Flash back to 1854, where you are watching the horse-drawn wagons plod through the dirt roads of Queens County. They travel slowly, as though heavily burdened with their cargo, and stop in a seemingly vacant area of land. You watch the men, scruffy and stooped over, climb out of the wagons and start to unload the cargo they have brought with them all the way from Manhattan. Your eyes widen as your realize that they are unloading skeletons and coffins – hundreds of them!
This was exactly what was happening. In 1847, New York State passed a law that non-profit organizations could buy land to operate cemeteries and sell plots to people. Although the law stated that no organization could buy more than 250 acres in one county, people got away with purchasing large lots of land by buying land that encompassed two different counties. An example of this is Cypress Hills Cemetery, which lies in both Queens and Brooklyn. Before this law, called the Rural Cemetery Act, burials took place mainly in churchyards and on family farms.
By the 1830s and due to immigrants arriving here from Ireland and Europe, Manhattan had a population of over 200,000 while Queens had only a little over 9,000 residents. In 1832 and in 1849 a cholera epidemic hit Manhattan and soon there was no more room to bury the victims of the dreaded disease. In 1852 the Common Council of New York City passed a law which prohibited further burials in Manhattan.
The churches now looked towards Queens for burial land. St. Patrick's Cathedral purchased land in Maspeth in 1846. This became Calvary Cemetery, and, by 1852, Calvary was seeing 50 burials each day.
Between 1854 and 1856, more than 15,000 remains were transferred to Manhattan burialsite to Queens.
In 1852, Reverend FrederickWilliam Geissenhainer,the Pastor of St. Paul's GermanLutheran Church in Manhattan purchased 225 acres of land in Middle Village for a cemetery, which he called Lutheran Cemetery. The charge for a burial was $2.50 and the cost of a plot was $7.00! Despite its name, it was open to all faiths. The cemetery became the final resting ground for many of the victims of the General Slocum disaster in 1904. The cemetery is known today as All Faiths Cemetery.
Today, the President ofAllFaiths Cemetery,Daniel Austin, is an active advocate and participant in the beautification and continued restoration of the cemetery. His hard work and dedication have resulted in the cemetery being recognized by the New York State Division of Cemeteries as being “Exceptionally Well Operated and Maintained”.
In my research of the history of All Faiths Cemetery, I came across interesting information about some of the more famous burial sites in the cemetery. My interest in the Civil War prompted me to seek out Civil War graves. I became fascinated with the story of one in particular.
Brigadier General William George Mank
One of the more interesting tales is of Brigadier General William George Mank. He was born in Germany in 1833 and enlisted at Camp Morton in Indiana on August 24, 1861 in the 32nd Indiana Infantry Regiment as First-Lieutenant in Company A. He remained in the regiment in Northern Kentucky until January 1862 when he was ordered to return to Evansville, Indiana to serve on recruiting duty. He rejoined his regiment on April 7, 1862 at the end of the Battle of Shiloh.
On May 16 of that same year, he was transferred to Company C and appointed Captain. He stayed with Company C. through July 1862, participatinginthe Siege Operations againstCorinth, Mississippi, the pursuit of Confederate forces to Booneville, Mississippi and in GeneralBuell's Operations on Northern Alabama and Middle Tennessee. After a few more months of serving on recruiting duty, he returned to the battle field on December 20, 1862 as commanding officer in Company A. He led his company at the Battle of Stone's River, Tennessee from December 30, 1862 to January 3, 1863. After a brief sick leave, a furlough to attend his sick wife and reassignment, he was back with the 32nd Indiana during the summer of 1863 in the Tullahoma Campaign in Tennessee.
From July 1863 to April 1864, he was back on recruiting service, while his company fought in the Battle of Chickamauga. When he returned to service he was commissioned Major of the regiment. He remained with them through June, taking part in heavy fighting. In March 1865, he was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the 8th Veteran Volunteers until July 1865. On December 8, 1865 he was commissioned Brigadier-General, US Volunteers.
After the war, he moved to New Orleans and held a position in the United States Treasury Department. He left New Orleans in 1868, after fighting a duel where he received a wound to the elbow. He moved to New York City, became active in City politics and in the early 1870's was named Inspector of the New York City Department of Public Works.
Mank took an unusual interest in money and in 1875 he was charged with possession of counterfeit money and attempting to sell the money to an undercover agent. He was defended by a former judge, whose defense was that since the agent knew it was counterfeit, his client could not be charged with “intent to defraud”. Further since the money was sold to the agent, his client could not be charged with possession either. Ultimately, Mank was found not guilty!
He also attempted to obtain a pension for his Civil War service claiming that the wound he received from the duel in New Orleans was a war wound. The War Department didn't buy this and his request was denied.
Mank died in Manhattan on March 21, 1887. He was buried in Lutheran Cemetery in a public lot without a headstone. For 111 years, he was unknown. Thanks to the work of Genealogist John Walter, his gravesite was discovered and thus began the quest to dedicate a proper headstone for Brigadier General William George Mank of the Union Army. His stone was dedicated in a ceremony organized by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Oliver Tilden Camp #26 on October 21, 1998. After a varied and interesting life, General Mank can now rest in peace.
The General Slocum Disaster
June 15, 1904 brought the worst maritime disaster in New York history. A pleasure trip was the plan of the day for the passengers of the General Slocum as she departed lower Manhattan for Long Island. Within an hour of its departure, however, fire and death would be its claim to fame.
Since its first summer travelling the waters, The General Slocum was ill-fated. In the years before the fire, the steamboat ran aground six times and collided with four other vessels. Although the Slocum was inspected five weeks before the disaster, the inspectors failed to check the fire pump and hoses, and failed to notice that the lifeboats were uselessly stuck by paint to the side of the ship.
The Slocum was charted by St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church for its 17th annual trip to Locust Grove Picnic Ground on Eatons Neck Long Island. The ship departed that day with 1,331 passengers with almost half of them under age 20. By the time the ship reached Astoria, there was smoke coming from the portholes. Most of the passengers escaped only to a fiery death in the water as they tried frantically to save themselves. The death toll was 1,021.
An investigation determined that the fire started because someone had tossed a cigarette or match into a barrel containing hay. The captain, first mate, officers of the steamboat company and an inspector were indicted. The captain was the only one convicted. He was sentenced to ten years in jail. When President William Taft received a petition signed by 250,000 requesting his parole, the caption was paroled.
The remains of the Slocum were converted to a barge. In 1911, the ill-fated ship sank near Atlantic City.
Today, there is a memorial to the victims of the General Slocum at All Faiths Cemetery, where 61 victims are buried.