Tag Archives: Black History Month

Cemetery of the Week #125: John Brown’s Grave

Vintage postcard of John Brown's grave

Vintage postcard of John Brown’s grave

John Brown Farm State Historic Site
115 John Brown Road
Lake Placid, New York 12946
Telephone: (518) 523-3900
Size: small
Number of interments: 15?
Open: The grounds are open year round, but the cottage and other buildings are only open May 1 through October 31 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Tuesdays.
Admission: Adults $2, Seniors/Students/ Groups $1. Children 12 and under are free.

To protest New York’s law that black men must own $250 worth of property in order to vote, abolitionist Gerrit Smith announced in 1846 that he would grant 40 acres of land to any black man who wanted to farm it. In 1849, fellow abolitionist John Brown bought an additional parcel of land for $1 an acre with the promise that he would move to the area and teach farming to the grantees. Many of them had worked previously as coachmen, cooks, and barbers and had no idea how to farm.

The land in New York’s Adirondack Mountains was rocky and difficult to work. Most of the black families gave up quickly. Brown himself stayed on his farm only briefly before heading off to oppose slavery in a more personal fashion. Some of his sons were homesteading in Kansas, which was vacillating between entering the Union as a slave or free state, so Brown joined them in 1855. He served as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, guiding runaway slaves to freedom in the North.

Vintage postcard of john Browns's gravesite

Vintage postcard of john Browns’s gravesite

Even that wasn’t bringing change quickly enough. On the night of October 16, 1859, Brown led 19 men in an assault on the US Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry (now in West Virginia). His plan had been to use the weapons to liberate slaves in the South.

He was captured two days later, imprisoned at Charlestown, Virginia, convicted of treason, and hanged on December 2, 1859.

Brown’s second wife, Mary, escorted his body back home from Virginia. On the journey home, his body lay in state, under guard, at the Elizabethtown Court House. On December 8, 1859, he was buried in front of his home near a boulder where he’d carved his initials in case he did not return home from the raid.

Captain john Brown's Revolutionary-era gravestone

Captain john Brown’s Revolutionary-era gravestone

At some point later, the gravestone of his grandfather Captain John Brown, who fought and died in the American Revolution, was moved to the farm from Connecticut. Brown’s name and Oliver’s — his son who’d died in the Harper’s Ferry raid — were added at the bottom.

In 1870, Kate Field discovered that the property was about to be sold by the Brown family. She collected donations and purchased the farm and graveyard as an historic site. The farmstead was acquired by the State of New York in 1895. The house and barn have been restored to circa 1859. Some original furnishings remain.

In 1899, the bodies of 12 of Brown’s followers, who fought and died at Harper’s Ferry, were reinterred in this small graveyard. A picket fence was added, to be replaced later by an ornate iron fence. The Revolutionary War gravestone was protected by a wooden frame. Around 1900, a bronze plaque was added to the boulder, to mark Brown’s actual gravesite.

The farm remains a popular tourist destination near Lake Placid. Outdoor displays provide photos of Brown’s men and explain their fates. In May, Civil War re-enactors camp out, paying homage to a man who had hoped that a small insurrection might stave off all-out civil war.

Useful links:

NY State Parks listing on the John Brown Farm

African American history in the Adirondacks

New York History Net entry on Gerrit Smith

Photos of the site: http://www.lakeplacid.com/do/activities/john-browns-farm-state-historic-site

Trail map of the John Brown property.  The cemetery is marked on the map by a cross.

Pete Seeger singing John Brown’s Body/The Battle Hymn of the Republic:

Cemetery of the Week #91: San Francisco National Cemetery

San Francisco National Cemetery

San Francisco National Cemetery

San Francisco National Cemetery
1 Lincoln Boulevard, Presidio of San Francisco
San Francisco, California 94129
Telephone: (650) 589-7737 or 1646
Founded: 1846
First known burial: 1854
Size: 28.34 acres
Number of interments: 30,000
Open: Daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Of the two official graveyards remaining in San Francisco, one is a military cemetery with a breathtaking view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The cemetery, part of the 1480-acre Presidio, provides a link to the earliest European history of the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1776, the Spanish founded a garrison here to guard the mouth of San Francisco Bay.

In 1922, 38 skeletons—believed to be the remains of Spanish conquistadors—were discovered in an isolated area of the Presidio. The U.S. Army transferred them to a mass grave inside its post cemetery.

In fact, the American history of the Presidio began in1846—four years before California became a state—when the U.S. Army took it over from Mexico. The Presidio became a Union outpost to prevent Confederate seizure of the gold fields during the Civil War. In the 1870s, the Presidio served as a staging center for the Indian Wars. Later, the Sixth Army used it as their headquarters as they fought World War II in the Pacific.

Looking toward the San Francisco Bay

Looking toward the San Francisco Bay at the Visitor Center

The original American post cemetery covered nine and a half acres. In 1851, the hillside on which the graveyard stood was all sand dune and scrub. Prior to the discovery of marble in the Sierras, graves were only marked with wood. Galen Dillman of the National Parks Conservancy told me, “The wind would come up in a storm and send headboards flying all over the place.” Consequently, most bodies lost their identification. Dillman said, “The Army re-interred those that they’d lost track of, plus the original Indian, Spanish, and Mexican burial grounds, in front of the visitor center.” Now a monument to the unknowns labels the mass grave, saluting the valiant dead of past conflicts.

In 1866, Congress established six all-Black regiments to patrol the remote western frontier and fight in the Indian Wars. Although the pay was only $13 a month, many African Americans enlisted because the Army “offered more dignity than typically could be attained in civilian life,” according to the Park Service brochure. Legend has it that these soldiers became known as Buffalo Soldiers because Native Americans thought their curly dark hair resembled a buffalo’s coat. 450 men from the all-Black units are buried inthe San Francisco National Cemetery. Some graves are proudly labeled “Buffalo Soldier.”

In 1884, by order of Lieutenant General Sheridan, the Presidio’s post cemetery became the first national cemetery on the West Coast. The graveyard expanded as needed until it now covers almost thirty acres.

After its rise in status, a lot of the burials at the San Francisco National Cemetery came from re-interments. As the U.S. Army closed its forts in the west, they refused to leave their dead behind. Also, when San Francisco evicted its public cemeteries early in the 20th century, any military personnel unclaimed by their families were brought to the Presidio.

Despite its status as closed since 1992, burials continue in the San Francisco National Cemetery.

Looking past the headstones at Alcatraz Island

Looking past the headstones at Alcatraz Island

Among those buried in the Presidio is Archie Williams. In 1936, Williams ran the 400-meter at the Berlin Olympics, winning the gold medal. Adolf Hitler snubbed Williams and his teammate Jesse Owens, refusing to shake their hands because they were African American.

Upon graduation from the University of California in 1938, Archie Williams had trouble finding work because, Dillman explained, there was so little call for black engineers. Williams became interested in flying and entered the Tuskegee Institute. The quota system of the time guaranteed that if one hundred white pilots graduated from flight school, only ten black pilots could graduate from Tuskegee. Williams made the cut and flew in World War II and Korea.

After his retirement from the Air Force, Williams taught high school mathematics in San Anselmo, not far from San Francisco.

Toward the end of our tour, Dillman pointed out one final trailblazer. The San Francisco National Cemetery is the resting place of Congressman Philip Burton, who wrote legislation to create the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The 75,500-acre national park stretches from south of the city in the San Francisco Watershed (which includes the lakes resting atop the San Andreas Fault) north across the Golden Gate past Point Reyes Station and along Tomales Bay. The park spans redwood forests, beaches, marshes, and grassy hillside meadows. Hawks, deer, and seabirds live there, along with an occasional mountain lion, bobcat, and eagle. Whales visit. The park, a haven for city dwellers, has thirteen million visitors a year.

A clause in Burton’s bill said that if the Army ever pulled out of the Presidio, the land would be turned over to the National Park Service. When the bill passed into law in 1972, the Army claimed it would never leave. However, in 1989, budget measures closed the base. Transfer to the Park Service occurred in 1994.

An island in the midst of parkland, the National Cemetery itself does not belong to the Park Service. It continues to be overseen by the Department of Veteran Affairs. Still, if you’re looking to hear a few stories in a peaceful green oasis, I encourage you to check out the National Park Conservancy’s web site. Its calendar will let you know when you can link up with Galen Dillman’s tour. Ask him to tell you about the Buffalo Soldiers, the Union Army’s female spy, and the daring rescue from the submarine. He brings those stories to life.

Dillman’s next tour is scheduled for March 16, 2013 from 10 a.m to noon.

Useful links:
History of the San Francisco National Cemetery

Department of Veteran Affairs page on the SFNC

Tours of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, including the National Cemetery

Someone else took Galen Dillman’s tour

Park Service brochure about the Buffalo Soldiers at the Presidio

An earlier post about the San Francisco National Cemetery on Cemetery Travel

GPS information on CemeteryRegistry.us

Cemetery of the Week #90: Braddocks Point Cemetery

Condos overlooking the Braddocks Point Cemetery. Photograph by Kathleen Rhoads.

Condos overlooking the Braddocks Point Cemetery. Photograph by Kathleen Rhoads.

Also known as Harbourtown Cemetery
1 Spinnaker Court at Lighthouse Lane, Sea Pines Plantation
Harbour Town, South Carolina 29928
Founded: 1861
Size: 1 acre
Number of interments: unknown. Some may lie under the adjacent golf course.
Open: unknown. It lies inside a gated community and one source says you have to purchase a day pass from the gatekeeper in order to visit.

Beginning today (2/6/13) and lasting through the month of February is the Hilton Head Gullah Celebration. Details are available here.

Hilton Head Island is the largest sea island off the United States’ coast from Florida to New Jersey. The island lies off just the coast of Beaufort County, South Carolina. It’s 20 miles north of Savannah, Georgia, and 95 miles south of Charleston, South Carolina. It served as a seasonal home to Native Americans for hundreds of years before being discovered by a Spanish expedition in 1521. William Hilton, captain of the Adventure, named the island after himself in 1663. He spent several days there, restocking his ship from the island’s sweet water.

Modern granite gravestones amongst the historic graves.  Photograph by Kathleen Rhoads.

Modern granite gravestones amongst the historic graves. Photograph by Kathleen Rhoads.

The island became important to the American Sea Cotton trade in the 1800s. During the Civil War, the largest American fleet assembled stormed the island and occupied it. Afterward, it served as the base for Union naval blockades of Savannah and Charleston.

Escaped slaves flocked to the island, where they could own land and attend school while living in government-supplied housing. They stayed on after the war to start a new life. The Gullah culture survives today in food preparation and herbal medicines, in basket weaving, dancing, and worshipping. The Gullah dialect, mostly spoken by elders, combines African pronunciations with European words.

Hilton Head Island has several historic African-American cemeteries. Among them are Amelia Cemetery, Joe Pope Cemetery, Lawton Cemetery (no longer used), Pinefield Cemetery, Spanish Wells Cemetery, Talbird Cemetery, Union Cemetery, and the Braddocks Point Cemetery at the renowned Harbour Town in Sea Pines. Another historical cemetery, although not African American, is the Zion Chapel of Ease.

The Braddock’s Point Cemetery is reputed to contain graves of slaves, but these are unmarked. The oldest surviving headstones date to the Civil War. Descendants of those already interred there continue to use the graveyard to this day.

Handmade gravestone for Edward with a round indentation where a plate used to be. Photograph by Kathleen Rhoads.

Handmade gravestone for Edward with a round indentation where a plate used to be. Photograph by Kathleen Rhoads.

Charles L. Blockson, professor at Temple University, is quoted in Lay Down Body: Living History in African American Cemeteries: “ African American island tradition places great importance on burials taking place on ‘home ground.’” He continues to say, “Many who once lived on the islands believed that a person is composed of three parts: body, soul, and spirit. When the body dies, the soul departs, but the spirit remains behind and is capable of doing good or mischief to the living. As in West Africa, graves in the sea islands traditionally have been adorned with belongings of the departed and with charms designated to contain or placate the spirit of the person buried there.”

Bare ground and a gravestone with a plate inset. Photograph by Kathleen Rhoads.

Bare ground and a gravestone with a plate inset. Photograph by Kathleen Rhoads.

Some of the handmade cement gravestones in the Braddock’s Point Cemetery had or have ceramic plates pressed into them. These represent the last plate used by the deceased and are believed to give them something to eat from in the next world.

Another unusual feature of the graveyard is its bare sandy ground. African tradition emphasizes keeping the grave clean by plucking out all the vegetation. Of course, in the humid island air, this is an ongoing battle.

Useful links:

Gullah History and Lifestyle

Of Graveyards and Things’ post on the Braddock’s Point Cemetery

Photos of the handmade gravestones

Findagrave has a map to the Braddocks Point Cemetery

Basic transcriptions of the Hilton Head African American cemeteries

GPS information at CemeteryRegistry.us

Cemetery of the Week #51: Angelus Rosedale Cemetery

Angels in Angelus Rosedale

Angelus Rosedale Cemetery
1831 West Washington Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90007
Telephone: (323) 734-3155
Email: info@angelusrosedalecemetery.com
Founded: June 9, 1884
Size: 65 acres
Number of interments: An estimated 100,000
Open: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

In 1884, when Los Angeles was a small city of under 30,000 people, Rosedale Cemetery was founded on 65 acres of land facing Washington Boulevard between Normandie Avenue and Walton and Catalina Streets.

Designed as a lawn cemetery with beautiful trees and flowering shrubs, Rosedale now has mostly upright headstones, interspersed by some beautiful sculptures and family mausoleums. The cemetery also sports several pyramid crypts, including one for George Shatto, who first developed Catalina Island as a resort.

America’s first crematory west of the Rocky Mountains — and only the second crematory in the country — opened at Rosedale in 1887. By 1913, it had already performed almost 2400 cremations.

Rosedale was the first cemetery in Los Angeles to accept all races and creeds. Among those buried there is Hattie McDaniel, the first Black woman ever to sing on the radio. While her cinematic career spanned over 300 movies, she is best remembered for playing Scarlett’s Mammy in Gone with the Wind — a role that earned her the distinction of becoming the first African-American recipient of an Academy Award.

Ms. McDaniel’s last wish had been to be buried at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery amongst the glittering stars of Hollywood. Because of the color of her skin, she was rejected. Her very modest headstone lies near the gates of Angelus Rosedale. (Hollywood Forever put up a cenotaph to her memory in 1999. The story is here.)

Other permanent residents include Tod Browning, director of the Bela Lugosi version of Dracula; Eliza Donner Houghton, who survived the Donner Party’s winter in the Sierras at the age of 3 and went on to marry a Congressman; Maria Rasputin, daughter of the mad Russian monk; Harry Kellar, a stage magician whose performances influenced Houdini; various Los Angeles pioneers, as well as mayors, governors, and politicians; and Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American movie star. She appeared in Douglas Fairbanks’s Thief of Baghdad and with Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express.

The Angelus Funeral Home on Crenshaw purchased the graveyard in 1993. At that time, it was renamed Angelus Rosedale Cemetery.

Palms at Angelus Rosedale

With its photogenic lines of palm trees, Angelus Rosedale has appeared in the Clive Barker film Lord of Illusions, Nightmare on Elm Street 4: the Dream Master and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, as well as many episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, and Six Feet Under.

Every autumn, the West Adams Heritage Association presents a cemetery tour featuring costumed actors speaking as people buried in the cemetery. Each tour is different. Watch for this year’s tour here.

Useful links:

Angelus Rosedale website

Lots of historical information

Google Maps virtual tour

Books I’ve reviewed that reference Angelus Rosedale:

Permanent Californians

Laid to Rest in California

Other graveyards of the Hollywood stars on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #5: Hollywood Forever

Cemetery of the Week #14: the Original Forest Lawn

Cemetery of the Week #40: Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #45: Hillside Memorial Park


Cemetery of the Week #50: Gravesite of Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth’s gravestone

Oak Hill Cemetery
255 South Avenue
Battle Creek, Michigan 49014
Telephone: (269) 964-7321
Email: bcoakhill@sbcglobal.net
Founded: March 25, 1844
Size: 50 acres
Number of Interments: Approximately 30,000
Open: Daily 8 a.m. to dusk. The office is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free.

Isabella Baumfree had been born to enslaved parents around the year 1797 and grew up speaking only Dutch on a plantation north of New York City. She was first sold at auction at the age of 9, to a man who beat her for not understanding English.

Tired of waiting for the emancipation promised by the state of New York, she walked away from her master toward the end of 1826. She carried her infant daughter Sophia, but left three other children behind. Her son Peter was sold illegally to an owner in Alabama to avoid his emancipation. Baumfree successfully sued for his freedom, becoming the first black woman to best a white man in an American court.

Meanwhile, in the wilderness in the middle of the continent, Battle Creek, Michigan was named for a fight between white land surveyors and natives in the early 1830s. When the village of Battle Creek was first platted in 1836, an acre of land was set aside for a pioneer burial ground. The town grew until a new cemetery was needed and so land for Oak Hill Cemetery was purchased in 1843. Its first permanent resident was Esther Cox, buried May 21, 1844.

About this time, former slave Isabella Baumfree had a religious vision and took the name Sojourner Truth. She dictated her memoirs, which were published in 1850. She began to travel extensively, speaking for women’s rights and the abolition of slavery.

Sojourner Truth settled in the Battle Creek area in 1857, where she lived with her daughter Elizabeth and two grandsons. Grandson James enlisted in the 54th Regiment, Massachusetts (the Glory regiment).

In 1864, Sojourner traveled to Washington, DC with her grandson Sammy. She met Abraham Lincoln in the White House, then later took work at the Freeman’s Hospital. She rode the DC streetcars in order to force their desegregation.

By 1870, she was traveling around the US, speaking on temperance and civil rights. She suggested that Freemen be given government land in the West, rather than be forced to continue to live in the Jim Crow South.

In 1872, she attempted to vote for Grant, but was turned away from the polling place in Battle Creek.

By July 1883, Sojourner was ill with ulcers on her legs. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg attempted to treat her at his Battle Creek Sanitarium by grafting some of his skin onto her legs. The treatment bought her a few more months, but she died in November that year. She was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery beside her grandson Sammy. Later, her daughter Elizabeth and several other family members joined her.

W. K. Kellogg’s gravesite

Oak Hill Cemetery also served as the final resting place for Dr. Kellogg, who invented cold breakfast cereal so that visitors to his sanitarium would have an alternative to meat and eggs for breakfast. Buried nearby is his brother W. K. Kellogg, who founded the cereal manufacturing company which bears their name in 1906. The Kellogg company continues to be the largest employer in town.

Also buried in Oak Hill Cemetery is another pioneer in the packaged breakfast food industry: C.W. Post, who created Grape Nuts and Post Toasties. After an emergency appendectomy, he shot himself over fears that he had developed stomach cancer.

Other historical figures in the cemetery include James and Ellen White, co-founders of the Seventh Day Adventists. Ellen is remembered as the “central prophet” of the faith, writing and speaking against use of tobacco and alcohol, proposing vegetarianism, and rejecting fashions in clothing. She was the author of over 40 books and is credited with sending John H. Kellogg to medical school.

Finally, Oak Hill Cemetery seems best known for its statue of Crying Mary, which has been investigated by many, many ghost hunters. Generations of Battle Creek teenagers believed that the statue cried at midnight.

Johannes Decker’s statue, known as Crying Mary

Useful links:

A history of Oak Hill Cemetery:

History of Battle Creek

Biography of Sojourner Truth

Oak Hill’s Crying Mary legend

More info on Crying Mary

Other Civil Rights sites on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #46: the Martin Luther King Jr. Grave Site, Atlanta Georgia

Cemetery of the Week #65: African Burial Ground National Monument, New York City