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.”