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.

___

See also:  The Albany Vault Company

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One response to “The Grave-Digger of Other Days

  1. Pingback: The Albany Vault Company | albanychurchgrounds

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