Categories
Photography

Most Charming Cemeteries in New England

These historic rural cemeteries are a treasure-trove of art, architecture, and sculpture.

Not only are the New England states among the most progressive in America, they were also the birthplace of the rural cemetery movement. These cemeteries were designed by some of the most prominent landscape architects of their day to be parks as well as sanctuaries for the remains of loved ones. Wealthy citizens contributed millions to create beautiful funerary art and sculpture that you can still see today.

Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Mount Auburn Cemetery, at 580 Mt Auburn Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was the country’s first rural cemetery. Designed by landscape architect Alexander Wadsworth, it opened in 1841 and quickly became one of the most visited destinations in the country. Rural cemeteries were laid out like gardens, with winding paths, ponds, and hills, and many, like Mount Auburn, also serve as arboretums. Mount Auburn was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2003. It is 200 acres and is the final resting place for approximately 70,000 people.

Categories
Historic America

Thunder on the Hudson

During the Revolutionary War, New York’s Hudson River Valley was the scene of numerous battles as both sides sought to control this vital waterway.

Before automobiles and paved roads, rivers were the highways of their day. Whoever controlled a major river could ferry troops and supplies back and forth over hundreds of miles. Control of the Hudson River in eastern New York was critical to British plans early in the Revolutionary War, but Patriots blocked passage by spanning the river with large iron chains at a narrow point near Bear Mountain.

After being pushed out of New York City in 1776, Gen. George Washington established his headquarters in Peekskill along the Hudson River. He considered the area critical for keeping the Continental Army supplied. Numerous battles and skirmishes were fought for control over this vital waterway.

Battle of White Plains

The Battle of White Plains was fought on October 28, 1776 during George Washington’s retreat from New York City. Washington positioned his depleted Continental Army on hills near White Plains, New York, east of the Hudson River. He established 3-mile long defensive positions, including two lines of earthworks, anchored by swampy land near the Bronx River on one flank and Chatterton’s Hill on the other.

Categories
Mysterious America

Abandoned America: Prisons and Asylums

Visiting a former prison or asylum is an eerie experience, knowing you are free to explore where hundreds were once trapped. Has so much suffering and loneliness left something intangible behind?

Most people avoid ending up in a prison or asylum, opting instead to experience it vicariously through television, movies, or books. When these institutions close, there’s not much that can be done with them. Some local communities, however, have figured out how they can profit from public curiosity by offering tours and events. It’s a unique experience, and thousands flock to see the empty corridors. Here are just a few of the former prisons and asylums I’ve visited over the years. Not all are open to the public, but most are.

Joliet Correctional Center

The former Joliet Correctional Center at 1125 Collins Street in Joliet, Illinois opened in 1858 and was originally called the Illinois State Penitentiary, Joliet. It was built using distinctive, locally quarried yellow limestone. It closed in 2002, but not before being used as a backdrop in several films, most notably The Blues Brothers (1980). It sat abandoned for many years, until being purchased by the city in 2017 and opened for tours. Ursula Bielski recently wrote a book about the institution called The Haunting of Joliet Prison.

Categories
Commentary

The Quartzsite Affair

When a small town reporter was removed from a public meeting and its mayor replaced by the chief of police, Quartzsite, Arizona showed how quickly democracy can devolve into dictatorship.

On the morning of July 11, 2011, residents of Quartzsite, Arizona, a small town of 3,677, awoke to find themselves in the midst of a bloodless coup. Sunday night, the five-member town council held a closed session in which they declared a state of emergency, ousted the mayor, and installed the chief of police as chief executive. Their alarming actions were the latest salvo in a battle over a woman who was arrested for speaking out at a Quartzsite town council meeting the previous week.

On June 28, Jennifer Jones, publisher of the Desert Freedom Press, rose during the “call to the public” section of the meeting, in which members of the public are invited to speak. Jones began to address rules that had been recently introduced by the town council, at which time one council member, a Mr. Joe Winslow, ordered her to relinquish the microphone. When she refused, Police Sergeant Fabiola Garcia attempted to forcibly remove the microphone from Jones’ hands.

Quartzsite’s mayor, Ed Foster, who was elected in May 2010 on a platform of fighting corruption, protested the removal and even told the officers that they were violating the rules of order. This was not the first time the mayor and the town council had been at odds. Mr. Foster had recently uncovered a ghost payroll totaling around $250,000 a year, and suspected the town council members themselves were involved with the graft.

Categories
Historic America Photography

Stories in Stone: Sir John Dill

Equestrian monument to British Field Marshal Sir John Greer Dill (1881-1944) in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Sir John Dill fought in the First World War and was promoted field marshal in 1941. However, he did not get along well with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who sent him to Washington, DC as his military representative. This turned out to be a blessing for all involved, as Dill was enormously influential in fostering cooperation between the British and American armed forces in World War Two. He died in November 1944 never witnessing an end to that conflict. The American Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote:

“His character and wisdom, his selfless devotion to the allied cause, made his contribution to the combined British-American war effort of outstanding importance.”

Categories
Historic America Photography

Worthington Farmhouse

The Worthington Farmhouse on Monocacy National Battlefield, 4632 Araby Church Road (Visitor Center) outside Frederick, Maryland. On July 9, 1864, Confederate forces under Brig. Gen. John McCausland crossed the Monocacy River and clashed with Union Brig. Gen. James B. Ricketts’ brigade on the farm of John T. Worthington while Worthington and his frightened family huddled inside their home.

Categories
Mysterious America

Who Murdered John Mason?

The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.

In 1880, the cold-blooded murder of an elderly German-American farmer and shopkeeper named John Mason shocked Coles County residents. Though two suspects were arrested, they were acquitted at trial. To this day, the person or persons responsible for Mason’s death remain a mystery. 

John Mason was born in 1807 in Württemberg, Germany and came to the United States sometime prior to 1840. He married Christena Fogle (1815–1870) and the couple had four children. They lived in Ohio before coming to Coles County sometime in the late 1850s. There his son Henry married Theressa Louisa Raser (spelled Theresa Reasser in the marriage record), daughter of Frederick and Johanna Henryette C. (Henrietta) Raser, recent immigrants from Saxony, Germany, on January 18, 1870.

John’s wife, Christena, died at the age of 54 on February 26, 1870. Three months later, John and 45-year-old Henrietta were wed.

For the next ten years, the couple were prosperous farmers in Seven Hickory Township and owned a grocery store eight miles north of Charleston along the plank road. His property stretched outward from the northwest corner of the intersection of what is today State Highway 130 and County Road 1600N to County Road 1700N.