Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery Epitaphs

To Be Remembered – Some Thoughts About Inscriptions On Tombstones

Green wood Henry Croatman epitaph 1120840
 
Henry Croatman                                                  Eddie Brewster Croatman 
Born January 17 1845                                                Died Dec. 2, 1878
Died June 4, 1876                                                        Aged 19 Mo’s 26 Days
 
Come view the grave and drop a tear                           Budded on earth
O’er your kind brother once so dear                              To bloom in heaven
Who once delighted in your charms
But now he’s bound in deaths cold arms
 

When wandering around Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn I especially take note of  monuments with epitaphs. Rather than gravitate towards the costly and grand monuments that abound in great numbers, I am drawn to those anonymous graves with no known fame attached to them. It is interesting to see how these people, buried long ago, are eulogized in stone.

Green wood John F Abbott epitaph 1100936John F. Abbott
Died Sept. 23rd, 1857
Aged 23 Years and 10 Months
A Good Life Hath But Few Days
But A Good Name Endureth Forever

 

Many of these monuments mark the last resting spots of common people with unextraordinary lives. But we all have a story to tell. Tombstones try to do that. How can you sum up a person’s life with a few sentences?

Green wood Ann Lee epitaph 1160006A Tribute of Love to
My Dear Wife
ANN LEE
Died Feb. 25, 1887
Aged 58 Years
A fond and faithful wife,
A dear devoted mother,  And a kind friend to all

Without their simple marker and words engraved upon them, these people’s lives would go completely unrecognized. Today, it is hard to fathom that thought, considering all the information that is now collected and shared about us.

Green wood C Ella Ellison epitaph 1120836C. Ella Ellison
Wife of John T. Ellison
Born March 22, 1846
Died December 20, 1900
 
A Loving Daughter,
A Devoted Mother,
A Faithful Wife

 

One thing I notice during my strolls, married women are often memorialized as being a “faithful wife.” You never see the words, “a faithful husband.”

I often wonder if the deceased chose the words for their grave marker. It does happen occasionally, as displayed here on the obelisk of prosperous businessman James H. Noe, who it turns out was murdered in one of New York’s most notorious criminal cases of the 19th century. Noe penned the following for his final words before he succumbed to his injuries at the age of 58 on August 26, 1875:

Green wood James H. Noe epitaph P1100584Farewell loved wife and children
For me shed not a tear
I’m happy now with Jesus
And there is no weeping here
Though hard it seemed to tear me
From your fond hearts away
My saviour called me to him
And I could no longer stay
 

Most of the time the deceased obviously did not write their own epitaphs, and the words were written by a spouse or family member. This is how their families wanted to have their loved ones remembered.

Green wood Charles M Titus epitaph 1160011CHARLES M. TITUS
1843 – 1906
Bury him deep in the meadow
Drop on his grave a tear
And sigh as you read the inscription
A soldier and a friend is buried here

 

For some reason, I assume the words on old grave markers to be noble and true. But I remind myself that many times those words may not be an accurate portrayal of who these people were.

Green wood George Tunison epitaph 1160124Sacred to the memory of

GEORGE M. TUNISON
Who departed this life
In the full hope of a blessed  
Immortality
On the 24th of  July 1856
In the 43rd year of his age
Endeared to a large circle of
Friends by his manly virtues
And exemplary life.
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord

Cynics abound, especially in old books. This excerpt from The Great Metropolis; A Mirror Of New York by Junius Henri Browne; 1869 expresses deep skeptical thoughts on the tomstones and epitaphs found at Green-Wood:

When you read all the inscriptions and epitaphs, believe them true, and wonder not how it happens that the grave is the great saint-maker. You may think, when the predicted resurrection comes, that most of the risen, on reading their tombstones, will be convinced they were put into the wrong graves. But do not say so, lest you be deemed a cynic, or a truth-speaker, which is much the same.

Console yourself with the reflection that whatever life you lead, your virtues will blossom in the dust; that men who carve in marble are privileged to lie; and that, being fairly out of everybody’s way, and incapable of coming back, your worst enemies will hardly take the pains to remember they hated you.

But as for those who loved me, ask you? Never mind them. Sir Egotist, and they will not disturb themselves about you. Love has often done men more harm than good in this World; but in the tomb it will do you neither one nor the other; for the grave-grass heals the deepest wounds that love has ever made.

There are 79 people named Thomas Smith interred at Green-Wood. How do you distinguish one from the other? Add an initial, put up a plaque.

ThGreen wood Thomas B Smith epitaphomas B. Smith
 In appreciation of his counsel and
general aid
In commemoration of his benignity of
character and exemplary life
And in loving memory of an upright
man and steadfast friend
This tablet has been erected by his
associates and friends

 President Theodore Roosevelt is not buried next to his first wife, Alice Hathaway Lee who died at the age of 22. Alice resides at Green-Wood in the Roosevelt family circle next to Roosevelt’s mother who died the same day. The words on Alice’s white marble tombstone have been obliterated by acid rain. Theodore Roosevelt, like many others who lost a spouse at a young age, grieved and dealt with that painful loss by never discussing it or looking back.

Green wood Youngren epitaphIn Sacred Memory of
My Beloved Wife
Helfrid Sofia Youngren
Born in Stockholm June 10, 1890
Died January 11, 1919
 To my Helfrid:
True and devoted, Faithful and kind,
She was my all as through life we sailed
Pure as a lily, in heart and mind:
With a love supreme that never failed.
O.A.Y.
En Van Som Hon
Ej Mer I Livet Fans
Putte

Helfrid Youngren died at the age of 28. Even with that declaration of love, Mr. Youngren is not buried at Green-Wood. Like Theodore Roosevelt, he must have moved on with his life. Memento Mori.

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