Monthly Archives: June 2017

Cemetery of the Week #154: Melbourne General Cemetery

Melbourne view

This view of the cemetery and the photos that follow were taken from the book The Melbourne General Cemetery by Don Chambers. I’ll review it tomorrow.

Melbourne General Cemetery
College Crescent, Parkville, Victoria 3052, Australia
Founded: 1852
Size: 106 acres (43 hectares)
Number of interments: 300,000

Melbourne General Cemetery is the final resting place of Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister, authors, billiards players, and the Princess Theatre ghost, along with 300,000 others.

Established by trustees in 1852, Melbourne General Cemetery opened in June the following year. It stands two kilometers north of the city of Melbourne, in the suburb of Carlton North. The cemetery’s first burial was merchant John Burnett in May 1853.

As the first modern cemetery in Victoria, Melbourne General is crossed by wide paths that loop between its rotundas and chapels. Each denomination — Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Wesleyan, as well as Jewish and Quaker — was separated from the others. The cemetery’s oldest buildings are the Jewish chapel, completed in 1854, and the Catholic mortuary chapel, which dates to the 1870s. Several of the heritage buildings are built of bluestone.

Originally, the Chinese, Afghan, and Aboriginal communities were restricted to a small “Other Denominations” section of the the cemetery, but there they could pursue their own traditional burial rites.

A sandstone monument remembers native chief Derrimut, who died in 1864. Because Derrimut didn’t fit into the recognized Western religions, he was buried amongst the Chinese.  The Koori, his people, don’t traditionally mark their graves. After his death, Derrimut’s monument was erected to honor him for warning early colonists that some up-country tribes planned a massacre in October 1835.


The grave of Sir Redmond Barry, the Acting Chief Justice, who sentenced Ned Kelly

Also buried here are Irish-born Robert O’Hara Burke and Englishman William John Wills, chosen despite their lack of exploration experience to walk across the Australian continent from south to north. On the return trip, Burke and Wills starved to death. Their bodies were recovered in January 1863 and given state funerals.

Four Prime Ministers are buried at Melbourne General Cemetery. Two lay in the Prime Ministers Garden—Sir Robert Menzies and Sir John Gorton—alongside a cenotaph for Harold Holt, whose body was lost at sea while he was swimming. James Scullin is buried elsewhere in the cemetery, as is Sir Isaac Isaacs, the first Australian-born Governor General.


The grave monument of billiard champion Walter Lindrum comes with a pool cue and ball. It’s the cemetery’s most-visited monument.

Preachers, con men, musicians, actors, scientists, and other permanent residents include:

  • Patrick Hannan, who discovered gold at Kalgoorlie in Western Australia
  • Sir Redmond Barry, the judge who sentenced outlaw Ned Kelly to hang
  • Mendel Balberyszski, who survived the destruction of the Vilnius Ghetto in Lithuania
  • British opera singer Frederick Federici, who originated the title role of The Mikado in New York and who is said to haunt the Princess Theater, where he died singing Mephistofeles in Faust.
  • Walter Lindrum, buried beneath a tombstone in the shape of a billiard table
  • Boxing champion “Gentlemen Jack” John Reid McGowan

The cemetery offers tours both during the day and at night. The next day tour is coming up on July 12, 2017.

Useful links:

Melbourne General Cemetery’s home page

A well-illustrated wander of Melbourne General Cemetery

Images of the Jewish Section of Melbourne General Cemetery

The Holocaust Memorial at Melbourne General Cemetery

More famous people buried in Victoria

A Guide to Rookwood Necropolis

The Sleeping City: The Story Of Rookwood NecropolisThe Sleeping City: The Story Of Rookwood Necropolis by David A. Weston

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s not easy to find books about Australian cemeteries in the US. This one is currently going for over $200 on Amazon, although I paid much less on ebay. I don’t know if this indicates a lack of Australian cemetery books in general or if they just aren’t being marketed to the American cemetery aficionado scene.

As cemetery books go, this one is fairly comprehensive, if a little dry. It offers color images of the landscape and grave markers (although it could certainly have more). It has images from historical ephemera. It has page after page of black and white photographs of the cemetery in its prime.

It’s scattered with the kind of historical tidbits I like, like the first burials in each division of the necropolis. The book has whole section on the artistic and architectural styles on display in Rookwood. There are also chapters on the Rookwood Cemetery railroad line, the family of stonemasons who worked in the cemetery for four generations, and the landscape design, with a focus on the original plants that survive.

The Sleeping City could use much more information on the characters buried in Rookwood. There’s barely a mention of Ruby Elizabeth Sterio Adams, who died in 1982, and whose gravestone honors her as Queen of the Gypsies. The chapter profiling people buried here isn’t even 30 pages long. The listings skew Anglo and male.

Since this year is the sesquicentennial of Rookwood Necropolis, I hope a new guide is on its way.

As I mentioned, a paperback copy of The Sleeping City: The Story of Rookwood Necropolis edited by David A. Weston is available on Amazon for a whole lot of money. I got a hard cover copy via ebay for much less.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

Cemetery of the Week #153: Rookwood Necropolis

Rookwood angel

This photo and the two that follow are taken from The Sleeping City: The Story of Rookwood Necropolis, which I’ll review tomorrow.

Rookwood Necropolis
Hawthorne Avenue, Rookwood, New South Wales 2141, Australia
Founded: 1867
Size: 777 acres
Number of interments: more than 1 million

In 1862, the government of New South Wales purchased 200 acres of the Hyde Park Estate, owned by Mr. Edward Cohen, near the village of Haslam’s Creek for the site of a new cemetery. Once the necropolis was dedicated, burials began in January 1867. This year, Rookwood Necropolis is celebrating its sesquicentennial.

Nearly 10 miles outside of Sydney’s business district, the original cemetery was designed with divisions for Roman Catholic, Anglican, Wesleyan, Presbyterian, Jewish, and Independent congregations. Each section was sized based on the denomination’s number of adherents in the 1861 census. That original 200-acre cemetery is now only the northwestern corner of this enormous cemetery. The Wesleyan, Presbyterian, Independent, General, and Catholic Cemeteries all have curvilinear layouts, while the Anglican Cemetery is based on a grid.

The original 200-acre cemetery lay along the rail line from Sydney to Parramatta. A spur was built to carry funeral trains into the cemetery to stations serving Anglicans, Catholics, and nonbelievers. The first funeral train ran in April 1864. Train service ended in 1848.

In 1878-9, 577 acres were added to the cemetery. At 777 acres, the Rookwood Necropolis is the largest graveyard in the Southern Hemisphere. More than a million people have been buried or cremated there. A whopping one million epitaphs have been recorded on 600,000 graves and 200,000 crematorium niches. In fact, although it wasn’t the first crematorium in Australia, Rookwood’s Spanish Mission-style crematorium is the oldest that continues to operate. It opened in 1925.

Rookwood 1The necropolis is so large that “vistas came be found within it that are completely contained within the cemetery landscape, providing an aesthetic retreat for the senses of the viewer,” according to its National Trust listing.  When it was added to the National Trust of Australia (NSW) in 1988, Rookwood was commended for being a “comprehensive and tangible manifestation of the social history of Sydney, documenting the cultural and religious diversity of the Australian community since 1867.”  Rookwood serves over 90 culturally diverse communities, also displaying Australia’s diversity of religious beliefs and burial practices in its monuments and memorials.

The National Trust listing goes on to note that “the progressive layering, development, and diversity of styles of memorialization document the conceptual move away from the 19th century perception of death and dying to the more rationalist view prevailing at the present time.”  The Friends of Rookwood offer several tours that point out historical points of interest, including some twilight tours. I’ll link to the 2017 tour schedule below.

More recently, Rookwood acknowledged that the Dharug people—part of the oldest continuous culture in the world—are the traditional custodians of their land.

The largest public open space within urban Sydney, Rookwood serves as a haven for birds and native fauna, including 19 species of frogs and reptiles. In addition to native brushtail possums and grey-headed flying foxes, the cemetery hosts colonies of imported rabbits, hares, and foxes. Several species of cuckoos and honeyeaters breed in the cemetery trees. A large spectrum of birds migrate through.  The cemetery also provides habitat for two endangered plant species: the downy wattle and the small-leaved Dillwynia.

Rookwood wildflowersBuried here are Peter Dawson, a singer and composer who became famous as a gramophone recording artist; Louisa Lawson, a suffragette who owned a newspaper and wrote poetry and short stories; John Fairfax, who emigrated from England with five pounds and later purchased the Sydney Herald; and Roy Rene, who performed as Australia’s most popular vaudeville star Mo McCackie.

Rookwood has a large War Graves area, some of which commemorates the Australian landing at Gallipoli during World War I. Many of the graves are cenotaphs in memory of soldiers buried in Europe or whose bodies were never recovered.  The cemetery has a thoughtful video on their website.

Useful links:

Rookwood’s homepage

150th anniversary events

Friends of Rookwood walking tours

An illustrated history of Rookwood

Harry Houdini’s visit to Rookwood’s spiritualist graves

A paperback copy of The Sleeping City: The Story of Rookwood Necropolis edited by David A. Weston is available on Amazon for a whole lot of money. I got a hard cover copy via ebay for much less.

Photo Guide to the Congressional Cemetery

Historic Congressional Cemetery (Images of America: D.C.)Historic Congressional Cemetery by Rebecca Boggs Roberts

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, this book made me want to visit this cemetery. I picked the book up in Washington DC, but didn’t get a chance to read it until I was traveling. My impression had been that the Congressional Cemetery was in rough shape and was dangerous to boot, but this book made it sound so crammed with fascinating history that I will have to find a way to visit when next I’m in town.

In the days before embalming, the cemetery began as a place to plant congressmen when they died in office. Benjamin Henry Latrobe, architect of the US Capitol Building, was asked to design a monument that would set the congressional graves apart from the others. These monuments were placed for every member of congress who perished between 1807 and 1877, whether they are at rest in the cemetery or not.

Other people of note buried in the Congressional Cemetery are John Philip Sousa (the March King), FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and his purported boyfriend Clyde Tolson, Civil War photographer Matthew Brady, Air Force veteran Leonard Matlovich (one of the first gay rights activist veterans), several Native American statesmen, and the first woman to interview a sitting president, among many, many others.

One of the Lincoln conspirators is buried in an unmarked grave with his sister. Lincoln’s valet, who allowed Booth into the President’s box at Ford’s Theater, lies here. The mediums that Mary Todd Lincoln contacted after her husband’s death are here, as well as the man who rented Booth the horse (and lent him the spurs that caught in the stage drapery), and the man who owned the tavern where Booth waited for his cue to attack the president. That’s a lot of witnesses to history gathered together in one place.

Unlike many of the Images of America books, which focus on vintage images of their subjects, this book is filled with modern photographs, revealing just how lovely — and loved — the Congressional Cemetery is these days. I can’t wait to see it for myself.

Get a copy of your own on Amazon.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

Cemetery of the Week #152: Congressional Cemetery

sousa f-a-gCongressional Cemetery
1801 E Street SE, Washington, DC 20003
Founded: 1790
Size: 35 acres
Number of Interments: 67,000 burials and more than 14,000 stones
Open: Daily from dawn to dusk. Free tours are available on Saturdays at 11 AM from April through October.

The original plan for Washington, DC made no provision for a burial ground. In 1798, two squares on the borders of town were finally set aside as the eastern and western burial grounds. Turns out the eastern spot was prone to flooding, so residents of that area chose another small piece of land—less that five square acres—and purchased it from the city for $200. Their plan was to sell grave plots for $2 each. Once the space was paid off, it would be overseen by Christ Church. The graveyard, named the Washington Parish Burial Ground, was paid off by March 30, 1812.

In 1807, Connecticut senator Uriah Tracy died in office and was buried in the new cemetery. Benjamin Henry Latrobe, architect of the Capitol Building, was asked to design a monument to mark Senator Tracy’s grave—and the graves of those Congressmen who might follow him to the cemetery. Latrobe believed that the tablet headstones common to that era were not sturdy enough to honor members of Congress. The wide, heavy monuments he designed are made of Aquia Creek sandstone, same as the Capitol.

congressional monumentsBy 1816, the Vestry of Christ Church set aside 100 burial sites for members of Congress. In 1820, they expanded those set aside to include space for family members of congressmen, along with other government officials who might need a burial plot. Eventually the government owned almost 1000 plots. Practically every Congressman who died in Washington until the 1830s was buried in the Congressional Cemetery.  Until 1877, every congressman who died had a monument in his name placed in the Congressional Cemetery, whether he was buried there or not.

At some point after Tracy’s death, the cemetery’s name changed again to the name by which we know it now.  When the new front gate was erected in 1923, its iron archway proclaimed the Congressional Cemetery.

Among the government officials buried here is J. Edgar Hoover, who served as Director of the FBI under eight presidents, dying before the last one—Richard Nixon—was impeached for covering up the Watergate break-in. Hoover established the FBI Laboratory in 1932 and the National Crime Information Center in 1967, but was criticized for not enforcing civil rights laws or facing down organized crime. He died suddenly of what was called heart disease, although no autopsy was performed. Congress voted to allow him to lie in state in the Capital Rotunda, followed by a state funeral. President Nixon delivered Hoover’s eulogy. The iron fence around his grave was purchased by a retired agent in 1996. New FBI agents still visit Hoover when they join the bureau.

Hoover shares a headstone with his parents and a three-year-old sister who died before he was born. Hoover’s father purchased the plot in 1893, when Sadie died.

Also buried in the Congressional Cemetery is John Philip Sousa, one of the most prolific composers of his time. “His simple, catchy music both reflected his devout patriotism and represented the spirit of America,” according to the book Tombstones by Gregg Felsen. Sousa became the first American-born conductor of the US Marine Corp Band in 1880. He remained with them for 12 years and led his farewell concert on the White House lawn.
He died of a heart attack in 1932. His coffin lay in state in the Band Auditorium of the Marine Barracks in Washington DC, before he was buried at the Congressional Cemetery in a short service without a eulogy.

Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, the father of American photojournalism, went blind as a result of the chemicals he used in his darkroom. He hoped to sell his photographs to the government as a record of the Civil War, but they rebuffed him. He died nearly destitute and was buried in his wife’s family plot in the Congressional Cemetery. His photo of President Lincoln is the basis of the portrait on the $5 bill.

Ann Royall, who died in 1854, was been called a “prototypical muckraking journalist, pioneer feminist, and patron saint of women journalist.” Her career spanned four decades. Francis Scott Key, Andrew Jackson’s secretary of war John Eaton, and Washington Intelligencer publisher Joseph Gales got together to try her for being “a common scold.” When the court found her guilty, she was fined $10. Two fellow reporters paid the fine for her as a way to uphold the First Amendment.

Belva Lockwood, a widow with a young daughter, moved to DC in 1865. She was allowed to attend the National University Law School, but was denied her diploma until she personally petitioned President Grant. In 1879, Lockwood became the first woman to argue before the Supreme Court. She won a $5 million settlement for the Cherokee to compensate them for their forced removal from their ancestral lands. In 1884, Belva Lockwood was the first woman to run for president. She died in 1917, three years before women were given the vote.

Originally, the Congressional Cemetery banned “infidels” and persons of color.  This was waived in 1824, on the death of Pushmataha, a Choctaw chief who had allied his people with the US Military during the War of 1812. Chief Pushmataha was poisoned in Washington, DC after President James Monroe summoned him to DC in order to break the American treaty with the Choctaw.

Survivor of the Trail of Tears, William Shorey Coodey drafted the Cherokee Constitution which united the Eastern and Western Cherokee as one nation. He served as a delegate from the Cherokee Nation to Washington, DC in 1849, where he died.

Also here lies Massachusetts signer of the Declaration of Independence and fifth vice president Elbridge Gerry, who we remember for giving his name to the term gerrymandering.

Finally, Leonard Matlovich received the Bronze Star for his service in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. He was discharged from the service for admitting he was gay. Afterward, he fought for gay rights, particularly for people in the military. Matlovich designed his own headstone in the same black granite as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. His epitaph reads, “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men—and a discharge for loving one.” His gravesite continues to be a rallying place for gay activists.

For a while, the Congressional Cemetery was neglected. In 1997, the National Trust for Historic Preservation added it to their list of most endangered historical sites. Luckily, the hundreds of members of the K9 Corps at Historic Congressional Cemetery pay an annual fee to let their dogs off-leash in the cemetery. Thanks to the money they’ve raised—as well as volunteer hours put in by armed forces, school groups, churches, and descendants—the cemetery has been rescued. Now it’s a National Historic Landmark,overseen by the nonprofit Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery.

Useful links:

Events at Congressional Cemetery

A Brief History of the Congressional Cemetery homepage

How the Congressional Cemetery Got its Name

The Marines Band celebrates at Sousa’s grave in 2016.

Blog post about Belva Lockwood

Images of America book about the Historic Congressional Cemetery on Amazon.