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Stacy Conradt

Paul Revere

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Stacy Conradt

For years, every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like cemeteries to boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles (cemetery and/or tombstone enthusiasts) out there, I’m finally putting my photo library of interesting tombstones to good use.

Listen my children, and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere. You probably know that the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem is catchy, but historically inaccurate. But here are a few things you may not know.

Mr. Revere almost certainly never shouted the line famously attributed to him: “The British are coming! The British are coming!” Because there were Redcoats stationed everywhere, and because many colonists were sympathizers, blatantly announcing the arrival of the Brits in such a manner could have been a fatal mistake, and at the very least would have compromised the mission. Additionally, most colonists still thought of themselves as British, so to say "The British are coming!" wouldn't have been terribly clear. "The Regulars are coming out" is how he actually announced the impending arrival to villagers.

Another misconception: Although the silversmith is hailed as the hero of this story, he wasn’t the only man to ride through towns warning people—in fact, he wasn’t even the most successful one.

The original plan was for Revere and William Dawes to get news of the invasion to Concord, where military supplies were stored, and also warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams, who had been targeted for capture. To get to them, the pair rode across Somerville, Medford, and Arlington, warning patriots as they passed through. In Lexington, they came across Samuel Prescott, a doctor who was probably coming home from a booty call. (At least, that’s how the history books paint the late-night encounter when they say he was “returning from a lady friend’s house at the awkward hour of 1 a.m.”) Prescott joined them in their quest.

About three miles into the six-mile ride to Concord, the trio was intercepted by Redcoats. Dawes and Prescott managed to get away, while Revere was captured and interrogated. Redcoats threatened several times to “blow [his] brains out,” which is something you don’t learn during this unit in elementary school. They eventually took his horse and abandoned him in the middle of road. He was able to walk to town to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams, but Prescott is the real hero—he was the only one who made it all the way to Concord.

So why did Revere get all the credit? First of all, he was the most famous, even then. Secondly, Longfellow’s 1863 poem, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” cemented that fame. Historians have joked that the only reason it wasn’t “The Midnight Ride of William Dawes” is because “Revere” was easier to rhyme.

After the war, Revere tried his hand in the Massachusetts militia before turning to silversmithing and ironworking, which, as you might know, he did pretty well at. By 1792 he was one of the best bell-casters in America, which gave Paul Revere & Sons foundry a steady line of work. The company moved into rolled copper production in 1801—in fact, the Revere Copper Company was hired to cover the original dome of the Massachusetts State House.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

On May 10, 1818, Revere died at the ripe old age of 83. He was buried at the Granary Burying Ground on Tremont Street in Boston, which is also the final resting place of Sam Adams, John Hancock, and five of the Boston Massacre victims.

Upon his death, The Boston Intelligence wrote, “Seldom has the tomb closed upon a life so honorable and useful.” Since then, we’ve honored one of our most famous patriots by not only naming a pizza chain after him, but also a 1960s American band that emulated the sound of the British Invasion. Let’s hope Revere had a sense of humor.

See all entries in our Grave Sightings series here.

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History
Grave Sightings: Alexander Hamilton
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Stacy Conradt

Every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like expanses to overgrown boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles out there, I’m finally putting my archive of interesting tombstones to good use.

Two hundred and thirteen years ago, a lifetime of political slights and injuries came to a head when Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr dueled in Weehawken, New Jersey, on July 11, 1804. Thanks to that catchy little Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, you probably know how the story ends: Burr fired a single bullet that killed Hamilton and his own political career all in one fell swoop.

Burr made himself scarce for years after the infamous incident, fleeing the country for various locations in Europe before settling back in the U.S. under an assumed name. (In addition to killing Hamilton, Burr also had a pesky treason charge hanging over his head.) Hamilton, however, has been pretty easy to find: For more than two centuries, he's been resting at the Trinity Church cemetery at Broadway and Wall Street in Manhattan. And George Washington's right-hand man had quite a few visitors—especially the day of his funeral.

The ornate entrance to a Gothic church, with a wrought-iron fence and old gravestones in the foreground.
Stacy Conradt

The final farewell to Hamilton was extremely well attended; it probably helped that New York City declared July 14 a city-wide day of mourning. During the funeral procession from Angelica and John Church’s house (on what is now Park Place) to Trinity Church, “the sidewalks were congested with tearful spectators, and onlookers stared down from every rooftop,” wrote Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow. “There were no hysterical outbursts, only a shocked hush that deepened the gravity of the situation.”

After a eulogy delivered by Gouverneur Morris, Hamilton’s friend and the author of the preamble to the Constitution, Hamilton was laid to rest—but not beneath the grand grave marker that denotes his final resting place now. The large tomb, topped with an urn at each corner and an obelisk in the middle, was donated in 1806 by the Society of the Cincinnati, a Revolutionary War fraternal group of which Hamilton was President General.

It seems obelisks were a common theme for memorializing Hamilton. Another organization Hamilton belonged to, the Saint Andrew’s Society, had a 14-foot marble obelisk [PDF] with a flaming urn erected at the spot where Hamilton fell. Sadly, the monument was repeatedly vandalized, including by souvenir hunters chipping away pieces to add to their collections. By 1820, it was completely gone except for a plaque. The plaque ended up at a junk store before it was eventually donated to the New-York Historical Society.

Just as the cenotaph at the duel site slowly faded away, so did the mourners who paid their respects at Hamilton’s grave site. Visitors likely picked up again after Eliza Hamilton died in 1854, but aside from that, their plot at the Trinity Church cemetery was much quieter before the Broadway hit.

The flat, rectangular white marble gravestone of Eliza Hamilton, inscribed with her name, relationships, birthday and deathday. Pennies have been strewn across the stone.
Stacy Conradt

But Alexander isn’t the only Hamilton at Trinity getting love from the public these days. Previously forgotten to the annals of history, Eliza Hamilton’s contributions and sacrifices have been brought to light in recent years by Chernow’s biography and Miranda’s musical. As a result, she has just as many fans as her husband—if not more. “She tends to get more gifts than he does," Trinity archivist Anne Petrimoulx told NPR in 2016. "I think the musical makes people identify more with Eliza than with Alex."

Peruse all the entries in our Grave Sightings series here.

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Stacy Conradt
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History
Grave Sightings: Satchel Paige
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Stacy Conradt

Every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like expanses to overgrown boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles out there, I’m finally putting my archive of interesting tombstones to good use.

If you’re looking for life lessons at a cemetery, you’re probably imagining something abstract: A little reflection, and some deep thinking about the meaning of life and how fleeting our time on earth really is. Visit the gravestone of legendary baseball player Satchel Paige, however, and you’ll get step-by-step instructions.

Engraving on the granite tombstone of Satchel Paige with six pieces of advice on
Stacy Conradt

Originally printed on Paige’s business cards, this sound advice is just the beginning of what you can discover about the pitcher by paying your respects. The massive monument, which sits on a plot of land at the cemetery aptly named “Paige Island,” provides details about Paige’s career and personal life, including how he got his unique nickname:

Close-up of an engraving on the gravestone of baseball player Satchel Paige that details how he got his nickname.
Stacy Conradt

Part of the gravestone of baseball legend Satchel Paige and his wife, which provides the highlights of his career. The top of the grave is dotted with baseballs and coins.
Stacy Conradt

Paige died of a heart attack in 1982 at the age of 75—though he never did slow down much. In fact, on September 25, 1965, he became the oldest pitcher to ever play in a major league game, when the Kansas City Athletics put him in for three innings. The team made a big show out of getting the 59-year-old Paige a rocker for the dugout and hiring a nurse to oil and massage his pitching arm, but fans shouldn’t have worried that his “advanced” age would slow him down: In three innings, only one batter managed to get a hit off of him.

The granite gravestone of baseball legend Satchel Paige, with an engraving about his marriage and children. Fans have left baseballs, coins, and a necklace along the top of the stone.
Stacy Conradt

The large gravestone is a replacement for the original, a modest marker that can still be found at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. The first stone was donated by a fan who played up Paige’s reluctance to reveal his real birth year by inscribing a question mark for the date. Paige’s family was said to appreciate the donation, “but not for the perpetuation of the ruse over the pitcher’s age,” as his biographer Larry Tye wrote. As far as anyone knows, the 1906 date on the current tombstone is correct.

The granite gravestone of baseball legend Satchel Paige, with the dates of his birth and death and a bronze engraving of his likeness. Fans have left baseballs and coins on the top of the grave.
Stacy Conradt

If you’d like to learn a life lesson (or six) from Satchel Paige himself, you can find his grave at Forest Hills Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri. Don’t forget to bring a baseball.

Peruse all the entries in our Grave Sightings series here.

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