Stories from the grave – another walk through Mt. Hope Cemetery

It was a beautiful day to meander among the headstones.

Bandit and I went out for a meander through Mt. Hope Cemetery today, mostly so I could clear my head and shake off the negative vibes I’ve picked up over the last month or so from some know-it-alls and jack-asses I’ve been forced to interact with.

That’s a pretty way to start a blog post, isn’t it?

You know I love the cemetery, so even though the temperatures hovered around 40 degrees on this late April morning, I  enjoyed wandering around the headstones, taking photos and reading epitaphs and wondering about the people who reside there.

Take, for example, the headstone from the Hommel family. I was struck by the age of their son Oscar, who died in 1878 at 7 years old. So I snapped a photo.

When I got home, though, I realized that the date of Oscar’s birth is the same as his mother’s death. That got me wondering if perhaps Regina died giving birth.

In general, I hate technology, but in situations like this I’m grateful for online databases like the UR’s records on the interments at Mt. Hope Cemetery. A little digging showed me that Oscar died December 13, 1877 of meningitis (although is tombstone says 1878). His mother, Regina, died December 21, 1871 of typhoid fever. George died March 13, 1879 of consumption.

So while I don’t know what month Oscar was born, we can assume his father, George, was left with a child under a year old after losing his wife Regina to typhoid fever. And then he  lost his son a few years later.

I’m intrigued by stories like that, and tombstones are like little mysteries just begging to be investigated – although not always solved. A little digging here leads down a completely unexpected path there.

I noticed this headstone at the cemetery, for Isabella Nelson, wife of John Robb, who died August 20, 1841 at the age of 42. Buried with her is Jennie Robb, who died at 8 months old in 1831.

I was curious to learn more about Jennie Robb, since the cemetery didn’t begin burying until 1837. So back to the interment records I went. I didn’t see a Jennie Robb, but I stopped looking when I saw the list of Robb children who died between 1837 and 1860.

Isabella Robb lived on Platt St when she died in 1841. Five years later, on December 5, 1846, a year old named Aurelia S. Robb of the same address died of croup. Had Mr. Robb remarried? Was this child part of an extended family, perhaps a niece?

That’s the beauty of historical research. The stories never end. And then I was struck by these Robb children, all of Clinton St:

  • An 8-month-old child of Lorenzo Robb, Clinton St, died June 25, 1848 of scarlet fever.
  • Frederick Robb, 3 years old, Clinton St, died January 19, 1853 of measles.
  • Elizabeth Robb, 1 year old, Clinton St, died January 30, 1853 of measles.
  • Margaret Robb, 1 year old, Clinton St, died January 8, 1953 of dysentery.
  • McLean Robb, 1 year old, Clinton St, died October 5, 1856 of diarrhea.

There’s also John Robb, 2 years old, N. Clinton St, who died June 19, 1848 of scarlet fever.

There’s no way to know, of course, how these children are related, without more extensive research. But I think we can draw the conclusion that the Robb family that lived on Clinton Street, whoever they are, lost a lot of children between 1848 and 1856. And that’s just the beginning. I didn’t even begin to look into Isabel Robb, daughter of W.R and E.F., who died April 12, 1882 at the age of 11, buried next to Isabella and Jennie in the Robb family plot.

But they weren’t the only ones who lost children. Just looking on the same page of last names beginning with ROB, with interment dates from May 1837 to July 1860 (just those two pages), there’s a man named John Robbinson of Washington St. who lost a 2-year-old who died on September 12, 1837 from a  bowel complaint and a 4-month-old who died two months later on November 28, 1837 of influenza of the lungs. Each is listed only as “John Robbinson’s child”. Two children in two months.

It was common for small children to succumb to illnesses we don’t even worry about today. Just on these two pages of interment records we’ve been looking at children died from scarlet fever, measles, consumption, dysentery, diarrhea, whooping cough, convulsions, a cold, influenza (of the lungs, head and bowels, although I’m not sure what the latter means, specifically; diarrhea perhaps?), water on the brain, croup, fits, brain congestion and dropsy of the brain and bowels.

And then there are the children who were burned.

On December 19, 1845, 3-year-old Mary Ann Roberts; 8-year-old James A. Roberts; and 5-year-old Elizabeth Roberts, all of Ford Street, died. Cause of death? They were burned.

That’s a story crying for someone to tell.

But the cemetery doesn’t just tell stories of the dead. The living are still adding chapters.

Clare, who works in the cemetery office and is a wealth of knowledge, told me a story about a man who recently came to look for his great, great-grandmother. She described the man as a light-skinned African-American, and when he gave Clare the information about his relative, she led him to the family plot of Susan B. Anthony.

I don’t know which family member was the man’s great, great-grandmother, but he clearly had no idea that he was related in some way to the great suffragist. She said he returned with more information, to maybe clarify the find. But again and again it led back to the Anthony plot.

The Anthony family burial plot

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be of African-American descent trying to trace a family tree. Slavery makes it difficult at best and impossible at worst to trace birthdates, deaths, and even names. I wonder what the man expected to find, and what he thought when he realized that his own family tree included a branch with such abolitionist significance.

There are more than 370,000 people buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery (with more added every year), and all of them have a story to tell. Clare told me (and I’m sure I’m not saying this as well as she did) that the largest number of people who are forgotten in the world are those who have died and left no one to tell their story.

Like Lottie. Her marker stands alone with only the words “My Lottie” engraved on the stone. No dates of birth or death,  no other writing to tell us who she was, how she died, or when she lived. All we really know is someone loved her – and that her story may be lost forever.

UPDATE 4-11-12: I went with Bailey back to the cemetery today to see if I could figure out the lot number for Lottie’s grave, because wth that information, Clare at the office might able to give me some information about who she was. And she did. The lot where “My Lottie” is buried was purchased by an Ellen Harcourt, with a person buried next to her named Annie Beardsley. That gave me two possible last names. With that information, I went back to the UR datase of interment records, and in minutes I think I found “My Lottie.” She’s Charlotte Harcourt, who died at the age of 15 on 9/29/1861 of neuralgia of the stomach. While the details of her life are unknown, at least her story is not lost forever. I feel good about that.


6 responses to “Stories from the grave – another walk through Mt. Hope Cemetery

  1. This was fascinating Joanne

  2. What an interesting hobby you have! I wanted to comment on “My Lottie” stone – the engraving says so much e.g. she was loved and, at the end, that’s all that matters….

  3. Hey I was wondering in which state is the cemetery you went to?

    • I’m in New York. Mt. Hope was, I think, the nation’s first municipal cemetery. There are a lot of famous people buried there, from Susan B Anthony and Frederick Douglass to the founders of companies like Bausch & Lomb and Western Union. Lots of history and a beautiful place to walk. 🙂

  4. Scarlet fever is an age-old childhood scourge that has been rare in the United States since 1970. Caused by group A strep infection, the illness causes fever, sore throat, white spots on the tonsils, swollen lymph nodes, a bright-red “strawberry” tongue, and a tell-tale red rash that starts on the abdomen and spreads throughout the body within two days. Scarlet fever is treated with antibiotics, but the new Hong Kong strain appears to be resistant to at least two commonly used drugs..

    Check out all of the most current content on our very own internet site

  5. Good work on finding Lottie. I feel the same way as you. All those people have stories to tell.

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