No other cemetery in the United States can boast to a longer or more spectacularly star-studded list of the celebrities of the past hundred fifty years than the roster of those eternally resting in the rich soil of the Northern Bronx.
Located in New York City, close to the Yonkers/Westchester border, bound by Webster Avenue on the east, Jerome Avenue to the west, 233 rd Street to the North and ending just a few blocks shy of Gun Hill Road in the south, the 400 acre site opened its gates in 1865, although at least one grave bears the date ‘1852'. It is believed that this grave's occupant was relocated from another site. There are almost 400,000 people who call Woodlawn their permanent address. And new sections—once wooded and hilly—have been leveled in 2003 for additional plots and graves.
In 1865, when Rev. Absalom Peters opened the cemetery,The Bronx was still rolling green hills of bucolic farmland. Even in 2004, gentle hills and tree-lined roads transport the visitor to an almost Victorian sensation of elegant peace and quiet. Woodlawn is still enjoyed by those wishing a quiet walk.
The beautiful Jerome Avenue North Gate has been recently demolished to make way for large community mausoleums—what I call the Corpse Condo's . I don't believe anyone would call it an aesthetic improvement, but space is dwindling and the price of a genuine grave site continues to grow…
After taking photos of Untermyer Park in 1988, I undertook some research on the Untermyer family .
The family memorial and burial plot is located in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. Woodlawn is an historic site, not just a mere grave yard. Some of our nation's most famous, infamous and creative characters are buried in this sprawling piece of real estate. Nepatism is still a well-respected institution, so I will begin this tour of Woodlawn Cemetery with the grave of Harry Pellegrin.
About fifty yards from the Pellegrin grave , lies the earthly remains of one of American music's brightest lights-- WC Handy , the father of the blues. His stone is basically a grave marker, carved with a musical staff, a trumpet and a simple name and dates. As I took a photo of this great man's grave, something shiny caught my eye in the grass. If you look at the photo, you will see a horn mouthpiece. This was the shiny thing I saw. I do not know whether it was a remembrance from a fellow musician, or a token placed by a grieving loved-one. I replaced it exactly as found after taking the picture. Visit www.deadbluesguys.com to see all the eternal resting places of the greats! Click the adaptation of the Dave Preston photo (B&W of head stone...)
Great horn players are well represented on these 400 acres we call Woodlawn. Sir Miles Davis lies close to Duke Ellington and my Dad in this phenomenal grave. The large black stone is more a mirror than a stone, reflecting the cool green trees and quiet roadway. Sir Miles is reposing in a white marble enclosure behind the stone. Amazingly beautiful.
The grave of Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington, Musician sublime.
Of course, when I took this series of photographs in August 1988, Mr. Berlin was still alive. He passed away, I believe, later that year. His marker was in place at the family site, however, what I found more poignant was the marker you see here--his son, Irving Jr., who lived less than one month and passed away Christmas day. One never knows what pain and suffering a person has seen in life. I can only imagine the loss this great man felt.
A very secluded and difficult grave to find is that of Vernon Castle, the dancer who was killed in World War One. Obviously not an old man a his passing, he left his wife Irene, who is also buried there. I believe she passed away in the late 1960's. Her memorial to her husband, killed and robbed from her, was to pose for a beautifl nude sculpture of herself, bent in deep mourn ing, forever to sit atop her husband's grave. I have also heard that the model was a young girl from Isadora Duncan's dance troupe, but I prefer the more romantic version -- that it is Irene Caslte herself. Regardless, it is a truly spectacular piece of work and one can feel her agony and heartbreak at her loss. Seeking this grave is well worth the effort.
Of course, the arts are also represented by the mausoleum of the famed virtuoso violinist Fritz Kreisler . I am not well-versed in the particulars of his life, my mother, seen standing near this tomb, is the expert on early twentieth century musicians, being one herself! [Webmaster's Note: Veronica M. Pellegrin passed away on October 22, 2004 and is now interred at Woodlawn. A terrific source of early 20th Century musical knowledge has been lost.]
Music and art is extremely well represented, but business, commerce, exploration, publishing and politics all have left their mark on Woodlawn Cemetery. My mother relates a story of how, after college, she and her friends had all gone to Woodlawn to have their pictures taken while sittin gin Joseph Pulitzer's lap! I guess some things never change--and this Karma will keep LOW END from getting the prize!
Julliard has an extension division in Woodlawn. Yes, this is the music school founder's tomb! I went to Mannes.
Herman Melville , the author of Moby Dick--the story-line of which I think he stole from the movie JAWS --is also buried in Woodlawn. His is a simple stone, adorned by a scroll and vine and his name.
"Call me Ishmael..."
On to politics and the military. New York's most famous and favorite mayor may be Giuliani at the moment, but we should mever forget our other Italian mayor, Fiorello La Guardia. Six New York City mayors are buried in Woodlawn. The most famous was the beloved Fiorello LaGuardia - "The Little Flower" as he was known to New Yorkers..He was best known for his radio braodcasts during a newspaper strike on which he read the Sunday morning comics to the children of the city. The airport in Queens is named for this great man. He was the mayor from 1934 to 1945.
There is a larger plot marking monument on the site, a beautiful art deco item which I have photographed. I have searched my archives for this shot, long missing, and after much cobweb action and excitement in the attic, here it is!
Isidor Straus was a passenger on the HMS Titanic and lost his life that fateful April night in 1912. His wife, legend has it, had had a lifeboat seat available to her but refused it. She had spent most of her life married to this man Isidor and had no intention of leaving him. God bless such a good woman! My mother is seen here standing by the large marble vessel that sails for eternity in front of the Staus tomb. (Straus' body was recovered and is interred here.
The color photo that follows was taken in January of 2003, almost fifteen years after the B&W shot above. The photo after that shows the actual entrance to Isador's tomb.
Admiral Farragut , who utterred that immortal phrase " Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead ! " is also buried here. I don't believe his blatant disregard for munitions landed him in his current predicament. The large obelisk is inscribed with his military exploits and the phrase "Admiral Farragut Erected by his wi fe." 'Nuf said.
If you do decide to explore Woodlawn Cemetery, please stop at the main offices on Jerome Avenue or the gate house on the corner of Webster Avenue and 233rd Street. They will gladly give you a map that will direct you to every grave of interest. Be prepared to spend an entire day and bring comfortable walking shoes. I used my car, as I had camera gear to lug. Don't bring a motorcylce, though. They are more than happy to bury bikers in Woodlawn, but don't try to get a machine through the gates! One can understand refusing dirt bikes, maybe even a bike with loud pipes, but nothing with two wheels is allowed in. Adversity will make strange bed fellows. I called the ACLU about Woodlawn's seemingly discriminatory policy.
Not even they could do anything to change that!
Back to the tour!
James Colt -- a beautiful tomb, open and full of light. Stained glass fills the rear wall, a huge wrought iron door caps the entrance. I do not know if this is the firearms family, but there sure was some money here!
Collis Huntington , I believe, was credited with the completion of the transcontinental railroad and is interred close to the Borden (not Lizzie, Elsie the Cow) Family mausoleum. His site, high on a hill overlooking the Bronx River and Misericordia Hospital (and they've changed the name of that too, I understand) is imposing!
What would any neighborhood in the City be without a Woolworth's ? And of course, Woodlawn supplies this need even to those enjoying eternal rest. Eternal shopping... my wife should know about this!
In the immortal words of Steve Martin, they didn't " want no fancy funeral, just one like old King Tut! " Seriously, the 1930's was rife with Neo-Egyptian art and Egyptian revival architecture. Woolworth's Neo-Egyptian mausoleum is just about the size of one of their temporal establishments!
Untermyer memorial acres occupies a huge chunk of one of the 1930's-1940's sections of the cemetery. The architecture is strongly reminiscent of the estate on Route 9 in Yonkers. If you visit the estate, visit the cemetery, you will see what I mean.
The structure is once again ringed by stone walls with towers or turrets containing statuary and protected by working wrought iron doors. The center of the site is occupied by a large urn. As you can see in the photo, the ground is paved with cobblestone-like bricks, the grass has grown between the pavers, making it seem like a grassy area at first.
The turrets are pictured here. The doors are sometimes open, sometimes closed, I guess it depends on who has been to the site and has messed with them.
I do not know what the statuary is intended to represent-- it would seem to be Christian in content, but the imagery is obscure --though it is highly impressive, just about life size. And that concludes our short tour of Woodlawn Cemetery! If you have enjoyed this brief tour of Woodlawn Cemetery, please check out the rest of this site. Also, please investigate LOW END, Harry Pellegrin's first novel. Thank you!
...And containing nine tracks that are relaxing, inspirational -- sounds like a snooze. Not really, this is great stuff to listen to on a rainy afternoon, while with your significant other (nudge, nudge, know what I mean?) Please visit the Relfecting Pools page on this site or www.bathrubmusic.com.
LOW END What's new with the book that came out over a year ago? After being on back-order at Amazon.com for what seemed like a century, it is my uinderstanding that copies are once again shipping. Barnes and Noble's website is once again stocking LOW END.
DEEP END, the exciting sequel, is being shopped by my literary agent even as we speak.
The Guitar Sessions:Weekly tech tips and exercises to help the guitarist improve. This feature has really taken off. Each week a new page is posted with either an exerices to get the left and right hands moving more efficiently and effectively or an interesting pice from the standard repertoire , demonstrating a necessary technical ability. Judging by the hits these pages receive, you guitar players love this feature!
The page is updated every Thursday. Visit the 2004 Archive as well!
In my opinion, the murder mystery genre reached its zenith in the 1930's and 1940's. The novels penned in those decades were taut, no nonsense stories of people in life and death crises, people who did not flinch when confronted with overwhelming odds or overwhelming emotion. Some of these tales could be hard-edged and hard-boiled, but the heroes invariably had a soft side as well.
I believe that over the years, in an attempt to mimic real life, the writers of murder mysteries--and most other literature, for that matter--have lowered the standards of excellence set by such authors as the gritty Raymond Chandler and the sophisticated Dorothy Sayers. Many authors misinterpret smut for romance and brutality for strength.
My novels aspire to the standards set by the 1940's mystery writers. My tales are as real and grimey as the mean streets that spawned them. Even so, and though they deal with modern issues, you will not find gratuitous sex in my characters' relationships. Sex may be alluded to, but it is never allowed out from behind closed doors. You will find that my books are entertaining to a broad audience--I have had positive comments from teens to grandmothers. One reader was surprised when I told him that there were no obscenities in the book he'd just finished. He hadn't missed them! A good story doesn't need such unnecessary 'embellishment.'
I have conducted book signings at churches, country clubs, libraries and even a street corner (don't ask!) and I've never been called to task for, or ashamed of, my work. Pick up a copy of my latest novel and see if it isn't a good read!
As a native New Yorker and an American, I am still angered by the cowardly attacks of 9/11. Unless we restore New York City's skyline to its condition prior to September 11th, 2001, the miserable scum who attacked us will have won! Visit www.makeNYNYagain.com and rebuild America!