Rochester at Mount Hope, Pt. 1: Adelaide Crapsey, Algernon Crapsey, Edward Crone, Lillian Wald

By Steven Huff

Mount Hope Cemetery is one of the most underappreciated historic spots in Upstate New York, an incredible microcosm of American history. Founded in 1838, it is listed in the U. S. National Register of Historic Places. In addition to the literary people in this chapter, here lie Hiram Sibley, founder of Western Union; Buffalo Bill’s children who died of fever while living in Rochester, as well as his foster son Johnny Baker; William Warfield, concert bass-baritone and actor; Frank Gannett, founder of the Gannett newspaper chain; Myron Holley, one of the principal builders of the Erie Canal; and the pioneering Nathanial Rochester, for whom the city was named. For a full list, it is worth going to the official website of Mount Hope Cemetery. Its 196 forested acres make one of the loveliest urban walks in New York State, with more miles of paths than you can likely walk in a single day. On a weekday, there may be so few people there that it will seem like you have the place to yourself.

Certainly the two most visited graves are of Susan B. Anthony (see Rochester at Mount Hope Part 2 for her contributions as an author) immortal as a fighter for women’s suffrage; and Frederick Douglass (see also Rochester at Mount Hope Part 2 for his The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, American Slave and other titles), immortal as abolitionist, social reformer and statesman.

The cemetery is divided into numbered or lettered ranges. As of this writing the street-name sign posts in the cemetery are weather worn, and often illegible. But, the directions herein will get you to the sites. This part of Rochester has changed dramatically in a few years. The old Wegman’s store is gone, as is the hardware on the corner of Mount Hope Avenue and Elmwood. Strong Hospital (University of Rochester) has expanded and altered the landscape south of the cemetery. College Town, as it is called, is a plaza of stores and restaurants. The intersection of Elmwood Avenue and Mount Hope is sometimes furiously busy, and traffic in general raise a ruckus, all of which make these peaceful, shady acres a haven to the walker and history seeker.

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Adelaide Crapsey

Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914) Inventor of the Cinquain Stanza

It has been suggested that the famous heresy trial that the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York brought against the Rev. Algernon Crapsey, rector of St. Andrews Church in Rochester, hastened the death of his daughter Adelaide since she was reportedly distraught over her father being defrocked. In his trial, held at St. James Church in Batavia, New York, which was sensational news across the nation (what, heresy, in this day and age?), he was charged with preaching far afield of church doctrine, such as that the virgin birth of Jesus and his resurrection were fable, and that Christians ought to disregard those stories and follow his teaching. Certainly, the ridiculous medieval trial was hard on her. She was the only member of her family to attend it.

But I think that it is unlikely that the trial was responsible for Adelaide Crapsey’s decline. Algernon was convicted in 1906. Adelaide’s tuberculosis appeared in 1908, and that was after accompanying her father to a peace conference in the Hague, followed by a walking tour of Wales. She died in 1914, after extended time in a sanitarium in Saratoga Springs. In fact, her illness progressed so slowly that she began to think it a misdiagnosis; she went ahead and finished college and took a teaching post at Smith College, until the disease became undeniable. Tuberculosis was all too common, and it was a virtual death sentence. But it was during her time in the sanitarium that some of her strongest verse was written.

crapsey verse

Adelaide was a powerful poet, and inventor of the now well-known cinquain five-line form of 22 syllables, influenced by the Japanese haiku and tanka forms. However she did not live to see them published, although her friend Jean Webster, grand-niece of Mark Twain, submitted poems for her when she did not have the strength herself, and just weeks before she died a few were accepted by Century Magazine. Rejections are disheartening to any struggling poet, and Crapsey had her share, but she seems not to have let those disappointments discourage her. When her family realized the trove she had left behind, they showed it to the famous architect-mystic Claude Bragdon, who lived in Rochester. He was impressed and published them with his own imprint, Mana Press. Her book was titled simply Verse.  This was followed by A Study in English Metrics (1918), her book on prosody.

The scholar who has written most extensively about Crapsey, is Karen Alkalay-Gut who herself grew up in Rochester, and now teaches in Tel Aviv. Alkalay-Gut says that when death was approaching, when the seriousness of her disease could no longer be denied, she wove her shroud in the form of a poem:

Song

I make my shroud but no one knows,

So shimmering fine it is and fair,

With Stitches set in even rows.

I make my shroud but no one knows.

 

In door-way where the lilac-blows,

Humming a little wandering air,

I make my shroud and no one knows,

So shimmering fine it is and fair.

 

To my eye, and to my body and soul, her strongest poems are her cinquains—which, according to Alkalay-Gut is the only original formed created by an American poet. In her poem, “Amaze,” she is already becoming estranged from her dying body. Her use of line-breaks for commas, or “half-commas,” is a style far ahead of her time.  She was certainly one of the most original poets of her time, when the Modernists were just learning to type.

 

I know

Not these my hands

And yet I think there was

A woman like me once had hands

Like these.

 

Finding the Grave: see Algernon Crapsey below

Principal Sources:

The most essential scholarship on Adelaide Crapsey, is from Karen Alkalay-Gut, “The Dying of Adelaide Crapsey.” Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 13, No. 2 (July, 1986), pp. 225-250, and her biography, Alone in the Dawn: The Life of Adelaide Crapsey. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press 1988. Print.

 

algernon crapsey
Rev. Algernon Crapsey

Algernon Crapsey (1847-1927) The last heretic

He was more than an Episcopalian minister. In 1879, after serving as assistant minister at St. Paul’s Chapel of Trinity Church, New York City, he came to Rochester to serve as rector of St. Andrew’s Church, where he remained for 28 years. Rev. Algernon Crapsey was also one of Rochester’s public intellectuals. For example, in 1896 he gave a series of lectures –at the YMCA and the Chamber of Commerce—on mythology and the personification of phenomena. That Rochester’s evening newspaper The Union and Advertiser covered them and offered a summary of his comments attests that his scholarship was generally admired. He was a friend and colleague of Social Gospel theologian Walter Rauschenbusch of Colgate Divinity School in Rochester.

He was also getting himself in trouble, and as mentioned above in the paragraphs on his daughter, he ran afoul of the Episcopal Diocese for his liberal interpretation of scripture and insistence that such doctrines as the Trinity and virgin birth be reconsidered, and that the church should function as an agency for social reform. In 1906, he was brought to trial in Batavia, much as a criminal trial is often moved today to avoid local opinion from influencing the proceedings. His conviction and defrocking stunned the Christian world.

But he went on lecturing and writing, his most significant work after his trial being, The Last of the Heretics (1924), which is, of course, his version of the truth.

algernon book

Finding the Graves:

From the main gate, turn left on Fifth Avenue (yes, this is the real name of the road), and go all the way to the south fence and turn right on South Ave. The corner lawn is Range 1. continue on South Avenue; after you pass the next intersection, Range 2 will be on your right.  About 150 feet ahead on your right you will see a prominent stone for Jennings McCord; a little before it and to the right is a small plain marble cross for the Crapsey family plot. There are three rows of modest individual stones for the family. Algernon is in the first row next to his wife (also named Adelaide), and their daughter Adelaide the poet is in the third row with her siblings.

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The Monument at the Crapsey family plot
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Daughter Adelaide Crapsey
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Foot stones for Algernon Crapsey and his wife Adelaide

Principal Source

Anon. “Crapsey, Algernon Sidney.”  An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church. The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, The Episcopal Church. www.episcopalchurch.org/library/glossary/crapsey-algernon-sidney.  2018. Web.

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Democrat & Chronicle article announcing the death of Edward Crone and 3 others in 1945

 

Edward R. Crone, Jr. (1923-1945) The Real Billy Pilgrim

All of the grave sites in this blog belong to authors—save one. The grave of Edward R. Crone is included here because, although he was not a writer, his contribution to American literature is undeniable. He was not aware of it, however. He graduated from Brighton High School in 1941, seven years after another literary light in the same school, Shirley Jackson–but that is a story for another day. The following December the US entered World War II, and Crone was drafted and served with the 106th Infantry, was captured in Belgium and was a prisoner of war in Dresden. He survived the dreadful allied bombing raids that destroyed the city, but died almost two months later, according to some sources, of starvation and a broken heart. But one of his fellow prisoners was the future novelist Kurt Vonnegut, and Crone became the model for the character Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five.

In 1995 Vonnegut was invited to Rochester for the Rochester Arts & Lecture Series by the two women who ran the series, Susan Feinstein and Rosemary Mancini. During his stay, they told him that Crone was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, and asked if he would like to visit the grave. Mancini, now Rev. Rosemary Lloyd at the First Church in Boston, related in a sermon Vonnegut’s startled reaction, “But he’s in Dresden. I saw him buried myself—in a paper suit—because there wasn’t enough fabric to bury him in a suit of clothes.” They told him that they’d learned from a local reporter that the Crone family had gone to Germany after the war, had their son disinterred, and brought him home to Rochester for reburial in the family plot.

Rev. Lloyd wrote, “So we drove to the cemetery and left Mr. Vonnegut at the gravesite for a private cigarette and talk with Ed. Walking back to the car he said, heavily, ‘Well, that closes the book on WWII for me’.” That evening, she said, “He waxed about life and meaning and absurdity. Musing about his own eventual death, he said he hoped that when he died people would look up to the sky and say, ‘Well, I guess he’s in heaven now….’

I like to think that [Vonnegut] is up there shooting craps with Billy Pilgrim, and telling old stories.”

Finding the Grave

crone

This one is easy. From the Main Gate, make a left, and turn right at the first intersection. The Crone family plot is just a few paces on the left.

Principal Sources:

Lloyd, Rev. Rosemary. “A Dream of Peace,” a sermon given at the First Church in Boston, April 15, 2007; Meaghan M. McDermott, “On This Day in Rochester History. Oct. 26: Edward R. Crone Was Born in 1923.” Democrat & Chronicle, Rochester, NY. 10/23/2013. Web

Portrait_of_Lillian_Wald

Lillian D. Wald (1867-1940) Friend of the Poor

She was a pioneer of the modern urban settlement movement, organizer of the Visiting Nurse Service in New York City, the first non-sectarian one in the world, as well as a force behind numerous social reforms. Lillian Wald’s famous Henry Street Settlement, founded in 1893, was a haven for the homeless, indigent, and just-plain poor with all the maladies born of hunger. But a few came to her in search of political sanctuary, such as Madame Catherine Breshkovsky, later known as the Grandmother of the Russian Revolution; and Marie Sukloff who in 1914 assassinated Russian Governor General Fyodor Dubasov for leading bloody pogroms against Jews.

Lillian Wald was born in Cincinnati in 1867, and grew up in comfortable middle-class circumstances in Rochester, where she was schooled at Miss Crittenden’s English and French Boarding School for Young Ladies. Here first “ah-hah!” moment (as Joseph Campbell might put it) came when a Bellevue-trained nurse came to care for her ailing sister. Thus inspired, she entered New York Hospital, graduating in 1891. Shortly after she was led by a terrified child to a miserable tenant room where a critically ill woman had just suffered a hemorrhage. This might be called her second and greater “Ah-hah,” since from this experience –and the terrible need she saw in grim, smoky and filthy East Side tenements—where the poor had no access to medical care, or even parks to go to— grew all that she established in her long career in the service of the poor. Enlisting the help of another nurse, Mary Brewster, the Henry Street Settlement was founded. This place of light also blossomed into the Visiting Nurse Service, and educational outreach to homes and schools.

wald book

Her first book, The House on Henry Street (1915) requires a bold heart to read, with its descriptions of the most debased and brutal living conditions that she encountered in the slums of New York’s lower east side. This was followed in 1934 by Windows on Henry Street, written during her long final illness. Both books are now considered classics in their genre. She took a stand as a pacifist during WWI, which earned her public rebukes. But, in retrospect, she was right. That war proved nothing by sending millions of people into its meat-grinder to satisfy the vanity of kings and military strongmen, and fill the pockets of munitions manufacturers.

But even while bucking the system she had visits from influential friends, including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, President Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and even Albert Einstein. On her seventieth birthday she was feted at a celebration in New York City, at which messages streamed in from FDR and Eleanor, New York Governor Lehman and New York City Mayor LaGuardia.

After her death, Mayor LaGuardia said, according to the Social Service Review,“It is comforting to us who knew and loved her that she lived to see the full realization of her plans and dreams. The idea of home nursing has developed into great public health services in every city of the country. Her dream of proper housing for all of the people is now shaping itself into low-cost housing all over the country. Her wish for parks and playgrounds she lived to see fulfilled in her city.”

The Henry Street Settlement is still going strong with far reaching programs for the poor and for its community. Its elaborate website stands in marked contrast to Wald’s humble grave site in Rochester.

Lillian Wald
Photo by Keith McManus

Finding the Grave

From the main entrance, turn right, and make the first left onto Grove Avenue. After crossing the intersections with Second, First, and Greentree Avenues, you will have Range 3 on your left, and you will find the Wald family plot near the path, directly across from the Carl F. Lomb mausoleum. I found Lillian’s grave to be charmingly well-kept with plantings.

Principal Sources: On Lillian Wald Anon. Social Service Review, Vol. 14, No. 4,  pp. 755-757; Published by: The University of Chicago Press, web, Dec. 1940; “Lillian Wald Dies; Friend of the Poor,” New York Times obituary, Sept. 2, 1940; Text and cemetery photos copyright 2018 by Steven Huff; Photo of Lillian Wald grave copyright 2017 by Keith McManus