Volume 76, Number 11 | August 2 - 8, 2006

Villager photos by Jefferson Siegel

On hand for the July 8 ceremony were Jake Gouverneur of Washington Heights, a great-great-great-great-great-grandson of President James Monroe, and Sarah Cohen of Brooklyn Heights, a great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Monroe.

Monroe’s gone, but not forgotten, on E. Second St.

By Jefferson Siegel

Last month, several dozen people gathered in the spacious, peaceful confines of the Marble Cemetery on Second St. between First and Second Aves. to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the interment there of President James Monroe.

After the death of his wife, Monroe, the nation’s fifth president, came to New York and lived the last year of his life on Prince St. with his daughter and son-in-law, Samuel Gouverneur. Monroe died on July 4, 1831. It was during that year that Marble Cemetery, the city’s second nonsectarian burial ground, was opened. Monroe, who was buried in the Gouverneur vault, was one of the first to be interred there, boosting the cemetery’s prestige.

Ian Fraiser, president of Marble Cemetery’s board of directors, gave a history of the cemetery and introduced speaker John Pearce, director of the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library in Fredericksburg, Va. Pearce offered a vivid history of President Monroe, including his active political life and the fact that he was the only American president to have a city in Africa named after him, Monrovia, in Liberia.

Hendrik Booraem, a historian and author also on the Marble Cemetery board, noted that in addition to his presidency for two terms from 1817-1825, Monroe was minister to France and England.

Three members of the Police Department’s Emerald Society Pipes and Drums Corps marched through the cemetery grounds, the sound of their bagpipes echoing off the far walls. They performed several patriotic numbers, including a medley of George M. Cohan tunes, “Give My Regards to Broadway,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “Over There,” as well as “When the Saints Come Marching in.”

A color guard of members of the State of New York Veteran Corps of Artillery marched to the marker over Monroe’s vault and placed a wreath by it.

On hand for the July 8 ceremony were two Monroe descendents: Jake Gouverneur of Washington Heights, a great-great-great-great-great-grandson of Monroe, and Sarah Cohen of Brooklyn Heights, a great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Monroe.

Marble Cemetery is the oldest public, nonsectarian cemetery in the city, and has 2,060 people interred. Most interments took place between 1830 and 1870. The last was in 1937. All burials are in 156, below-ground vaults made of white Tuckahoe marble. There are no gravestones; vaults are marked with white square slabs embedded in the ground. Most of the markers have faded over time, with some names barely discernable. Plaques mounted on surrounding walls bear the names of original vault owners.

According to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission’s March 4, 1969, designation report, which dubbed the cemetery an official city landmark, in 1857, a group of Virginians living in New York deciding to erect a monument over Monroe’s vault. This move, in turn, prompted the Virginia Legislature to pass a resolution to have the ex-president’s remains returned to Virginia.

The Gouverneur family agreed, and on July 2, 1858, Monroe’s body was removed to the Church of the Annunciation on 14th St., while church bells tolled and every ship in the harbor flew its flag at half mast, the L.P.C. designation report states. It lay there in state for several days and was finally sent by steamer to Virginia, preceded in another ship by its escort, the 7th Regiment. Monroe’s body was reburied at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Va.

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