ALBANY RURAL CEMETERY
Menands, New York 12204
Bella Morte Rating: 3 Tombstones
Incorporated on 2 April, 1841 and dedicated on 7 October, 1844, Albany Rural was established in response to the overcrowding and flooding of smaller cemeteries in the area. Following the establishment of the cemetery, over 40,000 bodies were transferred from the State Street Burial Ground – the site of modern-day Albany’s Washington Park. In addition, bodies were re-interred there from their original resting places in at least 15 different church graveyards and private family plots. Re-interments from the Albany Poor House, Albany Orphanage, Albany Jail and Albany Hospital also took place.
The day of our visit was brutally sunny and hot and the grass was brown and brittle from lack of rain. Hardly ideal for exploration, particularly with nearly 500 acres to traverse. We decided to ease in with a visit to the community mausoleum. This decision provided little solace as the interior was hot and offered very little by way of interest, so, off it was to explore the grounds.
Our first stop was the massive receiving vault structure located directly across the street from the community mausoleum. Before the advent of heavy digging machinery, receiving vaults were built to store bodies which arrived in the cold winter months when the frozen ground precluded grave digging. When Spring arrived, the bodies were transferred to their final resting places.
The original vault closer to the front entrance was demolished as demand for space in the cemetery increased. The new structure, designed by John Bridgford and resembling an Egyptian mastaba, was constructed in 1858. When visiting Albany Rural, make certain to take a peek inside the creepy interior to view the arched vaults above the metal shelves which once held caskets awaiting Spring burial.
There are numerous monuments worthy of note on the grounds of Albany Rural and we encourage you to go and explore for yourself. While there, we encourage you to visit those memorials which most captured our attention.
Not to be missed is the grave of Chester A. Arthur, America’s 21st President. In comparison with the grandeur of other Presidential tombs we have visited, the Arthur monument is exceedingly modest. Erected three years following Arthur’s death, the memorial was not provided by the government or citizenry of America, but rather, was purchased entirely with funds raised by the late President’s friends. Designed by Ephraim Keyser, the monument features a majestic bronze angel laying a palm branch over a large black sarcophagus. Of particular note are the angel’s beautiful hands and the graceful curve of her wings.
The mausoleum of John Flack Winslow and his wife, Harriet Wickes Winslow, is the largest at Albany Rural. Manager of the Albany Ironworks, Winslow was the first to produce structural steel in the U.S. He is also known for having financed the building of the USS Monitor, the first ironclad Union warship. The Winslow mausoleum with its impressive size, rough-hewn stone exterior, Gothic style details, copper roof and cupola might easily be mistaken for the cemetery chapel.
Another Albany mausoleum of note is that of George C. Hawley, son-in-law of Theodore Amsdell who, together with his father-in-law, owned the Dobler Brewery. The grey stone Hawley mausoleum with its four corner spires and arched entryway very much resembles a miniature cathedral. Be certain to look inside the building to see the magnificent bronze sarcophagi within.
For architectural detail, the mausoleum of Henry Burden and his wife Helen is unsurpassed at Albany. Henry was the owner of Burden Iron Works in addition to being an inventor of labour-saving machinery (the automated “horseshoe machine,” the country’s first cultivator, an improved plow, etc.). Built into a hillside facing the Hudson River and from which the Ironworks could be seen when the weather was kind, the Burden mausoleum’s interior is of little interest; the façade, however, is another story.
Designed by Helen Burden, it features Tuckahoe granite carved into a fascinating, crenulated pattern. Capping the building, a carved wreath of leaves encircle the Burden name and the year, 1850. Directly beneath, the face of a woman framed by flowing tresses, ostensibly Helen herself, keeps her downcast gaze focused on the tomb’s gate below. On either side of the structure’s roof are the images of two dogs, presumably modeled on family pets, who keep eternal watch over their master’s resting place. To one side out front of the mausoleum is a large book resting on a carved pillow. The open pages contain relatively lengthy tributes to Henry and Helen, whose earthly exit preceded her husband’s by eleven years.
One of our favorite structures at Albany is the beautiful Dalton cinerarium designed by architect Marcus Tullius Reynolds. William Dalton made his fortune as Chief Engineer for American Locomotive in Schenectady, NY. The stunning round, white stone structure which houses his earthly remains is accented by six Corinthian columns and topped with a domed roof. A peek inside the bronze door reveals an altar-like structure upon which rests an open bronze book. The book’s pages are inscribed with the names, birth and death dates of nine members of the Dalton family. The walls are lined with niches for the cremated remains of all interred there. Each niche is covered with a bronze nameplate. Simply stunning.
As regards sculptures, Erastus Dow Palmer’s much-celebrated “Angel at the Sepulchre” left us only slightly impressed. Commissioned by Robert Lenox Banks for the grave of his first wife, Emma Rathbone Turner, the white marble image sits atop a pedestal. Hands resting on his knees, the angel leans forward, almost expectantly.
For sheer beauty, our votes go to three other angelic images.
The Pasons family monument by Oscar Lenz features a towering stone cross. At its base, Lenz’ majestic bronze “Angel of the Resurrection,” arms outstretched, stands beneath the words: “He is risen. He is not here.” The outer edge of the monument bears a bronze frieze depicting a procession of figures draped in classical robes. The monument is situated in a grove of evergreens which further adds to its magnificence and serenity.
Lenz’ other Albany masterpiece graces the mausoleum of the Hilton Bridge Company’s George Porter Hilton. The massive bronze covers one entire side of the mausoleum and depicts the Angel of Death proffering a handful of poppies to a seated warrior. The Biblical inscription beneath proclaims: I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith.”
In our opinion, the undisputed crown jewel of Albany Rural, however, is the Myers angel. This graceful, other-worldly being stands atop an ornate, tasseled pillow. Her pedestal is composed of red granite, as is the large, open book whose pages she stands between. Her arms are gracefully outstretched and her left hand rests gently against one of her magnificently-feathered wings. Rather than gazing at the pond and cypress fountain directly ahead, her eyes are slightly downcast, directed instead towards the bronze headstones of her charges, John and Mary Myers.
John Myers was a Trustee of Albany Rural. He was also the owner of John G. Myers & Company Department store in Albany, New York. Six years after Myers’ death, on 8 August, 1905, the store collapsed during renovation, killing 13 clerks and injuring many other people. (Photo of aftermath of the Myers collapse)
Interestingly, one of Myers’ daughters married Charles Porter Hilton whose magnificent mausoleum sculpture is also featured in this review.
Of course, this would not be Bella Morte if we did not seek out the darker stories of any particular burial ground. Our selections for Albany Rural are Jesse Strang and Lizzie M. Calhoun.
In a trial that made local and national headlines under the banner “The Murder at Cherry Hill,” Mr. Strang was found guilty of the shooting death of his lover, Elsie Whipple’s, husband. Having fallen in love with the notably irksome Mrs. Whipple, Strang took a job at Cherry Hill Farm, the home of Elsie’s wealthy parents. It was there, in May of 1827, that, prompted by Elsie, he shot and killed John Whipple. Elsie, clearly the mastermind of the crime, was deemed innocent and acquitted while the hapless Ms. Strang was found guilty and sentenced to death. His hanging earned him the dubious distinction of being Albany’s last public execution.
Finally, we bring to your attention the gravesite and bleak end of Miss Lizzie Calhoun. Marked by a simple granite cross with the name “Lizzie” carved at its base, the gravesite is the final resting place of this 19 year old Albany High School student who, on Thursday, 31 May, 1877 decided to visit the cemetery with friends. When the horses pulling the buggy they rode in bolted and the driver could not control them, young Lizzie either jumped or was thrown from the careening carriage and fell to her death in a ravine. Fittingly, the Battersby monument just behind Lizzie’s stone features an angel pointing heavenward while gazing down at the figure of a youthful soul placed in her charge.
NOTE: Beth Emeth Cemetery is located at the end of Albany Rural’s Middle Ridge Road. This is a small, unremarkable burying ground.
Also of note is St. Agnes Cemetery which one passes on the approach to Albany Rural from Cemetery Avenue. Established in 1867, St. Agnes, still a quite active burial ground, encompasses 108 acres. Sadly, aside from some slightly interesting Catholic religious statuary, there is nothing of particular noteworthiness there.
At the time of our visit, the cemetery was in the midst of an ongoing project to photograph and otherwise document older graves falling into disrepair in order to preserve that information for use by historians and genealogists.