The Holding Tomb

Referred to in old city documents as the City Tomb, the strange structure built into a hill at Oak Grove Cemetery near the entrance is more recently called the holding tomb.  There are two similar structures in the cemetery, the other being only slightly east of the Borden-Almy plot.  The purpose of these tombs was to provide a place in winter where coffins could be stored until the ground thawed enough for a grave to be dug.  There were also other circumstances when a coffin could not be immediately buried, either because of a dispute as to plot ownership, police matters which might require further investigation, or a delayed burial for legal reasons. Early regulations going back to 1856 define time limits for how long a body was allowed to remain in the holding tomb, the shortest of ten days being in the summer months. Except by order of the mayor, the deceased was required to be a citizen of Fall River to be held in the City Tomb.

Today the holding tomb contains gasoline for the lawn equipment and is locked, its former use no longer required.  The descent into the holding bays is steep.  There are four bays on each side of the underground vault, each capable of holding three coffins on tiered shelves inside the bays.

(photo, Ginny Lahman)

Notably, Andrew and Abby Borden spent a week awaiting their full autopsy (done on August 11th in the Ladies’ Comfort Station near the front gate) inside the structure with heads intact, and nearly another week, thanks to Dr. Dolan, with heads removed in the holding tomb before burial at last in the family plot. Even in hot weather, the temperature deep inside the holding tomb remains very cool.

(photo, Ginny Lahman)

(photo, Ginny Lahman)

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The Borden Monument

The Borden Monument

By Shelley Dziedzic (all rights reserved, February 2012)

 

Click on the photo above to use the ZOOM tool for enlargement

Not surprisingly the Borden plot is the most visited site in Oak Grove Cemetery.  On the day of the funeral of Abby and Andrew Borden, only grass and many trees surrounded the open graves lined with pine branches.  Of course the Bordens were not buried on the date of their joint funeral, August 6, 1892, but instead lingered in a holding tomb at the cemetery awaiting a full autopsy on August 11th and burial at last on August 17th.  It would not be until January 1895 that the stately Westerly blue granite monument would be set in place, along with the rectangular headstones bearing the initials of the victims.

With Fall River being famous for granite, especially rose granite, one wonders why Emma and Lizzie Borden did not shop for a fitting monument in their own home town.  The fact was that Smith’s Granite Company of Westerly, Rhode Island was the most prestigious monument supplier of its day, with offices in many major American cities.  Providence would have been the nearest branch to Fall River. Smith’s could claim orders from all of the finest old families as well as being in demand to supply important statues and civic monuments and memorial stones across the country. Emma and Lizzie chose the very best to mark the site of their eternal rest.

Postcard dated 1903 of Smith’s granite quarry

The stone was ordered on July 2, 1894, almost two years from the date of the burial of Abby and Andrew Borden.  The stone is nine feet in height and is divided into five separate segments.  The cost of the labor and materials is carefully noted in the order book, and the date of each stage of the work is listed when completed at the top of the page by stone numbers 1-5.  The stone was crated and shipped by rail on January 4, 1895. The base is Stone #1, #2 is the section containing A.J. Borden in raised and polished letters, #3 is the panel stone where names and dates are inscribed, #4 is the most intricately carved by master carver, Mr. L. Galli  who was paid $230.79 and #5 is the cap stone.  At the bottom of the page appears the order for the small headstones.  There are four of them with the lettering and polishing done by William Drew and J.F. Murphy.  The four are AJB,(Andrew Jackson Borden) ADB, (Abby Durfee Borden) SAB (Sarah Anthony Borden) and the full name Alice, the sister who died very young.  No doubt the matching headstones of Lizzie and Emma were added at a much later date, and also the inscription on the panel of the main marker added in 1927 or later.

It is interesting to note on this order sheet that the panel engraving had to be done twice due to an error.  Many have remarked that there is an “S” added to Lizzie’s name and wondered if this was an order left by Lizzie to be completed after her death or merely an error on the part of the carver, who may have thought Andrews was a surname and that Andrew was an unlikely middle name for a woman.  Lizzie had, herself, opted to change her name unofficially to Lizbeth, but is not known to have added an “S” to her middle name of Andrew.

It is unknown exactly when the names of Emma and Lizzie, and their dates of birth and death were added to the panel, or whether either sister ever actually saw the panel with their names on it.  It is not uncommon to have names and dates of birth engraved on a stone while the person is still alive, with the death date added after the fact.  This may or may not have been done at the time of the creation of this monument. As particular as Lizzie was known to be, it would be easy to make the case that she never saw the panel in life to catch the error.

Newspapers printed that on the day of the stone’s installation, Lizzie and Emma went out to inspect the work.  It was reported that Lizzie only gave a cursory glance and then went back to her carriage.  Emma is said to have made a careful inspection.  The cost today of the stock and labor for this monument would be many times the figure on this work order.

A list of artisans who worked on the Borden monument:

Pat Holliday, Jas. Brown, Mike Burke, Jas. Dower, Tom Holliday, George Rae, P. Craddick, F. Polletti, J.D. Craddick, Joe Frasier, L. Galli, Dan Kelleher, James Blake, Ira Norman, George Dunn, William Frances, Frank Roads, John Moore, J.F. Murphy and William Drew.

  • Alexander Lawson, a Scottish-born stone carver from Aberdeen, who immigrated in the great Scottish wave which came to America,  lived and worked in Westerly, Rhode Island before moving to Fall River to open his own granite works and monument business on Prospect Street just outside the gates of Oak Grove Cemetery.  The family lived on Robeson Street for many years.  The business was inherited by Frederick Lawson, Alexander’s son and prospered for many years. Alexander Lawson is credited with the carving of the 1873 entry arch at Oak Grove.

The diagram and details for this article were furnished by the Smith-Babcock House Museum on Granite Street in Westerly, R.I. The diagram is reproduced with permission.  Additional information on Smith’s and the granite industry in Westerly may be found in the excellent publication, Built From Stone: The Westerly Granite Story by Linda Smith Chafee, John B. Coduri, and Dr. Ellen L. Madison. Copies may be purchased at Other Tiger Bookstore on High Street in Westerly or at this link http://www.builtfromstone.com/

Visit the Smith-Babcock House Museum, which is the premier repository of archived materials relating to the granite industry in Westerly. http://www.babcock-smithhouse.com/

Oak Grove Facebook Quiz Tonight!

 

Need more excitement in your life?  Nothing good on T.V.?

Tune in tonight,( September 15th) at 10 p.m. for the first ever (but not the last) So you think you know Oak Grove Cemetery? Jeopardy-style online quiz.

Questions and photo identifications will be posted in rapid fire, each going up after the previous one has been correctly answered.  There will be one winner, with difficult brainbusters in case of a tie. Join us at Friends of Oak Grove Fall River tonight. A prize will be awarded to the winner- and the competition will be fierce! How well do YOU know Oak Grove?

The Ivy Arch

There are several postcards of Oak Grove, made during the golden age of postcards from 1900-1920 when every prominent beauty spot and building or structure was fodder for the photographer’s camera. A penny postcard was the way to keep in touch with friends and family while traveling or on vacation and there are hundreds postcards of Fall River scenes available on Ebay and through dealers in ephemera.

The postcard above was postdated 1910 and shows ivy-covered walls and archway at Oak Grove. The ivy obscures the magnificent iron work of the gates as well as the inscription.  There is a photograph of Oak Grove taken in 1890 which also shows the ivy growing on the gates, so it is likely this is how the Prospect Street entry looked at the time of the Borden funeral on August 6, 1892.

Below are two cards with no dates, showing the arch with and without ivy.  All postcards shown here were purchased on Ebay. 

Arch today: 

The Kelly/Hart Connection

Lydia and Abraham Hart gravestones

Banker, Abraham Hart, was one of the last people to see Andrew Borden alive on the morning of August 4th 1892 when Andrew stopped by the bank near City Hall.  Mr. Hart would later tell police that Mr. Borden looked weak and feeble that morning.  The Bordens had been suffering from an unknown illness since Tuesday evening after supper.  Abraham Hart would also be one of the Borden pallbearers on the morning of Saturday, August 6th at the short service at #92 Second Street and procession to Oak Grove Cemetery.

Dr. Michael Kelly, the Borden’s next door neighbor to the south was away on August 4th but Dr. Kelly’s wife, Mary Caroline Cantwell Kelly was the last (but one) to see Andrew Borden alive as he entered his front door moments before his murder.  Mrs. Kelly was expecting a baby at the time and was on her way to the dentist.  Mrs. Kelly’s second child, Mary Philomena married the grandson of Abraham Hart, Bertrand K. Hart.  Both are buried in the Gifford/Hart plot at Oak Grove, directly across the path from the Rev. Augustus Buck, Lizzie’s minister and champion throughout her ordeal.  All are together for eternity in a fascinating entertwining of personalities who had Lizzie Borden in common.

Bertrand and Philomena Kelly Hart

The Rev. Augustus Buck of the Central Congregational Church