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Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Humanitarian Stove -- Ronaldson's Philadelphia Cemetery, 1831

This is a sort of "apropos of nothing" post -- a chance encounter while looking for something else.

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James Ronaldson died at Philadelphia, March 31st, 1841, aged upwards of sixty years. He was a native of Scotland, and one of the largest type-founders in the United States, and a great horticulturist. The beautiful cemetery bearing his name was established by him. He was an upright, frugal, and honest man, a sincere friend of Andrew Jackson, and a lover of his adopted country. He was never married.
Mr. Ronaldson's Cemetery was laid out in 1831. It is situated between Ninth and Tenth Streets, in the southwest section of the city, and he deserves respect for his memory, and much credit as the pioneer in this laudable enterprise. He laid out this cemetery on a square belonging to himself, several years before that of Laurel Hill was commenced, and it now contains a large number of splendid tombs, with appropriate trees, and adorned with flowers and shrubbery. In speaking of his original plan, he said, " he wanted to erect within the inclosure of the Philadelphia Cemetery a dwellinghouse for the keeper or gravedigger on one side of the gate, and on the other side, a house uniform with the gravedigger's; this house to have a room, provided with a stove, couch, &c., into which persons dying suddenly might be laid, and the string of a bell put into their hand, so that if there should be any motion of returning life, the alarm bell might be rung, the keeper alarmed, and medical help procured."

[Source: Henry Simpson, The Lives of Eminent Philadelphians, Now Deceased  (Philadelphia: William Brotherhead, 1859), p. 849, http://books.google.com/books?id=8dcDAAAAYAAJ.]

C19th Americans (and British, and maybe others too) were terrified by the prospect of being buried alive -- a more reasonable fear then than it would be now -- so there were quite a few patents for e.g. coffins with alarm bells to be rung by the occupants.  But Ronaldson's idea of a cosy, stove-heated chapel of rest is not one I've come across before.

The same sort of "search procedure" that produced this nugget -- i.e. when I'm reading an old book I almost always look for stove references -- found this other one, too: I was checking out early C19th guides to Cincinnati, which became one of the major stove-making centers in the Mid-West, and the only one I could find in an 1826 guide was to a stove in the possession of the Humane Society, whose purpose was fishing people out  of the Ohio and resuscitating them.  The equipment in its rescue boats included "a moveable bed, with a stove for heating it."  But that stove could just have been like a foot-stove, in which case it wouldn't really count.

[Source: Benjamin Drake & Edward D. Mansfield, Cincinnati in 1826 (Cincinnati: Morgan, Lodge, & Fisher, 1827), p.36, http://books.google.com/books?id=7EebuFGjlwQC]

1 comment:

  1. Greetings from Philadelphia. Came across your post as I searched for info about Ronaldson Cemetery here in Philadelphia. Had not heard of or about it despite living in the City for many years. It is mentioned in a book I'm reading - Colonial Ironwork in Old Philadelphia - wherein a sample of the iron gate and fence are featured.
    The property once dedicated by Mr Ronaldson is now a 2 block square ball field, playground and community center. There are no signs or attributions to the generosity of Mr Ronaldson.
    Thank you for posting your 'apropos of nothing' - it was something for me!
    Cordial regards from Philadelphia,
    DD

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