A Tour of Lost Cemeteries

From the companion blog, Albany (NY) History, a brief look at some (though not all) of Albany’s former burial grounds.

A Tour of Lost Cemeteries

 

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The Cost of Removing A Burial Ground

 

parkscape

Above:  Crews at work laying out the new Washington Park ca. 1869.

When the Common Council authorized the removal of some 40,000 graves from the State Street Burying Grounds in advance of its redevelopment as a park, it allocated $30,000 for the project.  However, this was not sufficient and an addition $15,000 was added.

A breakdown of expenses:

For removals from

United Presbyterian ground…… $638.03
Methodist Episcopal…… 818.75
First Presbyterian…… 2,103.95
Garretson Station M.E….. 983.20
Dutch Reformed…… 3,369.00
Friends…… 624.90
Universalist…… 1,119.90
Lutheran Ebenezer…… 1,534.35
Third Presbyterian…… 1,194.90
Baptist….. 998.85
Second Presbyterian….. 368.10
St. Mary’s…… 2,514.15
Potter’s Field…… 3,702.25
African Church (estimated)…… 3,814.00
Saint Peter’s (estimated)…… 2,500.00

To grounds in Rural Cemetery…… 4,000.00
To grounds in St. Agnes Cemetery…… 3,000.00
To boxes, large and small…… 8,947.00
To insurance, clerks, sextons, etc……. 2,795.97

The total cost of the project was $42,373.05 or a little over a dollar per body.  It’s interesting to note that the most expense sections to remove was the African Church at an estimated $3,814 which hints that the number of burials there far exceeded the number of graves recorded in the Common Council inventory.  The inventory lists forty names, but as the list was compiled from headstones present in 1868, it is likely that many graves there were unmarked. 

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Featured Gravestone – Carl Rosche

DSC03856Section:  Baptist

Material:  White Marble

A small stone with severe damage.  Upper third has broken off, the carved lamb is eroded and there is much wear to the edges.  The inscription is eroding, but partly legible.

Inscription:  Carl Rosche geb 15 Dec. 1855 gest 14 Juli 1857

Census records show several Rosch(e) households listed in both Albany and nearby Watervliet, though no child by this name is listed.  This photo at Find A Grave illustrates how quickly this stone has eroded in just a few years.

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The Grave-Digger of Other Days

Monuments in former State Street Burial Grounds

This story from the September 8, 1905 edition of the Albany Evening Journal provides a few details about the old State Street Burying Grounds, its gravedigger, and a crime thwarted by fire.  A few words of the scanned article are illegible and indicated byunderlined spaces.  Hopefully, an alternate copy will provide the missing words.

Old Jack The Grave-Digger of Other Days”

Man who Dug the Graves in Cemetery Where Washington Park is

Attempt To Rob Vault

Who remembers “Jack the Grave-digger?”

There are Jacks of other trades and callings, and Albany has had a good share of them in her day. But none were so well known as “Jack the Grave-digger.”

“Jack the Grave-digger” lived in the days of yore in a little frame dwelling on the northwest corner of State street and Sprague place, where today stands the mansion of Benjamin W. Arnold. He dug many graves in the old cemetery occupying what is now a portion of Washington park. The Presbyterians purchased “Jack the Grave-digger’s house and grounds for site of Sprague chapel and, as there was no more graves for him to dig in the old cemetery, which had been transformed into park grounds, he betook himself to other parts.

Dominies Buried There

The old burying ground was made such in 1800 and it was used for a half a century. Its boundaries extended along State street on the north, along where Englewood place is on the west, Hamilton street or Hudson avenue on the south and on the east along a line about 50 yards west of and parallel to Northern Boulevard. In the mound included in what is called the children’s playground some of the dominies of the Dutch Reformed churches were said to have been buried.

There were numerous receiving vaults in the old cemetery, most of which extended almost in a line opposite Sprague place. Many of them were private vaults, owned by rich Albanians.

James H. Kelly, a former city detective, tells of an adventure which he had some years ago in the old cemetery. There was a report common among the citizens of Albany that a certain wealthy person had been buried in one of the vaults with a fortune in jewelry, etc. upon the body.

Mr. Kelly got wind one day of a plan to break into the vault under consideration and rob the corpse of his valuables. He reported the matter to his superiors and received permission to attempt the capture of the would-be vandals alone. He said he preferred going along on such a case.

Attempt to Rob Vault

Mr. Kelly had gotten the tip straight, and he knew the night on which the attempt to break into the vault would be made. Accordingly, he made preparations to be on hand to receive the grave robbers. On the appointed night, Mr. Kelly concealed himself in the bushes whence he could command a view of the vault. He carried a stout iron bar. It was his intention to slip the bar through the handles of the doors of the vault when his quest had entered and then he would have them in a trap of his own choosing and he would be able to keep them there until he could obtain help to lodge them in the station house.

The detective waited through the stilly night in his place of concealment and his presence was finally rewarded by the sight of approaching object through the gloom which proved to be men. They advanced cautiously to the door of the vault, and while one kept watch the other set himself to work at the lock.  ___ ___ ___ to carry out their ___ ___

Sky Illuminated

Suddenly the sky was ___ the sound of an alarm of the ___ ___ upon the stillness of the night. The vandals were startled out of there work and they stood gazing at the sky. Mr. Kelly was likewise excited by the sudden light and the noise of the thunder. Every instant the sky grew ___ and it was evident that a great fire was raging in the ___ far away. Soon he could see the flames leaping above the tops of the trees. The area in the vicinity of the vault was almost as bright as day. Shouts could be heard in the distance and the citizens were fast awakening.

The vandals gathered their tools together as quickly as they could and disappeared. Mr. Kelly made no attempt to apprehend them as he was sure that he would be able to catch them the next day at a “job” they had scheduled.”

The fire which had so suddenly interrupted the game of the vandals and likewise the detective destroyed a large oilcloth factory in the West End.

___

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Featured Gravestone – Achsah Clarke

DSC03859Section:  Baptist

Material:  White marble

Large, plain stone that has broken into three sections, possibly from weight being applied.  Inscription is very worn, but name can be read with effort.

The Common Council inventory notes that she was from Saybrook, Connecticut and that she died May 28, 1842 at the age of 54.  Her name appears several times in the local newspapers in 1834 on lists of individuals with letters awaiting them at the post office.  There is very little other available information on her.

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From The Evening Journal

As noted in this previous post, the removal of remains from the State Street Burying Grounds was proposed as early 1845 (though it was more than twenty years later that the actual removal was undertaken by the Common Council).  While the author of the previously posted letter was in support of the removal of remains from the old municipal cemetery to the new Rural Cemetery, the opinion was clearly not unanimous.

FROM THE EVENING JOURNAL

At the last meeting of the Common Council, Alderman Robert H. Pruyn, introduced a Resolution, having for its object the removal of the dead from the various Burying Grounds in the city, to the new Cemetery in Watervliet. This appears though something like the moral compulsion of the subject was in contemplation. That the new Cemetery is a beautiful place, and well adapted for the purpose designated; and that the undertaking is most praiseworthy; and that the gentlemen engaged in it are deserving of high credit for their good taste and public spirit, is denied by none; and the writer of this most cordially unites in the universal sentiment; but that the public should be compelled to break up, disturb and eradicate the present receptacle of the departed, and carry the bones of their ancestors (perhaps for the second or third times) to a new resting place, merely to please the fancy of a few individuals, will be an undertaking, it is believed, beyond the power of an Alderman, or even a body of Alderman, to accomplish.

The grounds appropriated, some forty years ago, for the public cemeteries of the different churches of the city, comprises about thirty acres of land, which, although yet but partially occupied, contains the remains of more than forty thousand persons and there is scarcely a family, or a individual in the community, who have not friends or relations interred there; it is, therefore, very obvious that it will be a herculean task, to coerce the change hinted at in the Resolution now pending before the Common Council. In the language of Alderman Bleecker, “the Corporation have not the right to interfere in this “matter;” and I will go yet further, and ask, what right do “the Clergy” (as one paper has it) or “the Trustees of the different Churches,” (as another paper states the Resolution,) posses to enter into any arrangements for such a removal?

I do not believe that the Trustees of the Watervliet Cemetery countenance this movement, or that they desire to advance their undertaking in any other way than by the voluntary preference of the citizen. Let them, those who think proper, bury their dead hereafter in the new Cemetery, and let those who prefer the present Burial Grounds, use them as heretofore; but let not the “place of our fathers’ sepulchres” be disturbed or desecrated. People are not yet prepared to root out and (word blurred) up the bones of their friends and relatives, without some better cause than now exists, and I venture to predicted that the mover of this resolution will gain neither credit nor success by any further agitation of the subject.

W.

July 16, 1845 – Albany Evening Journal

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Feature Gravestone – Samuel Graham

DSC03857Section:  Baptist

Material:  White marble

A very plain stone with significant erosion, wear and darkening.  Name is extremely difficult to read in person and the rest of the inscription is almost completely illegible.

The Common Council’s inventory (copied from the stones at the time of the removal) notes that Graham was a native of Drumlough, Rathfreland, County Down, Ireland and that he died at the age of forty.  No dates are listed, but a legal notice appear in the Argus and states that a Jane Graham had made application to the surrogate’s court to probate the last will and testament of Samuel Graham in September 1845.  It does not state whether Jane was his wife, daughter, or sister.  In 1841, there is a very brief mention (also in the Arugs) of a “conviction affirmed” in Samuel Graham vs. The People, but no further details are given.  He may also be the Samuel Graham who was robbed of cash by a boy named Dennis in 1843.

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