Saturday, August 15, 2009

Looking inside

All right, I'll admit it. I've always been extremely fascinated by old cemeteries. And we've got some terrific historic cemeteries in the area, most notably the still-active Albany Rural Cemetery just north of the city in Menands. While the cemetery itself was established in the 1840s, a number of graves are old burials that were transferred from overcrowded churchyards and burial grounds in and around the city.

As the cemetery's site notes, it's the final resting place of quite a few historic figures, including a President and a Signer of the Declaration of Independence. There are numerous graves of soldiers ranging from the French & Indian War, the American Revolution, the Civil War, etc.

In addition to the famous and prominent burials, there are also hundreds of lesser-known, but no less interesting people who played their parts in local history and lore. Some of my favorites include Erastus Dow Palmer (a sculptor whose "Angel At The Sepulchre" in the cemetery is my favorite work of art ever), Alfred B. Street (a Civil War era poet who wrote wordy odes to nature), and little Wacheka (a Sioux orphan who was adopted by a group of Albany citizens only to die of tuberculosis).

There's so much to say about the Rural Cemetery that I could easily fill an entire blog (don't give me any ideas!).

And I'll admit I'm often morbidly curious about the interiors of closed mausoleums. Not the ones with lovely open-work gates or thick glass windows showing off polished stone interiors with gorgeous stained glass windows. I love those, too. But it's the vaults that are all forbiddingly and tantalizingly shut up that really get me curious. I always look at them and want to know just what is inside...aside from the obvious.

So, on a visit to the cemetery a few months ago, I let my curiosity get the better of me. I stood on tiptoe, raised my digital camera to a gap above the door of the impressive Burden vault, hoped my hand was steady and my flash bright enough, and clicked.

I was lucky. The photo not only came out clear, it captured the resting place of the vault's two main occupants, wealthy industrialist Henry Burden and his wife, Helen.

Burden gave his name to several local landmarks, most notably a lake near Troy. He was the owner of the massive Burden Iron Works, famous for its enormous water wheel (which is said to have inspired the invention of the Ferris wheel) and for producing the metal plates for the Civil War's ironclad ship, the Monitor.

To read more about Henry Burden, click here.

To read about the Burden Iron Works, click here.

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