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Celebrating Black History Month

Mayor LaGuardia In 1926, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History designated the second week in February “Negro History Week.”  The annual commemoration was to be held in between the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. From the onset, Arturo “Arthur” Schomburg encouraged New Yorkers to study African-American art and culture. Just last month, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture was named a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service. Early celebrations honored individuals, both black and white, for their significant achievements in improving race relations and were traditionally announced by the curator of the Schomburg Center at the New York Public Library.  Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia was chosen in 1940, as one who “has addressed himself to the problems of all of the people of the city.” Channing Tobias Duke Ellington In 1943, Duke Ellington was acknowledged for his contributions to American music which “have lifted jazz to new heights of excellence and dignity.”  That same year, Dr. Channing Tobias was tapped for “his services in the War bond campaigns and as a member of the National Advisory Committee on Selective Service.” By the close of the Second World War, the week of celebration included concerts, literature readings, radio broadcasts and city-wide proclamations issued by Mayor LaGuardia.  Many of the events recounted the stories of those who served during the war, including the members of the Tuskegee Airmen.  Every year New York’s Governor promoted the events held at churches, libraries and public forums.   WC Handy In the 1950’s, the weeklong celebration grew to feature art exhibitions, concerts, church services and lectures.  Most of the programs emphasized new works of art, original compositions and performances by emerging artists.  Issues of race and equality were discussed at public forums. Dinners, dances and teas were held to honor individuals and acknowledge the accomplishments of historic figures.  When he was 80 years old, WC Handy, “the father of the blues” performed and shared stories of early jazz with students at a Brooklyn Junior High School.  He ended the program by telling the students:  “Life is something like this trumpet.  If you don’t put anything in it, you don’t get anything out.  And that’s the truth.” Charles Gilpin The week long commemoration of activists, artists, political leaders and pastors was renamed “Black History Week,” in the 1960’s and a decade later the celebration had grown into “Black History Month.”  Inspired by the American Bicentennial Celebration and the popular “Bicentennial Minutes,” the focus of the month-long program turned toward learning about historical figures and role models.  Many of the iconic figures and trailblazers remembered each February are memorialized at Woodlawn: entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, actor Charles Gilpin, poet Countee Cullen, statesman Ralph Bunche, sculptor May Howard Jackson, explorer Matthew Henson, broadcaster Hal Jackson, drummer Max Roach, author Rudolph Fisher and composer Hall Johnson. Artifacts illustrating the accomplishments of several Woodlawn notables are on display in the National [...]

Explorers of the Unknown

Explore Woodlawn Even in the coldest months of the year, Woodlawn is a place to explore.  On days when roads are clear of ice and snow, you can discover monuments and memorials that are no longer hidden from view by the leaves that fill our extraordinary trees.   There are several notable explorers memorialized at Woodlawn who braved the elements - men who reached the North Pole and those who perished attempting to find faster routes through the bitter cold. George Washington           De Long De Long monument at The Woodlawn Cemetery One of the most unusual sculptures you’ll find on your visit to Woodlawn is the statue of an explorer trudging through the snow, searching for a way home (located in the Chapel Hill plot).  Lieutenant Commander George Washington De Long (1844-1881) and members of his crew lost their lives in 1881 after their ship, the Jeanette, was trapped in the ice floes during an expedition through the Bering Strait.   De Long’s widow commissioned sculptor Leonard Craske to create the likeness of her husband.  Award winning author Hampton Sides chronicled the tragic loss in his book In the Kingdom of Ice, published in 2014. George Bird Grinnell Also in Chapel Hill Plot is the final resting place of the “Father of Conservation,” George Bird Grinnell (1849-1938).  A founding member of the Audubon Society, Grinnell was instrumental in the efforts to protect public lands and endangered species, influencing the establishment of America’s National Parks.  In 1885, Grinnell went on an expedition that took him to the Canadian border of Montana.  The area, which encompasses one million acres and includes glacial formations and mountains, was designated Glacier National Park in 1910.  The Grinnell Glacier was named to honor this leading member of the Boone and Crockett Club.  There is great information on Grinnell’s work in the Ken Burns documentary on the National Parks produced by PBS. ( At the dawn of the twentieth century, Americans were hungry to discover new territory and eager to reach the ends of the earth.  In 1901, William Ziegler (1843-1905), a founder of the Royal Baking Powder Company, provided funding for the Baldwin-Ziegler expedition, a campaign to reach the North Pole.  Ziegler’s “Dash for the Pole,” failed and the entrepreneur did not live to see a crew attain the elusive goal.  The Ziegler family mausoleum is a grand Greek temple, situated in the middle of the Fairview Plot on Central Avenue, not far from the Jerome Avenue entrance. Matthew A. Henson Among the rows of headstones in the Honeysuckle Plot is a marker that bears the name and dates of Matthew Henson (1866-1955).  The first African-American to become a member of the illustrious Explorer’s Club, Henson was a leader among Admiral Robert Edwin Peary’s crew, the first to reach the North Pole.  For decades, Henson’s role in the discovery was diminished, but in 1977, he was recognized for his superior skills as a navigator and his remains were moved [...]

New Year’s Resolution Pioneers

As the ball drops in Times Square, people all over the world ring in the New Year with anticipation and the desire to start fresh through New Year’s resolutions. Whether a person desires to improve in a certain area, attain a goal, or positively influence the lives of others, many self-improvement role models are remembered at Woodlawn. Bernarr Macfadden The most common resolution people make is to lose weight and get in shape. Many have followed the work of Bernarr Macfadden (1868-1955), the “Father of Physical Culture,” to reach their New Year’s goals.  Macfadden is considered the founder of the health and fitness movement in America.  Macfadden worked as a publisher, producing tabloids and popular magazines such as True Detective and Photoplay.  He was a “sickly child,” who began working out, walking for miles, and adopting a vegetarian lifestyle to improve his health.  Macfadden became a proponent of fasting and healthy eating, eventually opening restaurants that encouraged diners to eat beans, vegetables, and to stay away from bread which he called the “staff of death.” Maximilian Berlitz On January 1, many people decide to expand their educational horizons by learning another language.  Maximilian Berlitz (1852-1921), founder of the Berlitz Language Schools, is memorialized at Woodlawn as is Rafael Diez de la Cortina (1859-1939), founder of the Cortina Institute of Languages.  Berlitz issued several publications to assist in language learning, many which are still in print for use today. Cortina was an innovator in the field, known for the first recorded language training courses and the production of guides to learn languages at home. Nellie Bly Elizabeth Bisland Travel is a resolution that is easy to keep, if you have the time and financial resources.  Woodlawn’s best known travelers are reporters Nellie Bly (1864-1922) and Elizabeth Bisland (1861-1929) who raced around the world for “eighty days,” ending their challenge in 1890.  Their goal, first announced by Bly, a star reporter for The World, was to beat the record for traveling around the globe. Bisland was sent on the journey by The Cosmopolitan, completing the journey in 76 days.  Bly won the contest, circling the globe in 72 days. Both women wrote articles about their journeys which were read by the public daily in these publications. Augustus Juilliard Taking care of their estates is one of the commitments people make when they start out the year.  Woodlawn has been involved in many situations where final wishes were not fulfilled and families were thrust into stressful situations.  When Augustus Juilliard (1836-1919), benefactor of the School of Music, passed away, he left it to his attorneys to see that a mausoleum was constructed at Woodlawn.  Many of Woodlawn’s most visited sites, including those of the graves of Miles Davis, F.W. Woolworth, and Joseph Pulitzer, were constructed by wives, children and friends. A lack of final planning leaves those left behind with the stress of (determining and) carrying out final arrangements and tributes. January is [...]

Celebrating R.H. Macy and the 90th Anniversary of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

2016 marks the 90th anniversary of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Billed as the biggest and most beloved parade in America, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade attracts more than 50 million Americans both in person and via television who have made the Parade part of their Thanksgiving Day traditions. R.H. Macy, founder of Macy’s, was a forward-thinking entrepreneur with a knack for introducing new ideas and adapting them to workable solutions. Macy opened four retail dry goods stores between 1843 and 1855. All four stores failed. But, Macy’s quickly adapted his business model and opened a new store at Sixth Avenue and 14th Street in New York City. In 1875, R.H. Macy took on two business partners in 1875 to help expand his business efforts. As the business grew, Macy’s expanded into neighboring buildings and used gimmicks such as an in-store Santa Claus , illuminated window displays and themed exhibits to attract customers during the holiday season. R.H. Macy monument at The Woodlawn Cemetery In 1877, R.H. Macy died and was interred at The Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. A beautiful monument was constructed to honor his life and contribution to American business. In 1924, The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was established in 1924 when employees of Macy’s wanted to celebrate the opening of the “world’s largest store,” an expansion of which now covered an entire city block. The employees wanted to bring the tradition of elaborate parades to America and usher in the Christmas season with monumental style. Since 1924, the parade has become a Thanksgiving Day tradition for millions across America. The Woodlawn Cemetery salutes R.H. Macy and his entrepreneurial spirit which inspired the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and other wonderful holiday traditions.

Entrepreneurs Established Holiday Traditions

For many Americans, the fondest holiday memories are linked to giving gifts, looking at beautiful decorations and waiting in line for a turn to sit with Santa Claus.  During the holiday season and throughout the year, visitors to The Woodlawn Cemetery stop to see the memorials and mausoleums of some of America’s most famous department store entrepreneurs whose foresight helped to  establish these and other favorite holiday traditions. R.H. Macy Macy's Department Store at Christmas One of New York’s earliest Department Stores was established by Rowland H. Macy, a sailor who started out with a small chain of dry goods stores in Massachusetts.  In 1858, the ambitious retailer opened his first store in New York City.  Macy’s was the first store to feature a live Santa Claus, with the jolly old elf appearing daily during the Christmas season in 1862.  Two years later, the flagship store installed illuminated window displays to attract customers. Nathan & Isidor Straus Isidor Straus became the owners of Macy’s in 1895.  They established the tradition of hosting a “Christmas Parade,” which grew to become the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, an iconic event that attracts more than 50 million visitors from all over the world each year. The “Palace of Trade,” the popular name for the Arnold Constable store located on 5th Avenue and 19th street was designed by William Schickel, the architect who created the Constable family memorial. The flagship store was known for providing upscale ladies clothes, ideal dresses for the holiday season. George Hearn, the cousin and one time partner of Constable, owned one of the world’s largest department stores.  Hearn’s was located on 14th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues with another location in the Bronx along 149th Street.   Known for bargain prices for quality merchandise, Hearn’s Toy Town sold the electric trains, dolls and other popular items every family wanted to see under their Christmas tree. Hearn was a great philanthropist, establishing a fund at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the acquisition of art created by living American artists. Franklin Simon founded his stores in the early 20th century.  Focused on “ready to wear” ladies apparel, much of the stylish clothing was imported from Europe, beautifully displayed in the flagship store located at 414 Fifth Avenue.  The store was originally a gilded age mansion, the stained glass windows above the entry were known for their display of Christmas greenery and flowers. Frank Winfield Woolworth In 1879, Frank Winfield Woolworth opened the “Great Five Cent Store” in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  Gradually, the business transitioned into the “Five and Ten Cent Store” with stores opening up across America and Europe.  Woolworth kept prices low and offered shoppers manufactured items.  In 1880, the retail chain promoted the sale of factory-made ornaments, which added sparkle to thousands of Christmas trees. All across the nation, S.H. Kress and his brothers built distinctive stores known for exterior ornamentation, often designed by notable architects.  In 1935, S.H. Kress store opened [...]

Sounds of the Season

Everywhere you go during the month of December, holiday music plays in the background.  These catchy tunes provide the backdrop and memories that go with family, fun and festive spirits.  Did you know many of the best loved Christmas songs were written and performed by someone memorialized at Woodlawn? "White Christmas" – Irving Berlin wrote this classic song in 1940.  According to Guinness World Records, the recording made by crooner Bing Crosby is the “best selling single of all time,” with over 50 million copies sold.  The song was first heard on the radio on Christmas Day in 1941, becoming an important sentimental tune for families and soldiers during the Second World War. Berlin won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1942 for the version of the song featured in the movie Holiday Inn. Hundred of performers have recorded "White Christmas" including:  Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Elvis Presley, Bette Midler, Garth Brooks, Blake Shelton, and Lady GaGa. Johnny Marks "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" – Johnny Marks transformed the poem about Rudolph into a popular holiday song.  The tale about a reindeer with a nose that could guide a sleigh was adapted for television.  Marks wrote all the memorable songs that fill the forty two-year old movie special including:  "Silver and Gold", "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas" and "We’re a Couple of Misfits".   "Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree" – In 1958, Brenda Lee recorded the popular version of this song written by Johnny Marks.  This swinging song is the 4th most downloaded holiday tune and has been featured in many television shows and movies including the family favorite Home Alone.  Dion DiMucci, Toby Keith, Hannah Montana, and Green Day have all recorded this tune. "March of the Toys" – Every year as a part of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, the world-famous Rockettes appear wearing crisp white pants, bright red shirts, and tall plumed hats.  The audience marvels as the line of toy soldiers tips and leans with the sounds of Victor Herbert’s light opera playing in the background.  Herbert’s Babes in Toyland was first performed in 1903 at the Chicago Grand Opera House.  Music from the popular production included the classic "Toyland".  In 1934 Laurel and Hardy starred in a film version of the production and Walt Disney produced an adaption with Ed Wynn and Annette Funicello. Leopold Damrosch Handel’s Messiah – Leopold Damrosch, founder of the Oratorio Society of New York and conductor of what became the New York Philharmonic, established the tradition of hosting an annual performance of the Messiah in 1874 at Carnegie Hall.  Over the years, the tradition has grown to where multiple performances take place all over the city, including a week of concerts at David Geffen Hall and Trinity Church where one of the earliest performances in North America took place in 1770. Annually there is a sing-along performance in New York City where the audience gets to raise their voices when [...]

Visiting Our Veterans

Monuments That Commemorate Their Service   Thousands of Veterans are memorialized at The Woodlawn Cemetery, many with traditional military markers, others decorated with symbols that illustrate pride of service, love of country, and willingness to make the supreme sacrifice for the cause of freedom.  There are over 6,500 men and women who served in the armed forces in Woodlawn’s care.  Monuments on our grounds honor the service of a Revolutionary War Captain, eleven Medal of Honor recipients, the nation’s first Admiral, and those who lost their lives in Middle Eastern conflicts. After the American Civil War, when there was a need to mark the thousands of graves, Secretary of War William Belknap authorized the use of marble memorials issued by the government, replacing the wooden markers that had been used to honor the dead.  These first government markers have raised letters, traditionally set in the center of a shield.  They commemorate those who served in the Civil War and the Spanish American War and can be found in the north end of Woodlawn. After World War I, when the remains of thousands of soldiers were shipped home, a new style marker was adopted by the government.  These white marble markers have a rounded top and include the name of the soldier, rank, regiment, division, date of death and home state.  As rules changed in private garden cemeteries to accommodate the war dead, the government began to issue flat markers that could serve as footstones or headstones.  Initially made of marble, today these tributes are also issued in granite and bronze.    Many of the white upright markers are in the southern part of the cemetery, the flat markers are located throughout our grounds, many marking the graves of World War II Veterans in Zinnia, Wild Rose, Fir, and Alpine Hill Plots. It was in 1922 when families began incorporating religious emblems on military gravestones.  Initially, two symbols were used: the Latin Cross to represent the Christian faith and the Star of David to indicate the Jewish faith.  Today there are over two dozen symbols inscribed on headstones to acknowledge the diversity of spiritual beliefs held by the men and women who serve the country.  As a non-sectarian cemetery, Woodlawn has always welcomed those of any faith. Among the custom-designed memorials found at Woodlawn created to commemorate service is the flag draped monument for General Franz Sigel, a German immigrant who served in the Union Army and took great pride in his citizenship.  Henry Edwin Tremain, awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism at the battle of Resaca, has a memorial inscribed with a Roman warrior’s sword.  The doors on the mausoleum for Julius Langbein are decorated with both the Medal of Honor and the symbol of the Grand Army of the Republic. Two young Bronxites who lost their lives when their plane was shot down in 1944 are remembered with portrait busts that show them in uniform as they headed off to war.  Some Woodlawn families have placed cenotaphs (memorials [...]

Connections To Our Veterans

Admiral David Glasgow Farragut, Madison Square Park, NYC As you wander around your neighborhood, our city, and even across the country, you’ll find parks, streets, and other public spaces that honor those who served in our nation’s armed forces. The dedication and sacrifice of many service men and women memorialized at Woodlawn are often acknowledged on the signs, plaques, and visitor centers that introduce you to these special places. Farragut, Tennessee is the birthplace of the First Admiral of the United States Navy. Throughout the United States there are schools, roads, and parks named after Admiral David Glasgow Farragut (1801-1870). In Manhattan, a statue of Farragut created by Augustus Saint-Gaudens stands tall in Madison Square Park at 25th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues. Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman The Lloyd Tilghman House in Paducah, Kentucky shares the story of a West Point graduate who was trained as a Civil Engineer. During the Civil War, Tilghman fought for the Southern cause and after surrendering Fort Henry to General U.S. Grant in 1862, General Tilghman was killed in the Vicksburg Campaign of 1863. A statue depicting his final moments was donated by his sons (New York bankers) and is located in Vicksburg National Military Park. In 1901, his remains were moved to Woodlawn where he was interred beside his wife. Civil War enthusiasts participate in the activities of the Oliver Tilden Post, named after the first son of The Bronx to lose his life in the War Between the States. Along the North Border of the Cemetery, there is a large statue of a Civil War soldier that guards the Tilden Post Lot. The Archibald Gracie Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans were named after a member of a prominent New York family who moved to Alabama, married a southern girl and lost his life during the siege of Petersburg. General Franz Sigel (1824-1902), remembered for serving as a soldier and educator, is acknowledged with a park situated on the Grand Concourse and Public School #35, also located in The Bronx. There are statues of Sigel in Riverside Park in New York and Forest Park in St. Louis, Missouri. General Franz Sigel, Riverside Park, NY A local Veterans Post honors someone in Woodlawn’s care by bearing the name of a hometown soldier. The Bajart Post of the American Legion recognizes the service of Charles Bajart, Jr., a Yonkers native who served in World War I. Bajart died two years after the end of the war in the hospital at Fort McHenry, Maryland. His father, who was also a veteran of the First World War, recommended the Post be named after his son. Clarence Fahnestock (1873-1918), Chief Surgeon of the 301st Infantry during WWI, was honored by his brother when he donated over 2,000 acres of land to establish the Fahnestock State Park in 1929. The accomplished surgeon was entombed in the family mausoleum situated on the cemetery’s Central Avenue. His generous brother is buried across from the [...]

The Song Of History – Italian Heritage and New York

For many people, New York is indelibly associated with Italian heritage in America. The five boroughs of New York are home to vibrant Italian communities that continue to contribute an energetic artistic and entrepreneurial energy to New York. Leaders in the worlds of sports, politics, and the Arts and Entertainment, Italian New Yorkers continue to make history here and around the world. Here are some of the important Italian New Yorkers who rest at the Woodlawn Cemetery. Generoso Pope (1891- 1950) So loved was Generoso Pope that his funeral procession was lead by New York City Mayor William O'Dwyer. Thousands of people lined Fifth Avenue to follow the procession to St. Patrick's Cathedral. Pope had brought Italian language papers to New York City, and was active in city affairs founding the Columbus Day parade. Pope made his fortune in imported Italian foods and construction. His generosity lives on, as the Generoso Pope Foundation in Tuckahoe, New York continues his charitable work today. Joseph Stella (1877-1946)   Joseph Stella originally came from Italy to New York to study medicine. However, he decided to follow his passion for art - he trained at the Art Student's League, learning from William Merritt Chase. He eventually returned to Italy where he gained additional exposure to art movements such as Futurism and Cubism. His style was evident when he participated in the 1913 Armory Show. During the 1920s, he continued his work, painting New York in geometric patterns. This can be seen in his iconic painting of the Brooklyn Bridge that is housed at the Whitney Museum. He is entombed in his parent's mausoleum after spending his final years painting in the Bronx. John Grignola (1861-1912) This famous sculptor was also the president of the Mount Airy Granite Cutting company. He's known for many famous patriotic works, such as the Civil War soldier that stands at the Bronx County Historical Society and the John Paul Jones monument in Washington, DC.  The capitals of the rotunda at the University of Virginia were created by his firm. Fiorello LaGuardia (1882-1947) Fiorello LaGuardia was the 99th Mayor of New York City. He served during the Great Depression and World War II.  A man of many firsts, this first generation Italian-American got his start as an interpreter at Ellis Island and later at the State Department.  Located in the Lotus Plot at Woodlawn is the memorial for his first wife and child - this was created by his friend Attilio Piccirrili. The Piccirilli Brothers The Piccirrili brothers were a group of sculptors who moved to New York City from Massa di Carrara, Italy in 1888. They established their own studio at 142 Street and Willis avenue in The Bronx, after working for the Adler Monument Company for a year. Growing to over 100 employees, the brothers created stunning pieces in marble by converting clay and plaster models into large scale works. The New York Public Library Lions, the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were all [...]

Tex Rickard -New York’s King of Hockey

George Lewis “Tex” Rickard (1870-1929) was a towering figure in the sports history of New York. Generous, affable, and honest, Rickard left things better wherever he went, eventually gifting New York with the great hockey dynasty of the New York Rangers. Rickard grew up in the Texas towns of Sherman and Cambridge, working cattle on his family’s ranch. At the age of twenty-three, he was elected as the city Marshall of Henrietta, the seat of Clay County. He was noted here as being a tolerant and honest lawman - and a superior poker player. Later, he went onto become a famous boxing and sports promoter, working with such boxing greats as Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey. Rickard was known for his easy-going Texas charm, and Dempsey was reported as having cried at his funeral. After a well-regarded career in the 1920s in boxing promotion, Rickard went on to help build Madison Square Garden. In 1925, the Garden was the venue of another NHL franchise, the New York Americans, but Rickard, a masterful sports promoter, decided that the Garden needed its own team. Rickard partnered with hockey greats Conn Smythe and Lester Patrick.  Patrick coached the first season team in 1926 for the New York Rangers. Afterwards, the Rangers finished their first season with the best record in the NHL and the league’s top scorer in player Bill Cook. The hard work paid off when the Rangers won their first Stanley Cup in 1928. No other team has won the Stanley Cup in its two years of existence – this feat remains a singular Rangers accomplishment. The Rangers immediately won a New York following that remains intensely loyal to this day, with its famous “Rangerstown” fan base. As Rickard built his team, the sports press started referring to the new team as “Tex’s Rangers”, and the name stuck. Known as the “classiest team in hockey”, the Rangers accomplished the feat of making the NHL finals four times in their first 6 years. The Rangers were noted for their unique diagonal lettering across the front of their blue jerseys. According to, the Rangers were famed for their “clean, hard play.” The Rangers are noted as missing the playoffs only once in their first sixteen seasons, and only twice did they fall to lower than third place. The names of NHL hall of famers such as Frank Boucher and Murray Murdoch, along with Cook, resound through hockey history as members of that initial squad. Rickard himself was noted as being warm, generous, kind, and the embodiment of the traits of a Texas gentleman. His boyish smile and impish charm won friends everywhere. As the 90th anniversary season of the Rangers begins, let’s remember the excitement and the passion that of the hockey dynasty that Tex Rickard built. Come and visit Tex Rickard’s memorial at The Woodlawn Cemetery, and honor the powerful sports legacy that he left us. -