Thursday, September 4, 2014

A SHORT HISTORY OF UNITED CEMETERIES


by Jerome

The pyramid monument on the United Cemeteries property, showing the names of Arabella Mann and Mary Jane Whitehouse.


Note: there have already been two articles on this blog about the Rosemont United Cemeteries site where CTR is buried. The first was on the mystery box of books once inside the pyramid and the second was harmonising the discrepancies in the numbers of recorded graves on site. Strictly speaking, this article should have been the first – giving an overview of the site.

In June 1907 Charles Taze Russell (hereafter abbreviated to CTR) made his last will and testament. In it he wrote:
“I desire to be buried in the plot of ground owned by our Society, in the Rosemont United Cemetery, and all the details of arrangements respecting the funeral service I leave in the care of my sister, Mrs. M. M. Land, and her daughters, Alice and May, or such of them as may survive me, with the assistance and advice and cooperation of the brethren, as they may request the same.”
The cemetery was obviously a going concern by this time. It was founded two years earlier, in April 1905 with a board of trustees and subscribers. The full name was the Rosemont Mount Hope and Evergreen United Cemeteries. CTR was originally down as one of the trustees. (See post on this blog dated July 16 for a reproduction of the relevant part of the original documentation.)

The full story of how the Watch Tower Society came to own a cemetery can be found by examining the trial transcripts of the Brooklyn Eagle “miracle wheat” trial and the 1907 Russell v. Russell hearing. The former is because “miracle wheat” was actually grown by John Adam Bohnet on the farm by the cemetery, and the latter because the hearing was endeavouring to establish CTR’s personal assets, as opposed to those of the Watch Tower Society.

CTR had continued to use personal assets to generate income for his religious work from the very start of Zion’s Watch Tower. Some of these dealing he described in the 1894 publication “A Conspiracy Exposed” when answering critics. He also explained why he preferred to keep his personal name out of such dealings “to avoid any unnecessary notoriety.” Investments were necessary because many donations were conditional – the contributor could claim his donation back at any time in case of need.
One way of keeping CTR’s name out of things was through what he described as “a little holding company” – the United States Investment Company, which he personally organised with his own money. Ultimately, CTR donated all these assets to the Watch Tower Society in return for voting shares – one vote for each $10 donated.

The reason for this preamble is that the Watch Tower Society obtained a cemetery as an investment by providing William E Van Amburg with the money to purchase the land. It was next door to an existing parish cemetery established in 1888 and owned by the Roman Catholic St Philomena Church, so the change of use was logical, and it contained a farm. Plat maps of the 1890s show the farm and land belonging to a Margaret Wible, with the St Philomena Cemetery to the south – putting paid to wild conjecture that it was originally a Russell family inheritance.
So Van Amburg ‘bought’ the land and then ‘sold’ it to the United States Investment Company. They in turn organised the cemetery company. But in reality, as a holding company for the Society, it was the Watch Tower Society that provided the money and really owned it. The deal was that half of the income generated would be used for the preservation and upkeep of the cemetery, and the other half to go to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.

A well-known Bible Student, Dr Walter E Spill, by profession an osteopath, was chairman of the cemetery company in 1913. As an amusing aside, in cross-examination during the Brooklyn Eagle trial he volunteered the comment that none of his patients had (as yet) been buried there.
There is conflicting testimony at different times as to how practical this investment really was and how successful a venture it proved to be, and in 1917 the Watch Tower Society decided to sell off most of the land, apart from sections kept back for their own use. What had by now been renamed the North Side Catholic Cemetery was the purchaser. Legal documents show the United States investment company transferred these assets to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society on January 10, 1916, and the Society then transferred the same to the North Side Catholic Cemetery on December 13, 1917, as recorded January 18, 1918 in Deed Book Volume 1914, pages 273-274.

The main plot retained by the Society was the area where CTR was buried in November 1916.
The January 15, 1918 St. Paul Enterprise (hereafter abbreviated as SPE) reported on the Annual Convention held at Pittsburgh, January 2-6, 1918, and noted that “the special monument which has been ordered by the Society [for the cemetery], is not yet completed, so none had the privilege of viewing it.”

The special monument would be the pyramid in the center of the Society’s plot. By the time of the 1919 convention report (covering January 2-5, 1919) a five foot deep concrete foundation was in place, and visitors were taken to the nearby marble works to see the work in progress. An artist’s impression of the finished production showed a pyramid with open books on its four sides, the pages designed to receive the names of those buried there. These would be headquarters staff (from “Bethel”) and traveling ministers (“Pilgrims”) along with their families. A space for J F Rutherford was already earmarked.  It was acknowledged that this was a design from J Adam Bohnet, who according to advertisements in the SPE (see for example Jan 30 1917) had been cemetery manager since around 1907. However, it was claimed in The New Era Enterprise for February 10, 1920 (the re-named SPE, hereafter abbreviated to NEE) that CTR had approved this plan from a sketch Bohnet showed him back in 1912. The 1919 convention report suggests they had been trying to obtain the right material for about five years (or since 1914) and the pink granite eventually used came all the way from Marble Falls City in Texas.
Some critics have queried Bohnet’s claim of CTR’s approval for his design. Personally, I have no reason to doubt Bohnet’s word as such – in his published writings over nearly 30 years he comes over as an honest, sincere man; although the actual size and scale of the project may have grown a bit since CTR’s demise. CTR had requested in his will that his funeral service be very simple and inexpensive; so the finished edifice, even if for all the Bethel family, may have evolved into something a little more elaborate than a passing rough sketch from 1912.

The idea of trying to source appropriate materials from back in 1914 has a ring of truth about it because the first Bible Student burial took place on site in December that year. The deceased, 25- year-old Grace Mundy, was buried in one of the four corners of the site. Subsequent burials (apart from CTR’s own) followed this pattern, almost as if they were marking out the extremities of the site and working from the outside inwards when using it.
The installation of the pyramid was completed in time to be given a full write-up in the February 20. 1920 issue of NEE. The front page article was entitled “The Pyramid Monument on the Bethel Burial Lots.” It concluded with a fanciful comment that probably reflected how many people felt at the time:

“The Bethel lot will be sacred in the future when other lots in the place will be forgotten. And who knows the Ancient Worthies may someday stand reverently before the monument with bowed heads and read the names traced thereon!”
Actually, the Ancient Worthies would have some difficulty. The years have not been kind to the pyramid. The weathering of the monument and the way the light hits it can make decipherment difficult. For example, a current internet search of memorial inscriptions for this cemetery only yields about three for the pyramid as recorded by volunteer transcribers. If you go back to 1967, George Swetnam’s article “A Man and His Monument” in the Family Magazine section of the Pittsburgh Press (June 25, 1967, page 7) lists eight. But he was obviously struggling. Grace Mundy, mentioned above, is transcribed by Swetnam as Grace Mound, and he mentions the name of Chester Ellidge. That can only be a drastic misreading of John Coolidge, which is surprising since a proper grave marker still survives on site for him.

If you go right back to the February 1920 NEE article, it also lists eight names, but with the expectation of many more to follow.

In reality, there were nine names in total, but that was all. Swetnam missed the name John Perry, and the NEE had an editorial glitch, because their missing name, Lorena Russell, was buried there back in December 1915.
Likely for reasons of space, some names on the pyramid sides were abbreviated with just surname and initials. However, the full names of the nine are:

North Face
Arabella Mann
Mary Jane Whitehouse
South Face
Charles Taze Russell
John Milton Coolidge
(name easily missed by visitors because it is nearly at ground level)

East Face
Grace Mundy
Laurena May Russell
John Perry
Henry Lawrence Addington
Flora Jane Cole

West Face
(no inscriptions)

A future article will discuss what is known about these people, and some have interesting histories and connections. For the moment though, perhaps we can dispel one potential for speculation - Laurena May Russell was no apparent relation of CTR.

But that was it. For all the hype in the 1919 convention report and the 1920 NEE article, all the names were of people who had actually died before the pyramid was erected. No further names were ever added; and apart from CTR’s sister, who owned the plot next to him, no further interments took place until the 1940s. The site basically was just left fallow. Bible Students who left the Watch Tower Society would hold memorial services at CTR’s grave in conjunction with annual reunion conventions in Pittsburgh, but other visitors would be few. As one dryly remarked in a 1929 convention report: “Either the friends have not been dying or the plan has been changed.”
The reason for the project’s abandonment is not difficult to see. When the construction of the monument really got underway, J F Rutherford was in prison. Once he was released, the headquarters that had temporarily transferred back to Pittsburgh returned to their proper home in Brooklyn. Pittsburgh may have been CTR’s original home, but it was no longer the Society’s home. Shipping bodies from Brooklyn all the way to Pittsburgh was expensive. Also, Pittsburgh was unlikely to be near surviving relatives. And in fact, apart from CTR’s sister, no surviving relatives were ever buried there. The Brooklyn Bethel family soon had another cemetery in New York on Staten Island, and it made far better sense for headquarters staff and their families who died to be buried there.

And the concept of a pyramid as a suitable symbol was to be dropped by the Society in 1928.
So, apart from Margaretta Land, the whole area remained unused for around 25 years. It may be that during this time some of the small headstones for others named on the pyramid disappeared – either through vandalism or wear and tear, or even just by having grass encroach over them. Whatever the reason, only one early stone (apart from CTR’s) survives today. As noted above, it was for John Coolidge. It is a curiosity, because the stated plan was for all the markers (apart from CTR’s) to be 12 inches across and 6 inch high, very close to the ground. Very early photographs of the markers for Arabella Mann and Mary Jane Whitehouse show this was done, whereas Coolidge’s marker is stuck upright in the ground. It stands out more, and maybe that is why it has survived.



Stones for Arabella Mann and Mary J Whitehouse
 


Stone for John Milton Coolidge
 
 
But then in the 1940s, it was decided to sell off the remaining graves and the plots were increased to a more realistic size of eight feet by four feet. Jehovah’s Witnesses in the greater Pittsburgh area had the opportunity to purchase plots. In my own visit to the area in 2014 I interviewed the descendants of several people who bought plots in the 1950s. Of course, most plots were not used until many years later, when the owners actually died. Some have still not been used, and others may never be used because ultimately the owners changed their minds and opted for cremation.
 
From interviews and a detailed examination of the site I was able to establish that, at this time of writing, 65 names are on stones. That is over half of those interred there. Just going by photographs or a casual quick visit, it might seem less than that, until you realise that some stones contain more than one name.
An earlier article established that there are a total of 123 plots sold on site. (The grand total was 128, but four were covered by the pyramid and one is so positioned as to make sale unwise). If we deduct the nine mentioned on the pyramid and Margaretta Land’s grave, that leaves 113 plots to be later sold off.
In my interviews with local people, I had confirmation that 94 plots out of 113 sold were to witnesses – or, families of witnesses. (To clarify the latter comment, a witness may have bought a couple of plots, but their wife or husband may not necessarily have shared their faith, even if sharing their final resting place.) There is no reason to believe that the remainder were not witnesses either; it is just that the people I interviewed didn’t know them – some having died before their time. Those known for certain to be witnesses included an old timer who it is claimed was a pallbearer at CTR’s funeral, and also a graduate of an early class of the Watchtower Missionary School called Gilead.
There is still another site higher up the hill over the roadway not far from the memorial obelisk to William Morris Wright where other witnesses are buried.
So it is perhaps fitting that all those buried in this special area have a connection of sorts with CTR who is buried there, and who of course was involved with the original establishment of the cemetery.
 
Addenda
In preparing this article I did a detailed search of available records to see if any other Bible Students were buried elsewhere in the United Cemeteries. This turned up the burial of William Morris Wright, with his impressive obelisk. You can read about Wright and see a photograph of his memorial on this blog if you scroll back to June 5 of this year. The only other Bible Student on site for certain is Edward Hollister.
According to FIND A GRAVE, Edward Hollister (1843-1920) was buried somewhere on the United Cemeteries site, but I have no grave number and there appears to be no headstone. Tracing forward through genealogical sites reveals Edward’s descendants, including one with the middle name McPhail (which should be a give-away) and connections with one of the groups who broke away from the Watch Tower Society after Rutherford became president.
 
There are quite a few Seiberts buried here, but I found Gertrude W Seibert buried elsewhere in the Mount Union, I.O.O.F. Cemetery in Huntingdon Country, PA, with her late husband.
 


4 comments:

jerome said...

A correspondent has kindly advised me back-channel that George M Wilson, buried in the United Cemeteries, was also a Bible Student. Wilson was with the IBSA until the late 1920s, but then left to assist a radio ministry with one of the Bible Student groups.

Johnsc11 said...

Do you have an article about the the cemetery became a Masonic cemetery? There are people who accuse him of being a mason but haven't been able to refute that he was buried in a Masonic cemetery.

jerome said...

An article I wrote entitled How Many Graves gave this historical detail about the subsequent history of the United Cemeteries and how the Masons got involved:

Much of the land was sold off to the North Side Catholic Cemetery around 1917, which already owned adjoining property. The North Side Catholic Cemetery became part of the Catholic Cemeteries Association in 1952, and this body sold a large swathe of land to the Masonic Fund Society for the County of Allegheny in 1994. Credulous polemicists who see the grave of CTR and the pyramid with the Masonic building in the background should note this progression of sale which has nothing whatsoever to do with the Watchtower Society, ancient or modern. But for our purposes, when these transfers took place it was necessary to specify which bits of land were being held back and never belonged to either Catholics or Masons.

You will find a lot more on this issue if you use the search term "Masons" on this site, and there is a whole appendix on the subject in Bruce and Rachael's "Separate Identity" book.

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