This Tombstone Stopped Me In My Tracks

The Heroic Edwin Gaddis Of New York

Edwin J Gaddis Greenwood CemeteryWhen wandering through historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn it’s easy to be distracted by the grand mausoleums and elaborate memorials and pass by the more common looking tombstones.

I was struck by this simple memorial to Edwin John Gaddis who died July 23, 1883. His grave marker in section 91 of the cemetery reads as follows:

Edwin J. Gaddis,
Born October 23, 1861
Died July 23, 1883.
Drowned in Peconic Bay
Jamesport L. I.
While trying to save life
Greater love hath no man than this
That he lay down his life for his friends. John XV.13

Edwin Gaddis top tombstone Greenwood Cemetery 150811On the top of the tombstone the following words are inscribed:

Your honor, your name,
And your praises shall ever remain.
Your fame shall be eternized.

Eternized, a word not used much today means, to make eternal; immortalize.

Who was Edwin Gaddis? What was his life like? What would make someone risk (and lose) their life?  Who exactly were the people he tried to save and were they actually saved?

Besides what is etched on Gaddis’ tombstone, there is virtually no information online about his life. There were however three news items online about his death. This most complete story that answers many of the questions I asked was reported by the New York Tribune on Wednesday, July 25, 1883:


News was received at this city yesterday morning of the death by drowning of Edwin John Gaddis of No. 177 East Seventieth st., a young man well known in military circles. His mother, who lives in Fourth st., Jersey City, was the first to hear of her son’s death by a dispatch from her sister a resident of Jamesport, L. I. where her son had gone last Saturday to remain until Monday. The telegram read: “While trying to save two ladies, Eddy was drowned. Searching for the body.” About 9:30 a dispatch was received at No. 177 East Seventieth st., the house of George Hall, the uncle of young Gaddis, confirming the report of the fatal accident and stating that a thorough search was being instituted for the recovery of the body. Subsequently another dispatch announced that the body had been found. On the reception of the first dispatch, Gaddis’s mother and grandfather, Mr. Haybeck, and his brother George went to Jamesport. Mr. and Mrs. George Hall returned to the city at a late hour last night, and the story of the sad accident is best described in Mr. Hall’s words:

“A party of six, including myself, my wife and nephew, and two daughters of Mr. Hamilton, of Brooklyn, whom Eddy had escorted to Jamesport late Saturday at the request of their father, were bathing on Monday morning about 11 o’clock. The two ladies, whose names are Sarah and Ida Hamilton, waded out, out of their depth and called to me for help. I swam as rapidly as possible to them, and when I reached them they clutched hold of me and we all three sank. On coming up I contrived to shake Sarah from me at the same time calling to Eddy, who was standing in his bathing suit on the beach talking to my wife. He, seeing us struggling to the water and divining the cause of our shouts for help, without any hesitation rushed into the water to our assistance. When he reached me I had Ida safely above water. I pointed to Sarah, who was still struggling in her endeavor to keep herself above the surface. He swam directly to her, and when he reached her she clutched hold of him and they both went down. He never rose again. While all this was going on in the water, my wife, followed by some friends, was rushing wildly around shouting for some one to man the boats and come to our assistance. The boats finally put out and picked up Ida, Sarah and myself, almost insensible. The persons in the boat were entirely ignorant of Eddy’s whereabouts, not knowing that he had attempted our rescue at all, and so no attempt was made to look for any one else. My wife stood on the shore and screamed that Eddy was out in the water somewhere, but they did not understand what she meant until they came to shore. When they did understand it was too late. The body was recovered at 7 o’clock this morning. Miss Sarah Hamilton is still delirious, but it is thought that she will ultimately recover. She is sixteen years of age. Her sister Ida is thirteen years old, and has fully recovered from the shock.”

Young Gaddis’s body will be taken directly to Green-wood Cemetery, where the funeral will take place today at noon. He was twenty-one years old, and was employed by T. B. Starr the jeweler of Fifth ave., as book-keeper. He was a corporal in the 71st Regiment and a member of the Central Congregational Church. He has a mother, a sister and two brothers.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle of July 25 had some more information about the actual incident:

Where Heroism Led To Death
A New York Gentleman Loses his Life In An Effort To Save Two Ladies From Drowning

A week ago Edward (sic) J. Gaddis, of New York, went to Jamesport, L. I., to spend bis vacation. He was to have returned to the city yesterday, but his body was sent home this morning packed in ice. Mrs. Ham­ilton and her two daughters, of this city, were stopping in Jamesport for the summer. On Sunday the young ladies went bathing. They could not swim, and getting into deep water were in danger of being drowned. Mr. Gaddis heard their screams and hastened to their assistance, It was a life and death struggle. The young ladies were saved, but he was drowned. When he came within reach he was grasped tightly by both of them. Mr. Corwin and Mr. Young, both residents of Jamesport, pushed off in boats to rescue the party, but ar­rived too late to save Gaddis, w‘ho had disappeared by reason of extreme exhaustion. One of the young ladies had also gone to the bottom, but her body was raised with an oar, and in a brief time she was restored to consciousness. The body of Mr. Gaddis was recovered yesterday. Those who saw the struggle in the water praise his bravery. He was a bookkeeper in a large jewelry house in New York.

The New York Times of that same date contained an even shorter summary of the drowning with few additional details:

Drowned While Saving Others

Edwin John Gaddis, aged 21 years, recently employed as a book-keeper in a jewelry store in Fifth-avenue, this City, was drowned at Jamesport, Long Island, on Monday. His widowed mother, Mrs. Caroline Gaddis who is now residing in Jersey City, was informed of her son’s death by a brief telegram which stated that the young man was drowned while trying to save two young ladies of Brooklyn from a like fate. Young Gaddis went to Jamesport, which is on the north-west shore of Great Peconic Bay, on Saturday evening, and intended to return to his home on Monday. He was a Corporal of the Seventy-first Regiment, and had many friends in that organization. He was in the employ of Harper Brothers a few years ago. The time for the funeral has not yet been determined, but the interment will be in Green-Wood Cemetery.

That was it. Edwin Gaddis, a brave young man who forfeited his life in saving two acquaintances.

The father of the girls, Colson C. Hamilton, had his two daughters saved, but tragedy struck soon after.

Eldest daughter Lucy R. Hamilton died at the age of 19, according to the Brooklyn Eagle “after a long and painful illness,” on April 10, 1884. Colson’s wife Lucy died less than two months later on June 2, 1884 at the age of 39. Colson C. Hamilton was left a widower with four children to raise on his own Sarah, Ida, Alice and Colson Everett.

Colson Hamilton family plot

Colson Hamilton family plot

So what became of the rescued daughters Sarah and Ida? Did they live fruitful lives and have offspring?

Unfortunately Ida Hamilton died at the age of 18, on February 7, 1889 only six years after being saved. Her gravestone says something eloquently simple that I’ve never seen before as an epitaph, “Her sun set while it was yet day.”

Sarah Hamilton married Thomas Edwards on December 16, 1885. They had one child, Edward. Thomas Edwards died in 1906 and Sarah died on April 27, 1915 at the age of 48. It is unknown what became of their son Edward Edwards.

Coincidentally Ida and Sarah are buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in section 159, less than half a mile from their savoir Edwin J. Gaddis. Sarah’s grave is unmarked as is her father Colson C. Hamilton who passed away in 1911.

Ida Hamilton grave Greenwood cemetery Ida Hamilton gravestone Greenwood cemetery

Did the Hamilton family pass the story down to future generations? If their lineage has continued, do the Hamilton descendants know of the incident? I wonder.

I know people still do heroic things today, sometimes sacrificing their lives to save others. Maybe I’m wrong about this, it just seems there was a greater sense of civility, chivalry and sacrifice in the 19th century than there is today.

And what of Edwin J. Gaddis?

On the day I stood in front of Gaddis’ memorial taking photographs, I paused and pondered about all of the things I have written here and more.

In our internet age where millions of words are written about shallow celebrities and trivial things, I was not surprised when I researched and found that there was almost no information about Edwin Gaddis.

Besides a entry and the contemporary news stories in the local newspapers, no one today would know of Edwin Gaddis and his ultimate sacrifice.

Despite the noble words on his tombstone, Gaddis’ story has been forgotten. That is until now. For those of you who read this story, may Edwin Gaddis’ fame “be eternized.”

13 thoughts on “This Tombstone Stopped Me In My Tracks

  1. Tracey Gaddis Cantu

    I’m a Gaddis descendant! William H Gaddis was my great grandfather, brother of Edwin. I find this story fascinating and shared it with a cousin who has done tons of genealogy work but hadn’t seen this. I’m not aware that we have any pictures of Edwin.

  2. Richard Gaddis

    Edwin was my great-grandfather’s brother. Very interesting to see this article. Kind of makes my ancestry all the more real.

  3. John Maas

    Wonderful! Simply wonderful, very similar to “The Memory Palace”. Great podcast I’m sure you’d appreciate.
    Splended work you do, most enjoyable.
    Thank you so much for your efforts.
    John Maas.

  4. Dorothy Todd

    Once again, thank you for even more fascinating information! These families truly seem to be the embodiment of what we perceive as the strength and backbone of American families in the late 19th century.

    You mentioned how ancestral photographs are lost to a family’s history over time. Sadly, I think the process of passing them down through generations filters out those found by the next generation as unnamed and therefore insignificant (not always, but usually). It’s almost like some sort of photographical natural selection.

    Your analogy of finding a Gaddis or Haybeck photo as being a “home run” is perfect – just like in baseball, one play sets up another and so on, so who knows? Once again you may have set something in motion that will ultimately produce a photograph for you. It has happened before (thank you for the George Schaitberger link!)

    It is astounding in that day and age that Sarah earned the title of Assistant to the President of the very school she graduated from, and was extremely well paid in this position. What an incredible achievement
    for a woman in that era.

    Although I give Sarah a huge amount of credit, she married George when she was 34. By then, Edwin was around 13 , and since George and Sarah were neighbors in the same building, George had plenty of time to observe single mom Sarah. Imagine if it had taken him this long to convince independent Sarah to marry him! Based on her strength of character and her intelligence, she had plenty of time to observe George as well. My hunch is that she loved her son very much and would not have allowed anyone in her home who would be harmful for her son. The fact that Edwin remained in the home until he was old enough (speculating) to join the Army is testimony to George’s character too.

    You mentioned George Hall’s statement to the press, so I re-read it again… I completely overlooked what he said because at first reading, all of the statements blended together toward the same end in my mind. After learning so much more about these individuals, my re-reading emphasized an important detail – that Mr. Hall had also gone into the water to save the girls and almost drowned as well – while Mrs. Hall was screaming on shore that Edwin was still in the water. This now is so heartbreaking to read, when knowing the “story behind the story.) Yes, he does appear to have been a “really, really good person”!

    Once again, thank you so much for taking the time to reply. This is an unforgettable real life story of two families, who live on, out there somewhere… as you and Paul Harvey say: “And that is the rest of the story.” Or is it!?

    Very best regards,

  5. Dorothy Todd

    This was fascinating! I ended up writing down a linear “timeline” in order to keep track of who was who, and when. Then I re-read your article again, which gave so much more depth to my scribblings. Thinking back to that simpler time when there was (to quote your words) a “greater sense of civility, chivalry and sacrifice” this was a close family unit. Edwin Gaddis was most probably illegitimate just as you said, and his mother Sarah’s sister Caroline, whose husband was still alive (if I made correct sense of my timeline) gave him their last name. This was a perfect scenario – Sarah was able to keep and raise her child without stigma. No wonder he dove into that water determined to save Sarah and Ida. As you said, he was raised by a strong, determined mother who passed on to her son a strong sense of honor and duty. He probably didn’t know the circumstances of his birth, but he behaved in the manner of a man who knew he was loved. Thank you for making the time to detail the Haybeck and Gaddis family history. That is a lot of time and trouble, but please know it was appreciated!

    1. B.P. Post author

      My pleasure.

      I wish there was a photograph of any of these people- especially Edwin. I’m sure the Gaddis & Haybeck family had photographs, but over the years these things usually get dispersed and discarded.

      Even if a family has kept their old relatives photos, a lot of the time there is no notation on the back of the photo of who it depicts.

      There are probably living Gaddis / Haybeck descendants. Maybe a relative will search the internet, find this article and add a missing piece. (A photo being the home run). It’s happened here before. See-

      A couple of non-sequiturs: in the 1870 Report of the Board of Education Sarah Haybeck’s job is listed as Assistant to the President to the Daily and Normal High School, the same school she had graduated from in 1859. Sarah’s salary was $1,400 per year. An enormous salary for anyone and about three times more than the average man earned at the time.

      Sarah Haybeck and George Hall were married 51 years, Sarah died March 9, 1926 at the age of 85 and George S. Hall died September 13, 1933 at the age of 83.

      One final thought – about George S. Hall, re-reading Mr. Hall’s statement to the press, and taking into account the circumstances of his falling in love with single mom Sarah Haybeck and taking in Edwin – and this is something intangible and purely speculative, but, he strikes me as a really, really good person.

  6. Dorothy Todd

    I agree. Your blog never ceases to broaden my limited knowledge about life taken for granted (as we do to today) over a century ago and then, moment by moment erased from memory (as ours will be). Thank you for taking the time to acquaint us with individuals and groups of individuals who lived and died, but set apart as unique because you have written about them.

    1. B.P. Post author


      Thank you for your kind words. This story was one that meant a lot to me. Researching it was a challenge and I found out much more than is in the article that was interesting, but would have been tangential. One was, who Edwin’s parents really were, and why he didn’t live with his mother when growing up.

      I’m pleased the story conveys my feelings clearly to you. Having you confirm that means a lot to me.


    2. Dorothy Todd

      I have waited a full day, hoping my curiosity would subside, but it hasn’t! May I ask about two of the tangential details you mentioned regarding Edwin? Who were his parents? And why didn’t he live with his mother growing up? Whatever the circumstances, they must have had some part in molding him into a young man who would struggle literally to his last breath to save Sarah and Ida,..


      1. B.P. Post author

        Hi Dorothy

        This is a bit complicated and here is the shortest summary I can give:

        When researching the story I looked at census records to find out anything I could about Edwin Gaddis and ended up some peculiar findings. I thought what I found would bore most readers.

        John G. Haybeck (1804-1891) and Carolina Beurer (1804-?) were the parents of Caroline CF Haybeck (born c. 1833) and three other daughters and a son. One of Caroline’s sisters is named Sarah (born c. 1839).

        The 1855 NYC census shows Caroline C.F. Haybeck (Edwin’s supposed mother) has married Joseph H Gaddis. They are living with the entire Gaddis family: his parents, 3 brothers and two sisters.

        By the 1860 census Caroline Haybeck Gaddis (26), is still married to Joseph Gaddis (age 27), they now have two children (George W. age 5 and William H. age 2). The family is living in NJ with Caroline’s brother John Haybeck Jr. age 29 head of the household.

        In that 1870 census Caroline Gaddis lists 3 children living with her, George W and William H. also a daughter, Josephine Caroline Gaddis (b. 1867), who later goes just by the name Caroline or Carrie). Husband Joseph Gaddis is nowhere to be found because he dies in December 1869 according to Green-Wood cemetery records.

        Edwin Gaddis born 1861, is not living with the Gaddis family.

        In no records did I find that Edwin ever lived with Caroline and Joseph Gaddis.

        In that same 1870 census Edwin’s future “uncle” George S. Hall is 19, and lives at an apartment building in Manhattan with his parents, brothers and sisters. Also living in that same apartment building right next door is Sarah Haybeck, Caroline Gaddis’ sister.

        Her profession is listed as teacher. Living with her is….(drum roll please) you guessed it, Edwin Gaddis listed as age 8.

        George Sylvester Hall marries Sarah Haybeck December 15, 1875.

        In the 1880 census Edwin Gaddis is STILL living with George and Sarah Hall in New York City.

        How close were the Hall’s and Gaddis’s? In the 1905 NY census Caroline Sr. and her daughter are living in NYC with the Hall’s.

        It is more likely and probable that Sarah Haybeck Hall was Edwin’s real mother rather than Caroline Gaddis. Edwin was probably born out of wedlock when Sarah was around 22. Why else would Edwin be living with Sarah Haybeck who was single until Edwin was 14 and continue living with the Hall’s into 1880?

        Whether Edwin really knew that Caroline Gaddis was not his real mother is an open question. But I think it took a strong, determined woman to raise a child, mostly on her own in the 1860s and 70s and that is exactly what Sarah Haybeck Hall seems to have done.

        Who Edwin’s father was we will almost surely never know. If the Gaddis’ were Edwin’s parents it seems very strange they would send him away and keep the other children.

        As a coda, Sarah Hall died in 1926 at the age of 85.

        And as they say, “that’s the rest of the story.”

  7. Sam Juliano

    I found your blog while looking for the “Whipped Cream” album history, and I find myself coming back to your blog to read your interesting stories. Having read several now, over several days, it’s time to say thanks. I appreciate your style and subjects, and I’ll keep coming back for more. Thank you!


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