wagner

The Wagner name was well-known in New York politics. Three generations of Wagner men –-all named Robert Ferdinand--served the state and city. Robert F. Wagner, Sr., the family patriarch, served as U.S. Senator from 1927 to 1949. He died in 1953. Wagner’s son, Robert F. Wagner, Jr., was New York City’s 102nd mayor and one of the city’s most popular. Elected to three terms –his tenure was from 1954 to 1965---as mayor, the Yale graduate previously served as Manhattan’s Borough President before winning the mayoral race at the age of 43.

 Wagner died at the age of 80, on February 12, 1991, from bladder cancer. His funeral took place four days later. At St. Patrick’s Cathedral, 700 mourners, including Governor Mario Cuomo, Mayor David Dinkins and former Mayors Lindsay and Koch listened to a sermon by Cardinal O’ Connor. Opera singer, Robert Merrill, serenaded the congregation with his rendition of Ave Maria and Wagner’s son, Robert F. Wagner III, gave a eulogy. In it, he shared with the audience some advice his father had left behind: “When in danger, ponder. When in trouble, delegate. And when in doubt, mumble.” When the religious service ended, Wagner’s Mahogany casket was shouldered out of the cathedral by police pallbearers and placed into the hearse for the ride to Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens. There, on a bleak winter day, Mayor Robert F. Wagner was buried in the family plot with his parents and first wife, Susan who preceded him in death in 1954.


Two years later, former Deputy-Mayor, Robert F. Wagner III died suddenly, at the age of 49, from an apparent heat attack. He, too, is buried in the Wagner family burial plot.

Monday, December 5, 2011

J & C Johnston Co.




The Johnston family mausoleum in Calvary Cemetery is not to be missed. In fact, one would be hard pressed to do so as the structure is massive and prominently situated. Fans of The Godfather may recall seeing it in the funeral scene of Don Corleone.


In the 19th Century, the Johnston brothers --John, Charles & Robert – were the proprietors of the J & C Johnston Dry Goods Store on Broadway in Manhattan. An 1874 article in the New York Times, entitled ‘The Christmas Holidays: At The Dry-Goods Store’ encapsulated the various offerings from NYC merchants. The entry for the J & C Johnston Co. noted that it had “…one of the most extensive silk departments in the city.”

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Shades of the Mackay Mausoleum


On a recent visit to Calvary Cemetery in Queens, I saw the Halloran mausoleum  (top photo)  for the first time. Surprisingly, in all my years as a funeral director, I’ve never seen it before. Probably, because I almost never enter the cemetery on Greenpoint Avenue. In any case, I was immediately struck by the similarity to the Mackay family mausoleum, my favorite in Green-Wood. I'm attempting to find out additional information about this structure. In particular, I'm interested in knowing which mausoleum was built first and did they share an architect. If anyone knows, please post here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

R.H.Macy "Way to Shop!"

In honor of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, Rowland H. Macy is today’s subject. Born to a Quaker family in New England, Macy found success --and made retail history-- with R.H. Macy & Co., which opened in 1858 in lower Manhattan. First day sales amounted to $11.06.
Macy died in Paris, in 1877, just weeks after traveling to Europe with his family on the advice of his doctors to get some R &R. A New York Times article announcing his death read that: “Laborious work during his best years, brought him, at the age of 56, to a sick bed, suffering of Bright’s disease of the kidneys, of which he died.” However, his funeral did not take place until June 29th. After a religious service in New York City’s Church of the Holy Trinity, attended by family, friends and 300 Macy employees, Macy’s body was taken by special train to the Bronx, for burial in Woodlawn Cemetery . In his will, Macy left the bulk of his estate to his wife and daughter, excluding his son, Rowland Jr., save for an annual annuity of $1,000. In his will, Macy stated that “….I cannot trust him with the care or management of my property . …though he is now 29 years of age, he has been entirely supported and maintained by me.” In 1893, R. H. Macy & Co. was acquired by the Straus family, owners of Abraham & Straus. The Straus family is also buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.

In 1902, Macy’s flagship store moved to Herald Square at 34th Street and Broadway, where it remains today. An addition to the property, in 1924, made Macy’s Herald Square the largest store in the world. This was also the first year of what became an annual event, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. An estimated 10,000 people turned out to watch.
It is interesting to note that in 1939, retailers lobbied President Franklin Roosevelt to change the Thanksgiving holiday from the last Thursday of November to the fourth Thursday, in order to extend the Christmas shopping season. Despite opposition from other businesses, Congress passed such a bill, which President Roosevelt signed into law in 1941.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bullish on Teddy: Our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt















Theodore Roosevelt became our nation’s 26th president --and the youngest in US history ---in 1901, after the assassination of President William McKinley. He was elected to a second term on November 8, 1904. He had previously held posts in the US Assembly (the youngest man ever to do so) and as the Governor of NY, elected November 8, 1898. Roosevelt, a Republican, was a prolific writer, conservationist and champion of civil rights.

On Valentine’s Day in 1880 -–the same year he graduated from Harvard-- Roosevelt became engaged to Alice Hathaway Lee. They married in October of that year. Tragedy struck in 1884, when two days after giving birth to their daughter, Alice, Mrs. Roosevelt died from complications of Bright’s disease. That same day, Mrs. Martha Bulloch Roosevelt, the future president’s mother, also died from typhoid fever. Theodore Roosevelt wrote in his diary that night that, “The light has gone out of my life.” The Roosevelt women are buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in a circular, family plot in which Roosevelt’s father is also buried.

A month later, Roosevelt entered into a contract for a new home in Oyster Bay, Long Island, to be called Sagamore Hill, in which to raise his daughter. It was completed a year later, and Roosevelt –who remarried and had five more children-- lived in that house until he died in his sleep on January 6, 1919 at the age of 60. He is buried in Youngs Memorial Cemetery, about a mile from his home.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New York City Impresario William B. Niblo

William Niblo was a well-known 19th Century impresario and the proprietor of Niblo’s Garden, a vast entertainment complex. Located in lower Manhattan, Niblo’s Garden boasted a 3,000 seat theatre, restaurant, saloon, hotel, and an outdoor garden. In 1866, a production called The Black Crook debuted and, in time, this long running show came to be viewed by historians as Broadway’s first musical.
When not overseeing theatrical productions by some of the era’s most popular performers, Niblo could often be found tending the garden in front of his mausoleum at Green-Wood Cemetery, where he would also sometimes picnic with friends. This Gothic Revival mausoleum was built for Niblo’s wife Martha, who died in 1851, and overlooks Crescent Water. Niblo once stocked the pond with goldfish which migrated to Green-Wood’s other six (at the time) ponds through their interconnections.

Niblo died in 1878, at the age of 89, and in his will allotted $5,000 to the Green-Wood trustees for the upkeep of his mausoleum. The last performance at Niblo's Garden was on March 23, 1895; the property was then purchased and razed by “Sugar King” Henry Havemeyer --also buried in Green-Wood—for a new office building.

Recently, during openhousenewyork(sic) weekend, Green-Wood opened the doors of this historic mausoleum to the public. A rare glimpse inside afforded the opportunity to view the poignant statue of a child. The significance of the small statue is unclear. Does it represent one of Niblo’s children? If anyone has additional information, I hope you will share it with readers of this blog.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Five and Dime Founder: F.W. Woolworth



   Woolworth founder, Frank Winfield Woolworth, is entombed within this imposing, Egyptian-themed mausoleum in        Woodlawn Cemetery. Designed by architect John Russell Pope -- whose designs also include The Jefferson Memorial and the National Archives and Records Administration --the Woolworth mausoleum boasts twin guardian sphinxes, Egyptian carvings, papyrus-styled columns and Bronze doors with figures exchanging an ankh (the Egyptian symbol for life). In 1879, Woolworth opened his first   “Five and Ten Cent Store” in Utica, NY. Although that store soon failed, his second store, opened later that year, and located in Lancaster PA , was a rousing success. Over the years, more than a thousand F. W. Woolworth Company locations opened around the world.  Woolworth died suddenly, in 1919, at the age of 66, in Winfield Hall, his Long Island mansion. Initially,  his estate was estimated to be $65,000,000. That amount was later reported to be just under $30,000,000. The Woolworth Building, the former corporate headquarters of the Woolworth Co., was once the tallest building in the world and is both a National Historic Landmark and a New York City Landmark.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Legendary Magician and Escape Artist: Harry Houdini


I’ve posted about Harry Houdini (aka Ehrich Weiss) before, but with a new development –-and new photographs--here’s another tribute to the famed magician on the 85th anniversary of his death.

On October 31, 1926, Harry Houdini died in a Detroit hospital from peritonitis, following two surgeries for a burst appendix. He was 52 years old. Houdini’s body was placed in a bronze casket the magician had had specially constructed  for one of his acts and –-it was said --for his eventual burial. Curiously, after Houdini’s last show in Detroit close, his equipment was all shipped back East except for the casket. On November 3rd, Mrs. Beatrice Houdini and three of the magician’s siblings accompanied his body on the train to NYC. There it was met at Grand Central Station by a large group of friends and relatives before being taken to the West End Funeral Chapel.

At 10:30 AM, the next morning, Houdini’s religious service took place at the Elks Club in Manhattan. Two Rabbi’s officiated and Lee Shubert and Bernard Gimbel (prominent men of the times) were among the honorary pallbearers. Following the service, burial took place in the Weiss family plot at Machpelah Cemetery --which takes its name from the burial cave of Abraham --in Queens, NY. It was Houdini’s wish that he be buried at the right side of his mother and that her letters to him be placed in his casket. He also made a pact with his wife that he would try to communicate with her from the spirit world. Thus, Houdini’s widow held a séance on each anniversary of her husband’s death until 1936, when she grew disillusioned. That last séance was held on the roof of a Hollywood hotel and attended by more than 200 people and members of the press. A few years before her death, she stated in her will that, “I do not now nor did I at any time belive in spirit messages.” Mrs. Houdini -–a Catholic--died in 1943 and despite her name appearing, along with Houdini’s, at the family’s grave site, she was not permitted to buried with her husband. Instead, she is buried in Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.


For 68 years after Houdini’s death, members of the Society of American Magicians would join thousands of Houdini fans at his grave, on October 31st, for a ceremony. This tradition ended in 1994 after a number of acts of vandalism, which included the theft of several busts of the famed magician. Recently, in a space that has been empty for 20 years, the bust has been replace yet again. But the cemetery remains closed until after Halloween.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Stephen Whitney, the "Cotton King"

Another of the fabulous Green-Wood mausoleums open to the public during openhousenewyork weekend, was that of cotton speculator, Stephen Whitney. I had always wanted to see inside, as to me this structure gives the impression of a stone cottage, despite its Gothic architectural style. It looked nothing like I envisoned (a cozy living room with a fireplace, lol), but captured my attention instead because of the symbolism on the crypt covers. At the time of Whitney's death, in 1860, he was reported to be the second richest man in the world. Yet, as the placard above notes, "he was no spender." His heirs had this octagonal-shaped mausoleum built in his honor.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Eppig Mausoleum

Leaving St. John Cemetery yesterday, after a funeral, I took a quick shot of this imposing mausoleum. The photo shows no indication of the rainy and gloomy day it was. I’d seen this mausoleum before and was decided to research the family name of Eppig. Turns out, Leonhard Eppig was a Brooklyn brewer who founded Leonhard Eppig's Germania Brewery in Bushwick, Brooklyn in 1866. He was also a major benefactor to the Catholic Church. In fact, because of this, two Brooklyn Churches --both of which served the German Catholic immigrants-- St. Barbara and St. Leonard, were said to be named for Eppig’s children. St. Leonard was founded in 1871 and, in 1884, Franz Leonard, its namesake, was married there. The church closed in 1978 and in 2001 the building was demolished. St. Barbara, built in 1910, was designed by the architectural firm of Helme and Huberty, the firm also responsible for the Central Park boathouse and the Greenpoint Savings Bank, and still serves the community today.


According to the Brooklyn Eagle, a foot injury Eppig sustained "...while bathing at Rockaway" resulted in blood poisoning and necrosis, contributing to his eventual death. When Eppig died, in 1893, his estate was valued at $375,000 out of which $3,000 was left to St. Leonard’s and $2,000 to Little Sisters of the poor. His son, Franz Leonard, ran the company until Prohibition began in 1920 and brewery operations were halted. When Prohibition ended, the plant was acquired by the Ehret family --featured in a previous blog post --who ran the Hell Gate Brewery, once regarded as the largest brewery in the US. Then, in 1949, the former Germania Brewery was purchased by the Schlitz Co., which operated the brewery until 1973.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Peek Inside the Steinway Mausoleum







Over the weekend, Green-Wood Cemetery participated in openhousenewyork (sic). One of the highlights this year was the rare opportunity to see inside some of Green-Wood's most famous mausoleums. Had a fabulous day doing just that under yesterday's picture perfect sky. The Steinway Mausoleum --which houses the remains of Henry Steinway, the piano maker, and many of his family members--is the largest in the cemetery.