Thursday, April 21, 2011

Visiting the notables in Princeton

This past weekend was bookended with the birth and death of our 22nd and 24th president, Stephen Grover Cleveland. Conveniently, he's buried about an hour away from Caldwell, in what's known as "the Westminster Abbey of the United States," the Princeton Cemetery.

The smallest of several memorials clustered around
John Witherspoon's grave.
Since being established by the Nassau Presbyterian Church in 1757, the Princeton Cemetery has become the final resting place of many of the town's and university's notable personages, regardless of faith. In fact, a healthy number of Stars of David, Sanskrit symbols and other markings are visible among all of the crosses of many Christian denominations. Cleveland gained his Princeton credentials after his second presidential term, when he retired to the community and became a University trustee. He's buried not far from the University Presidents' Plot, which itself is the final resting place of such notables as Aaron Burr Sr. and John Witherspoon, who both led the school in the 1700s.

The Cleveland plot
Visitors to Cleveland's burial plot are left with the impression that he's not soon to be forgotten. First, his grave still held a memorial wreath placed there by a military honor guard on his birthday, March 18. And given the shell leis draped over his headstone, it's clear that the Hawaiian monarchists make the cemetery one of their stops on their annual New Jersey pilgrimage. They've also thoughtfully left leis for his wife Frances and their child Ruth, who is said to have been the inspiration for the name of the Baby Ruth candy bar though she died in childhood, long before the product was marketed. Both are also buried in the family plot.

Paul Tulane seemingly thought
a lot of himself, as evidenced here.
A few steps away from the Clevelands is a memorial whose placement has caused a fair bit of conjecture. Paul Tulane was a native New Jerseyan, merchant and philanthropist who also had a special interest in the city of New Orleans. As the story goes, Tulane offered a significant donation to Princeton University in 1882, with the condition that the school should be renamed in his honor. When the trustees balked, he instead gave over $300,000 to the Medical College of Louisiana, which subsequently became Tulane University. Allegedly he developed a grudge against Princeton, and ordered that when he died, his memorial gravestone should stand with its back facing Nassau Hall. Indeed it does, but there appears to be no rhyme or reason to why graves in that part of the cemetery are oriented as they are, and there's no uniformity to their directions. I'll give him this, though: it's one of the largest and grandest stones in the lot, so if he was making a statement, he wasn't messing around.

And finally, for those who need a little humor in their graveyards, here's one from a more obscure Princeton resident. I wonder: did his family consider him to be a bit of a hypochondriac?

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