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.

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.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Louis Bonard--A Friend to Animals

When French -born New Yorker, Louis Bonard, died in February of 1871 he left his entire estate --valued at $250,000 --to ASPCA founder, Henry Bergh. Bonard, an animal lover, wanted Bergh to use the money to continue his good work. This will was contested, unsuccessfully, by siblings of Bonard --siblings he had been estranged from for many ears --on the grounds that Bonard was insane given his belief in metempsychosis (reincarnation). During the proceedings in Surrogate Court, a number of witnesses were called, including a physician and several acquaintances of Bonard’s. One of these acquaintances testified that Bonard believed that after death “the soul passed into the body of some animal.”  On May 16, 1871, Bonard’s body was removed from a receiving vault at Green-Wood Cemetery and buried in a plot nearby the cemetery’s main entrance. Bonard’s monument was paid for out of estate funds, overseen by Henry Bergh, and cost $600.00.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cypress Hills Military Cemetery

Cypress Hills Military Cemetery was formed during the Civil War and located within Brooklyn’s Cypress Hills Cemetery. At the time, approximately three acres were allotted for the burial of the Civil War dead in what was called Union Grounds. After the war, in 1870, Cypress Hills Cemetery deeded the property to the United States for $9,600. By that time, 3,170 Union soldiers and 461 Confederate POWs had been buried there.

Before 1873, only U.S. soldiers who died as a result of injury or disease during the Civil War were eligible for burial in a national cemetery. But that year, eligibility was extended to honorably discharged veterans who served during the war, making more space a necessity. In 1884, 15 additional acres were purchased. Today, the cemetery’s 18 acres contain not only veterans of the Civil War, but those of the Vietnam and Korean Wars, as well as the American Revolution and Spanish-American War. Cypress Hills National Cemetery has long been closed to new interments, but accommodates burials for veterans and/or eligible family members who have an existing grave.

In 1997, Cypress Hills Military cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

October 9th Trolley Tour at Green-Wood Cemetery

I am looking forward to next Sunday's  trolley tour at Green-Wood Cemetery. If you are interested in attending, there may still be some tickets left. You can register through the link below:

Abraham Abraham


Founded in Brooklyn, in 1865, Abraham and Straus was one of the most popular department stores in New York. Boasting over a dozen locations,  A & S (as it was commonly called) became synonymous with elegance and style. Company co-founder Abraham Abraham died in 1911, and his funeral was emblematic of the esteem in which he was held. On that day, all A & S and Macy’s (owned by his business partners Isidor and Nathan Straus) locations were closed. Fifty honorary pallbearers, which included the Straus brothers, former Brooklyn Mayor Charles Schieren and New York City Mayor Jay Gaynor, accompanied Abraham's casket into the synagogue. It was Mayor Gaynor, a close friend of Abraham's, who also gave the eulogy. “I never knew a more just and equitable man than Abraham Abraham,” Gaynor told the congregation. 

Abraham is entombed in Salem Fields Cemetery within a stately mausoleum.

Green-Wood's "Bride"

Way back when, the first significant monument I was introduced to at Green-Wood was the "bride." So significant was this that I ...