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I like to look up and find the graves of historically significant people. It adds depth to history and a personal dimension to the area. Trinity Church, Graveyard, and Cemetery has a long and rich history.
The southern tip of Manhattan Island was the first to be settled by Dutch settlers. “New Amsterdam” was founded in 1625 as a Dutch fur trading settlement. Peter Minuit purchased the island of Manhattan from the Lenape in 1626. In 1664 the British conquered the city and renamed it “New York.”
The city of New York was just beginning to flourish in 1697 when Trinity Church received its founding charter. There were three church buildings built on this site. The third Trinity Church and the one standing today was completed in 1846 and its towering spire soared above the city and was the tallest building in New York.
Trinity Church and Graveyard is located at the western end of Wall Street. The spire that served as a welcoming beacon for ships sailing into New York Harbor is now encased in the shadow of modern skyscrapers.
The church building is a Neo-Gothic masterpiece, designed by Richard Upjohn, founder of the American Institute of Architects. The sandstone face of the church is adorned with Gothic spires and pointed arches.
Beautifully adorned oak doors of the side entrance.
Religious figures sit at the feet of Christ above the front doors.
The interior of the church features a high ceiling and arched wings.
A beautiful stained-glass window towers above the alter. This brilliant design resembles a Gothic pointed arch and depicts Jesus, St. Peter, St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, St. John, and St. Paul in a dazzling array of colors.
The first Trinity Church was a modest rectangular structure built in 1698. The church was destroyed in the Great New York City Fire of 1776 following the capture of the city by the British in the Battle of Long Island.
These early headstones were scorched in the Great New York City Fire of 1776.
John Watts 1749 - 1836 was an American lawyer and politician who represented New York in the U.S. House. He later serves as a judge and founded and endowed the Leake and Watts Orphan House.
Robert Fulton 1765 - 1815 U.S. engineer and inventor who is widely credited with developing the first commercially successful steam-powered steamboat. In 1800 he was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte to design Nautilus which was the first practical submarine in history.
As a young man, Robert Fulton dreamed of becoming a painter and went to Paris to study. His commissions were few and he turned to engineering and inventions.
Fulton’s first boat, the Clermont, was tested on the Hudson River. Fulton constructed a hull similar that of fast ocean-going ships and placed in the hull a small steam engine and on each side a primitive paddle wheel.
Alexander Hamilton 1755 - 1804 one of the founding fathers, American politician, financier and political theorist. Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury and had wide-reaching influence over the direction of policy during the formation of the U.S. government.
Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr. Burr was offended by a newspaper article in which Hamilton was credited with a remark that Burr sensed as an attack on his honor.
Most of the headstones are made of brownstone, a rock plentiful on Manhattan. Unfortunately the brownstone headstones weather poorly, the stone “flakes” and details seem to melt away. Many have lost all trace of identity, but there are several that have details that resist the ravages of time.
The headstones bear the symbolism of the Anglican faith. The “death’s-head” is common on many graves. The death's head, a non-religious symbol was the first imagery employed in gravestone carving. Here is an example of a winged death’s head symbolizing the movement from life to death.
Here is a example of a death’s-head in transition. The death’s-head has a cherub-like face. The Puritans did not advocate using religious symbols, such as cherubs, Christ figures, or crosses in their meetinghouses, on church silver, or on their gravestones. Puritans were adamantly against attributing human form to spiritual beings such as God, angels, or spirits.
On later headstones cherubs began to replace the ominous death’s-head. This is a stylized version of the previous death’s-head example. The visual appeal is more pleasing.
In the graveyard, on the north side of the church, stands a tall, elaborate, cenotaph. The cenotaph is that of Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, the wife of William Backhouse Astor Jr. Famous for being referred to as simply “Mrs Astor.”
The term “Mrs Astor” entered the American lexicon to mean an unmotivated girl, “Who do you think you are, Mrs Astor?” Caroline was born into New York City’s Dutch aristocracy, descendants of the city’s original settlers. She married wealthy William Backhouse Astor Jr. who built her a grand home on Fifth Avenue next door to her brother-in-law, John Jacob Astor III, home.
In the decades following the Civil War there was a growth of the population from peoples of the Midwest. Caroline wanted to preserve the heritage and social traditions of her native New York. Caroline went about to codify proper behavior and etiquette and to determine who was acceptable among the new arrivals for the social elite.
More and more she became obsessed with social activities and becoming the unchallenged grande dame of New York society. In 1887 she shortened her formal title from “Mrs William Astor” to simply “Mrs Astor” as she was the only remaining one in her generation.
Her nephew, William Waldorf Astor, felt that his wife should be technically “the Mrs Astor” as he was the only son of Caroline’s husband’s elder brother. Caroline refused to give up the social title and the press sensationalized the family conflict.
In retaliation for his aunt’s intransigence, William Waldorf Astor has his father’s house (next door to Caroline’s home) torn down and replaced by the first Waldorf Hotel.
This was a slap-in-the-face to Caroline and she and her son John Jacob Astor IV first contemplated tearing their house down and replaced by a livery stable, “There’s a glorified tavern next door.” Instead the tore down the family home and build another hotel on its site, The Astoria Hotel. The two would eventually merge into the “Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.”
Caroline moved to 65th Street and in later years she moved in with her son, John Jacob Astor IV, and his family. The original Waldorf Astoria Hotel would eventually torn down and the Empire State Building built in its place. A new Waldorf Astoria would be built on its present location, in the more fashionable uptown area of New York.
In 1842 Trinity Parish (Trinity Church is the oldest church on Manhattan and is located in lower Manhattan) purchased part of the Audubon estate in Washington Heights. This newly purchased area (24 acres) was established as a result of an ordinance passed by New York City prohibiting any further burials in lower Manhattan due to the fact that overcrowding in the existing cemeteries was the result of deaths caused by smallpox, typhoid and cholera. These were creating unsanitary conditions due to the high mortality rate. The first burial in Trinity Cemetery took place in 1843 a year after the purchase.
Washington Heights was named for Fort Washington, a fortification constructed by the Continental Army troops during the American Revolutionary War, the fort was on the highest point on Manhattan Island to defend the area from the British forces.
During the Battle of Fort Washington on November 16, 1776 the fort was captured by the British at great cost to the American forces, 130 soldiers were killed or wounded, and an additional 2,700 captured and held as prisoners, many of whom died on prison ships anchored in New York harbor.
Neal negotiating the hills of Trinity Cemetery while under the umbrella, protecting him from a light rain that persisted on our visit.
Audubon bought an estate on the Hudson River in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan which, at the time, was a remote wooded place.
John James Audubon is best noted for his life-sized paintings of birds. Audubon’s grave, marked by a tall Celtic cross, is in the eastern division, behind the Church of the Intercession.
John James Audubon was an American ornithologist, naturalist, hunter, and painter. He is best remembered for painting, cataloguing, and describing the birds of North America.
To draw or paint the birds, he shot them first, then used fixed wires to prop them up, restoring a natural position. His paintings of birds are set true-to-life in their natural habitat.
In his early life, Audubon moved to Oakley Plantation, upriver to New Orleans in 1821.. After years of business success in Pennsylvania and Kentucky, he went bankrupt.
Without money Audubon was compelled to pursue his nature study and painting more vigorously, and he sailed the Mississippi intent on finding and painting all the birds of North America.
He arrived at Oakley Plantation to support himself, teaching the plantation owner’s daughter, Eliza Pirrie, to draw.
While at Oakley Plantation, Audubon spent much of his time roaming and painting in the woods.
Trinity Cemetery is located on the old Audubon estate, in the area of Washington Heights. Washington Heights is in the very northern reaches of Manhattan Island.
Located at 155th and Broadway on the grounds of Trinity Cemetery, is the Church of the Intercession one of the finest examples of Neo-Gothic architecture in New York City.
The grand, granite wall encircling Trinity Cemetery on the west side of Broadway. Trinity Cemetery is divided by Broadway. The western division contains a majority of the older grave sites and mausoleums dating from 1843. The eastern division has more recent mausoleums and graves.
One of the many gates of Trinity Cemetery that stand as sentinals guarding the cemetery.
Interesting designs on burial vaults of Trinity Cemetery..
In the more modern eastern section there are several family mausoleums, some have beautiful stained -glass window-lights.
An interesting design on many of the prominent industrialist and wealthy persons is the unabashed use of the dollar sign. There many be some archaic meaning given to the symbol that I am unaware. It had three vertical bars instead of two.
The family plot of John Jacob Astor III. With Trinity Graveyard closed to any more burials, the Astor family chose to be buried in the extension Trinity Cemetery.
The graves of John Jacob Astor III and his wife Charlotte Augusta Astor. This is the brother-in-law to Caroline Astor.
He was a Civil War Union General and a financier. He was the wealthiest member of the Astor family in his generation. His principal business interest was the vast Astor Estate real estate holdings, which he managed profitably. In 1846 he built a home at 350 Fifth Avenue, which is today the street address of the Empire State Building. He had little inclination towards charitable works beyond continuing gifts by his ancestors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Trinity Church, and the Astor Library.
John Jacob Astor III had only one child, William Waldorf Astor.
Grave of Mary Paul Astor, the wife of William Waldorf Astor. William W. Astor died and is buried in England. William was the one who had the fued with Caroline Astor and built the original Waldorf Hotel which he visited only once.
Grave of John Rudolph Astor infant son William Waldorf and Mary Astor.
The family vault of John Jacob Astor IV. John Jacob Astor IV was the son of William Backhouse Astor Jr. and Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor. . In 1897 he built the Astoria Hotel which adjoined his cousin, William Waldorf Astor’s Waldorf Hotel, the complex would eventually join and become known as the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
John Jacob Astor IV along with his wife was aboard the Titanic when it struck and iceberg. As the gigantic ship slowly sank he assisted his wife into a lifeboat, he could not join her because not all women and children had boarded. His wife, Madeleine, would tell the story of his stepping back, the after lighting a cigarette he tossed his gloves to Madeleine. Madeleine would survive the sinking of the Titanic but John would die. His body was recovered by the steamer Mackay-Bennett, not far from the sinking.