More Than Wives of Men

Lydia Ann Ireland, wife of John Ireland. (Mt Hope Cemetery, Rochester, NY. Photo taken October 2017)

The headstone reads:

Lydia Ann
wife of John Ireland
died April 20, 1859
aged 41 years
8 months & 25 days

Friends and physicians could not save
This mortal body from the grave
Nor can the grave confine me here
When Christ doth call me to appear

I’m always drawn to headstones with epitaphs, poems, quotes, pithy sayings. But what strikes me most often when I wander among the dead are the number of women remembered simply as “Wife of.”

Susan V, wife of Wm. J. Stone.

Susan V, wife of Wm J Stone ( (Mt Hope Cemetery, Rochester, NY. Photo taken November 2016)

Elvira, wife of Charles G. Davis.

Elvira, wife of Charles G Davis. (Mt Hope Cemetery, Rochester, NY. Photo taken November 2016)

Pauline, wife of Henry Wick.

Pauline Vick, wife of Henry Vick (Mt Hope Cemetery, Rochester, NY. Photo taken November 2016)

* * * * * * * * * *

The subject of women and identity has been gnawing at me the last few years. Not women’s rights per se, although equality is of course a relevant issue.

I’m talking about identity.

A man commented to me not long ago, speaking about his former sister-in-law, the former wife of his brother, “Why is she still using our last name?” Continue reading


Katherine Jordan: Community Activist, Fierce Advocate, Kind Crusader

The epitaph on the headstone of Katherine Jordan, 1927-1996.

It was in the fall of 2012, around election time, and as I wandered through the cemetery pondering the political climate through the lens of the admonition to “love thy neighbor”, I came across this inscription on the back of a headstone, a quote I later learned is attributed to Frederick Douglass:

“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet renounce controversy are people who want crops without plowing the ground.”

The name on the headstone was Katherine I. Jordan, 1927-1996. It wasn’t a name I recognized, but the epitaph intrigued me. I filed it in my “look into this” folder. And today, I did. Continue reading

Martha Matilda Harper: The Innovator Who Changed the Face of Business and Beauty

Martha Matilda Harper is buried in Riverside Cemetery.

I sit in the chair, my head covered in bits of aluminum foil, the smell of bleach masked by the essential oils in the products being used by the practitioner at the next station.

I’m at the salon to have my gray roots covered. At the last minute, I decided to add some highlights to try and lighten the all over color of my hair. The products at this salon might be plant-based and organic, and bottled in environmentally friendly packaging, but there’s nothing natural about the chemicals used to create my sun-kissed locks.

At the sink, as the stylist readies to wash my hair, I recline back in the chair, rest my neck in the sink indentation, and wonder what Martha Matilda Harper would think. Continue reading

Cornelia Lathrop: The Girl Who Inspired America’s First Church for the Deaf


The grave of Cornelia Lathrop, in Section I, Grave 82, at Mt. Hope Cemetery. Photo taken October 2017.

Up a small rise in Section I in Mt. Hope Cemetery, not far from the road but hidden among the trees, lies the body of a young girl whose Christian faith inspired the establishment of America’s first church for the deaf.

Cornelia Amanda Lathrop was born in Rochester on August 30, 1835, the child of Charles Caldwell and Mary Green Lathrop. It appears that Charles was a saddler, likely in business with his brother, William Edward, on Exchange Street in Rochester.

The Lathrops already had two children when Cornelia was born – a daughter Mary and a son Charles – and by all accounts Cornelia was a healthy new baby particularly sensitive to all kinds of sights and sounds. But by the time she reached the age when children generally begin to talk, it was discovered that Cornelia could not hear, and as a result, probably never would speak.

Charles and Mary Lathrop were a devoutly religious couple – her father, Russell Green, was a local deacon – and when Cornelia was an infant they had her baptized according to the tradition of the Protestant Episcopal Church, renouncing on her behalf the devil, sin, and lusts of the world.

In most Christian faiths, salvation is tied very much to the personal choice adherents believe everyone must make for themselves to begin a relationship with Jesus. So when it became clear to the Lathrops that their daughter was deaf, they were concerned she would never be able to actually hear the gospel message or understand the concepts of sin and eternal salvation. Continue reading

Deer and other living things in the cemetery

I meet a buck while walking at Mt. Hope Cemetery.

I was out for a walk last week at Mt. Hope Cemetery and wandered to the back, where the cemetery meets the campus of the University of Rochester. I don’t normally walk back there when I have a dog with me. It’s a favorite spot for folks to let their dogs run off leash, and I’ve had too many experiences with dogs bounding towards us, owners nowhere to be found, while my dog is one breath away from freaking completely out.

But on that day I was dogless. I had gone to the cemetery to grab a quick snapshot of a headstone to go with a blog post, but the leaves were so beautiful I decided to explore a bit more. I was just about to get in the car and leave when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and turned to see a doe and two juvenile deer walking by.  Around the bend, I found two bucks standing guard, and then I watched the entire herd graze for a while before bounding off. (Well, they bounded. I sauntered.)

Two bucks grazing last week at Mt. Hope Cemetery.

It’s not the first time that I’ve seen deer up close and personal at Mt. Hope. A couple of summers ago I was looking for a fallen headstone and walking with my eyes on the ground. When I looked up, there was a young deer standing about 20 feet in front of me. She froze, I froze, and after we both caught our breath I realized she wasn’t alone. There were at least five more deer within a few yards of my new friend. As I stood still, she went back to munching ivy, and I slowly (very slowly) settled myself on a headstone, pulled out the camera, and started taking photos. Continue reading

The story of Lottie Harcourt, also known as My Lottie

I’d blame Lottie for this cemetery obsession, if she wasn’t a total stranger. And dead.

On the day I met Lottie in the spring of 2012 (“met” being a bit of a euphemism, since she’s dead, after all), Bandit and I had been exploring  a section of Mt. Hope Cemetery that plays host to some impressive obelisks and monuments, each appearing to outdo the other for prominence, much the way the souls who rested beneath may have done in life.

I’d just passed the family plot of the famous suffragist Susan B. Anthony – understated, simple, certainly not the plot you’d expect for a family with such historical significance (more on Susan B. in another post). At the edge of the gravel path the led away from the Anthony plot was a small, white headstone with the words “My Lottie” etched on the front. No dates, no last name, no other information, and no other headstones in close proximity to give any context. There was a monument a few yards away, but nothing to indicate that this little stone was connected to it.

For a few weeks, I’d been exploring the cemetery’s interment records to find information about some other headstones that had piqued my interest while I was walking the dogs, mostly headstones that listed the deaths of numerous children in one family. When you first start walking in a cemetery, you’re likely to notice the children’s graves right away. So many of them, and it’s jarring to see their names and ages listed on the headstones: children who died in infancy; siblings who, within days of each other, succumbed to disease and illness; small stones that simply read “Baby”.

But with that research I had names and dates from the headstones, or at least from other stones in the family plot, as a starting place. It made searching interment records easy. Here? There was nothing. I didn’t really even know if Lottie was a person. I’d seen some small markers on my ramblings that simply read “Pet”. Was Lottie the family dog? Continue reading

Buried Rochester

An interment record book at Riverside Cemetery

As I sit here ready to pen the first post on this new blog, I’m looking at a  pile of folders toppled over across the table and surrounded by scraps of paper with hastily scrawled names and dates. A map of Section I in Mt Hope Cemetery flutters to the floor as my cat Murphy makes himself comfortable amidst the paper chaos. Bailey is snoring softly at my feet, and I can hear Bandit in the other room as he adjusts his dog bed in preparation for a mid-afternoon nap.

It’s a serene, calm, albeit terribly disorganized scene, one I find myself in often. I’m ready to write, I’ve got more than enough research at the ready, but as soon as I put fingers to keyboard my mind starts to wander. I spy the map. Section I? Who’s buried in Section I? I must have had the map out for a reason. I reach for the paper.

And before I know it, I’m off on another rabbit trail, searching census records and interment records and city directories. Several hours later, I’ve got another story idea and another folder filled with notes and I’m no farther along with the writing part of writing.

Because there’s this book, and this (long past) deadline, and this patient publisher, and all of these story drafts scattered around in different blog posts or with photos shared on Facebook or scribbled on scraps of paper and tucked inside books to mark the place where I need to go back and take more notes. And it occurred to me that if I pulled it all together in one place this book might write itself.

Or something even better.

So here I sit, fingers on the keyboard, ready to blog again. With a blog name, a list of stories already mostly written, and a clearer focus than I’ve had in a while.

I’ll write about local history, but this isn’t strictly a local history blog. There are several of those around already, and they already do a great job so there’s no need to reinvent that wheel. (Rochester Subway, where I’ve written, and Exploring Upstate are two of the best.) Instead, I’ll be writing about life and death, intriguing epitaphs and curious grave markers, curious tidbits I stumble upon in old newspapers and interment records, and the final resting places of famous people and everyday people.

Because under every headstone there’s a story waiting to be told.

Read the first post to  learn how my cemetery obsession started:
The story of Lottie Harcourt, also known as My Lottie