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Archive for January 17th, 2011

Tales of Calvary 12- The Lynch monument

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

A magnificent and somewhat unique example of mortuary sculpture found at First Calvary Cemetery here in Queens is the Lynch monument. The screeds engraved on it indicate the presence of several generations of the family, and the quality of the stone work indicates that the Lynches were notable figures during their time. As mentioned in the past, however, when one is searching for information on individuals with a “common” name (particularly a common Irish surname) – things get a little hazy. There have been a lot of folks, both famous and infamous, named “James Lynch”.

Here’s what I’ve been able to positively attribute to this James Lynch, and a promising (tantalizing actually) but false lead…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When James Lynch’s will was read, it caused quite a stir- it seems that the inheritance he left for his widow and children was in excess of 1.5 million dollars (in 1873, mind you), or so says the archives. Now, 1.5 million in 1873 was a heck of a lot more money then than now- which means that this fellow was “somebody”. But who?

The archive article denoting the disposition of his will puts the family residence at 129 East 21st street in Manhattan- a tony and somewhat aristocratic address in 1873 (and today) located near Gramercy Park. Teddy Roosevelt, for instance, was born around the corner in 1858 and other neighbors included Samuel Tilden, Peter Cooper, and George Templeton Strong.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The false lead– I suspected that this might be the same James Lynch (of Tammany) who aroused the ire of the future “paper of record” with a controversial order to the Warden of Bellevue Hospital in 1860 that remanded the bodies of the poor to scientific study (medical schools) and the inquiry of the vivisectionists (coroners).

quoth from the archives

All non-professional men who have ever had occasion to visit a dissecting-room, can well understand the intense loathing and horror with which even condemned malefactors shrink from that portion of the death-sentence which delivers over their bodies after execution to be dissected for the instruction of medical students. No sight can be imagined more revoltingly hideous and horrible than the scientific shambles in which human carcases are cut up, disemboweled, torn limb from limb, dissected and tossed from hand to hand by the young acolytes of surgical science. Half a dozen bodies in this way come to be mingled together in one disgusting mass of flesh, bone, tissues, hair and bowels. Different students carry off particular limbs or organs for home dissection; and then the mingled remains are placed in sacks and carted away at midnight, to be dumped out of sight in whatever sinks or holes the surgeons may have selected for this purpose.

But, alas, I was incorrect.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

click image for a larger and more detailed incarnation

The illustration above, as well as the following text originate in John J. Foster’s “Visitor’s Guide to Calvary Cemetery” published in 1873

Plot O, Range 9, which is a little to the north of the resident clergyman’s dwelling, (and of which we give an illustration).

It is in the classic style, and consists of a superstructure of solid Quincy granite, in the form of a tomb, with polished columns supporting its entablature, surmounted by a draped sarcophagus, in one entire piece, of the finest Carrara marble. At each end of the base of the tomb, seated on clouds, is an angel, one with a trumpet, to call to judgment; the other emblematic of immortality. These figures are separate memorials. The former having been erected to the memory of the late Miss Katie Lynch, and the latter to the late Miss Agnes Lynci, his two daughters.

The whole work rests on a vault constructed after the style of the old Roman catacombs.

Mr. James Lynch was born December 23, 1805, and died December 14, I873. For nearly thirty years he devoted his attention to the grocery business on an extensive scale, in the city of New York, and retired with a competency in the year 1853. He was a favorite with all who enjoyed his acquaintance, and was well known to the public through his good offices and his manifold services in the advancement of all wise and charitable undertakings that came to his notice. The lively interest he excited in all who knew him secured for him many constant friends who now mourn his loss. His good deeds still survive him. The name of such men should be preserved.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Clicking on the 1873 illustration, one observes that the only name on this monument when it was drawn was that of the sire of the clan. Scrutiny of the image also reveals an extensive series of footing stones, rails, and decorative plot demarkations which have not survived the century. Additionally, the entire family seems to be accounted for on the monument, with the last interment (Mary Ann) listed as 1922.

I was able to find a scant mention of Emily F. Lynch in the obituaries of the archives. She lived at 405 Park Avenue, and died there as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In addition to the remarkable centerpiece of the monument, one observes the presence of two weeping angels at the tomb, the presence of which are described in the quoted text as having been installed as separate monuments to Mr. Lynch’s daughters.

Like many of the fine marbles and ornate carvings extant at Calvary Cemetery, long exposure to the toxic atmospheres produced by the industries of the nearby Newtown Creek has badly damaged these sculptural elements, imparting an impression that the stone is melted or rotting away.

This isn’t far from the truth- the nearby Phelps Dodge (then called General Chemical) was actually sued by Calvary’s Board of Trustees in the late 19th century regarding the airborne exhaust of their brimstone based acid manufacturing business and its noxious effluents, and the concept of petrochemical pollution creating “acid rain” is well known to modernity.


On the plant grounds, General Chemical erected the tallest chimney in the United States to blow the smoke and gases from its furnace away from the neighborhood. For the past number of years neighbor surrounding the plant complained vociferously about the pollution from the factory. Only after a study found that nitric, muriatic, and sulphuric acids from the plant were destroying local cemeteries’ tombstones did the company try and alleviate the problem by building the chimney. This same year the company filed plans with the New York City’s Department of Buildings in Queens to build another 150 foot chimney, an ore breaker, a storage tank, a boiler house, and a stable.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The NYTimes archives also present a short death notice for Peter W. Lynch, of 253 west 62nd street, whose death corresponds with the date ascribed to Peter W. Lynch on the stone. I have no way of determining if this is the same man, however.

I could find nothing on Katie, but this is not uncommon for the era, as women seldom received mention if they weren’t scandalous, married to, or the mother of a famous man.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

James D. Lynch died at a 120 West 21st street address in 1917, just down the block from the patriarch’s house. Mary Ann and E. Louise seem to have escaped notice when they passed.

Like many of the older plots at Calvary, which once sat long avenues and lanes which were meant to remain as such, the Lynch monument is surrounded by more modern graves. Such is the lot of older cemeteries, whose financial realities demand that new interments must be made in order to maintain the ongoing operations of the enterprise.

A plot purchased in the 1860’s, after all, hardly figured in the cost of 150 years of groundskeeping. This created no small amount of controversy in the past amongst the descendants of those who lie here, but in the end, Calvary prevailed. This is why you’ll often observe modern grave markers peppering around the edges of grandly august Mausolea.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hey, you never know what you’re going to find at Calvary Cemetery in Queens.

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 17, 2011 at 1:50 pm

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