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Here Lies Duncan Phyfe  

10/21/2015

Duncan Phyfe is probably the most famous of all American furniture makers. Working out of shops and warehouses on the west side of Manhattan he initially became famous making furniture for New York's upper middle class and rich, and then as his business grew, he became known nationwide and his furniture was shipped all over the United States and the Americas. The style he developed, an outgrowth of Federalist style perfectly reflected the growing wealth and importance of America in the first half of the nineteenth century. Rich, luxurious, but not ostentatious. He died in 1854 and after a short stay in Marble Cemetery in Manhattan he was reinterred across the harbor in Brooklyn in the very fashionable Green-Wood Cemetery. Only a few blocks from my office. Green-Wood Cemetery was established in 1838 and is now the final resting place of almost a half a million New Yorkers. An important concept in 19th century cemeteries was to make the place attractive, both as a nice place for the residents, and to encourage family visits to keep the deceased as part of the family circle. So the cemetery is landscaped, with hills, lakes, walks, and open space. Many of the memorials, headstones, and mausoleums are of great beauty and imagination. It is now a National Historic Site. It is still a working cemetery. Open to the public, you are encouraged one to wander around and take in the sites. It's a fabulous open air museum of 19th century art and design.

Phyfe, who was quite famous in his time, sadly is not part of the list of 22 famous people (Leonard Bernstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Boss Tweed to name a few) who are buried there and listed on the cemetery map. And he is no longer famous enough, or has enough visitors to warrant instant directions by the staff over where his tomb is located. But he is listed in the directory (there are two Duncan Phyfes he's the one who was buried in 1855).
The cemetery is also the site of a big revolutionary battle and on Battle Hill, there is a large Civil War Monument. Hundreds if not thousands of Civil War casualties are buried at various places around the cemetery with most of the graves are just marked with a simple tombstone, the name, unit, and year of death.

Phyfe's mausoleum is in section 78, at about the middle of the entire cemetery. In a dark, not well maintained area, the mausoleum has nothing on it to remind us that here lies one of the great cabinetmakers of all time. The design of the mausoleum itself is exactly the sort of thing that I cannot imagine Phyfe would like. Squat, forbidding, and plain, it has nothing of the elements of design that made the reputation of the man. His wife is buried with him, although neither has their names and dates recorded on the tomb. In front of the mausoleum are headstones memorializing members of the Whitlock family, whose Phyfe's daughter Mary married into.

I have also included several views of the cemetery, including several tombs that I thought were particularly wonderful, and a wooden back gate that is a great example of post - civil war architectural woodworking.

Should you visit our showroom, and we now have Saturday hours too, The cemetery 35th street entrance is just a few blocks away. It's well worth a look around, especially as the leave change in the fall.




Tags:Historical Subjects
Comments: 3
10/21/2015Jack Ervin 
Joel,
I am including links to Duncan Phyfe and Rachel Lozada Phyfe (wife of Duncan) on Find A Grave. There is quiet a bit of family history and links to other family members there.
http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=808

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=44671644

Jack
10/22/2015joseph curran 
What can one say about a cemetery. I used to work at an old one in Denver. Marvelous place. You are right about the beauty of these places. I was lucky enough to be part of the grounds crew and was fascinated by the incredible architecture and design of the monuments, mausoleums and headstones. I would have paid them to work there. Great source of inspiration. Thanks
10/24/2015Jeff Polaski 
Green Haven Cemetery was built indeed during the heyday of the "garden" cemeteries where family and friends could make a day of it, bring a basket lunch and picnic with their departed. The specific style is called "The Monumental Style" and they certainly are monuments. In Philadelphia, the preeminent cemetery is Laural Hill, and my wife and I are, uh, premature members. We have a plot just a cannonball's throw away from General George Meade with a great view of the River. Every December 31 we celebrate his birthday; a stout iron fence was erected to keep the more lively celebrants from overimbibing and winding up in the river.
We did not, however, have a chance to attend the Gravediggers' Ball, held just last evening.
http://www.thelaurelhillcemetery.org/uploads/2015%20Program%20Brochure%20.pdf
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The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.
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