CLOSE
Original image
Wikimedia Commons (Portraits) // Public Domain // Collage: Chloe Effron

Here's What Happened to 15 Key Players in Hamilton After the Duel

Original image
Wikimedia Commons (Portraits) // Public Domain // Collage: Chloe Effron

The death of former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton—murdered by Vice-President Aaron Burr in a duel on July 12, 1804—shocked a young nation and laid bare partisan tensions that make modern politics look like a badly acted reality show. Hamilton’s bitter adversary, President Thomas Jefferson, was chillingly silent (at least publicly) about the death of his fellow Founding Father, while Hamilton’s erstwhile rival in Constitutional disputes, James Madison, was only concerned his death might stir sympathy for the moribund Federalists. The grand old man, George Washington, dead since 1799, would probably have mourned his brilliant young aide-de-camp, along with his own vision of a virtuous, non-partisan Republic.

But what about the other men and women whose paths had crossed with Hamilton’s, inspired by his vaulting ambitions and submerged in the wake of his tragic flaws? Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece Hamilton tells their story up to his death—but what happened to them in the aftermath?

1. AARON BURR

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The most controversial (read: “shady”) Founding Father, whatever was left of Burr’s political career went up in smoke with the murder of his former friend-turned-political adversary Alexander Hamilton after their July 11, 1804 duel—which is ironic, considering the duel was meant to restore Burr’s reputation, and with it his political fortunes. While dueling was a common way of settling “affairs of honor”—itself a fairly foreign concept in today’s world—duels very rarely actually got to the point of shooting, with various efforts being made to prevent it from getting that far. Actually killing your opponent was considered bloodthirsty in addition to being illegal (at least in New York; the authorities in New Jersey, where the duel took place, had a reputation for looking the other way).

After the duel, Burr was charged with murder in both New York and New Jersey and fled the area, going into hiding (still as Vice-President!) in Georgia—not quite another country, but close enough in an age when trains were maxing out at 10 miles per hour. Burr then returned to Washington, D.C. to finish his term as Vice-President, where he was immune from prosecution while presiding over the Senate, and benefited once again from his uncanny political luck: After the election of 1804, the victorious Democratic-Republicans and defeated Federalists decided the whole Hamilton affair was a needless political obstruction and the charges were quietly shelved. In fact, as the lame duck, VP Burr enjoyed a political swan song, presiding over the Senate’s impeachment trial of the Federalist Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, stemming in part from his previous handling of the trial of notorious muckraker James Callender (the Senate voted to acquit Chase).

Facing creditors in New York City, like so many other down-on-their luck, disreputable, or plain ol’ murderous men in U.S. history, Burr decided to try to revive his fortunes by heading to the Western frontier—which, at that time, meant Louisiana. In 1805, Burr leased 40,000 acres on the Ouachita River from Baron de Bastrop, a Dutch businessman with connections to the Spanish crown, and recruited scores of followers as he journeyed west. According to one version, Burr, anticipating a war between the U.S. and Spain in the near future, wanted first crack at the vast fertile lands of Texas when the U.S. kicked the Spaniards out, or possibly even planned to precipitate the war with his own private invasion (a practice known as “filibustering”). According to another version, Burr wanted to mount a rebellion against the U.S. government in the Louisiana Territory and form a new nation, perhaps with help from Britain.

Although it’s not clear what Burr’s plans were, what his former boss President Thomas Jefferson saw was a disgraced politician setting up a fiefdom on the borders of the United States with his own private army, and Burr’s notorious opportunism made the charges sound plausible enough—especially after one of his collaborators/“co-conspirators,” Louisiana Territory governor James Wilkinson, ratted him out (ironically, Wilkinson himself was in the pay of the Spanish crown, though this was only discovered after his death). Other statements Burr made to the British ambassador to Washington, Anthony Merry, certainly seem to indicate he was planning to detach the new western territories from the U.S.

Convinced that Burr was plotting rebellion in the Louisiana Territory, planning an illegal invasion of Spanish territory, or both, Jefferson ordered him arrested in 1806, and the next year, Burr was hauled back to Virginia to stand trial on charges of treason and high misdemeanor. Burr denied the accusations categorically and noted his long patriotic service to his country; meanwhile, Wilkinson was shown to have altered a key piece of evidence for the government’s case, a letter from Burr supposedly detailing the plans for rebellion. With no evidence beyond the fact that Burr was headed somewhere with a band of armed men, Chief Justice John Marshall found Burr not guilty in spite of overwhelming pressure from Jefferson, an important early statement of judicial independence.

After the trial, Burr spent several years in Europe, perhaps plotting another invasion of Mexico with help from Britain or France, and then in 1812 returned to New York City, where he worked as a lawyer and suffered the loss of his beloved daughter Theodosia at sea in 1813. After practicing law for two decades, in 1833, at the age of 77, Burr married Eliza Jumel, reputedly the wealthiest widow in America. She accused him of mismanaging her finances and filed for divorce not long after (her lawyer: Hamilton's second son, also named Alexander). Their divorce was finalized on September 14, 1836—the same day Burr died in a boardinghouse in Port Richmond, Staten Island, age 80. Shortly before his death Burr heard that American colonists in Texas had rebelled against the Mexican government, is said to have exclaimed: “What was treason in me 30 years ago is patriotism now!” He is buried in Princeton, New Jersey.

2. ELIZABETH SCHUYLER HAMILTON, A.K.A ELIZA OR BETSEY

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Hamilton’s devoted and long-suffering wife, Eliza, endured a barrage of losses around the time of the duel, including the deaths of her mother Catherine, and, three years before, the deaths of her sister Peggy and her son Philip, who was also fatally wounded in a duel. The strong-willed widow, who never remarried, now found herself scrambling to manage her late husband’s substantial debts (the former Secretary of the Treasury and the force behind the First Bank of the United States was not so great with his own money). Friends and family tried to help out, but she was forced to give up their house, The Grange—which was completed just two years before Hamilton’s death—in a public auction. Not long after, she was able to repurchase it because of yet another tragedy, the death of her father Philip just four months after her husband, which left her a modest bequest.

Although Eliza had secured their family home, she would spend most of the rest of her life in (relative) poverty. Nonetheless, she played a major role in securing her husband’s legacy and contributing to the young country’s civic life. Over the next five decades, she corresponded with all the leaders of the Federalists as well as their associates and descendants, flattering, coaxing and pleading with them to turn over important papers and letters written by Alexander over the years, most of which are now held by the Library of Congress. Among the items curated by Eliza was a letter from her husband to George Washington, proving his authorship of part of the first president’s famous Farewell Address.

Eliza also helped found the first public orphanages in New York City and Washington, D.C., serving as the director of the New York orphanage from 1821 to 1848. She also successfully lobbied Congress to have Alexander’s army pension, which he had waived, reinstated. She spent the last six years of her life living in Washington, D.C. with her widowed daughter, also named Eliza, where she helped another Revolutionary widow, Dolley Madison, raise funds for the Washington Monument. After her death in 1854 she was buried alongside her husband in the Trinity Church cemetery in New York City.

3. ANGELICA SCHUYLER CHURCH

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Eliza’s older sister Angelica—who dazzled New York society, carried on a lifelong flirtation (and possibly affair) with her brother-in-law Alexander, and was a close friend of both Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette—lived only 10 more years after Hamilton’s death. During that period, her husband, John Barker Church, had received 100,000 acres of land on the Genesee River in western New York State as repayment of a loan to Robert Morris, famous as “the Financier of the Revolution.” Her son Philip founded a town on the land, which he named Angelica in her honor; John built the family mansion, Belvidere, there. She divided her time between Belvidere and New York City until her death at the age of 58 in 1814; she is buried in the Trinity Church cemetery in New York City.

4. MARIA REYNOLDS

After Hamilton’s ill-advised affair with Maria Reynolds—which her husband James used to blackmail Hamilton before the whole thing blew up with the Reynolds Pamphlet scandal—Maria paid the heavy penalty of any woman of “ill fame,” in keeping with the double standard of the time. Before the affair became public knowledge, Maria divorced her husband (her lawyer: Aaron Burr), and married James’ co-conspirator, Jacob Clingman, before divorcing him in 1800. Reviled as a prostitute, she lost her daughter Susan, who was taken away by the courts to be raised in foster care, although this doesn’t seem to have helped much: In 1803, Susan eloped with a certain Francis Wright, who dumped her a few weeks later, and she wound up in a brothel, another victim of her mother’s infamy. Maria herself died in 1832 at the age of 64.

5. JAMES REYNOLDS

Not much is known about Maria’s lowlife husband, who pretty much disappears from the pages of history after the publication of the Reynolds Pamphlet in 1797. It’s not hard to imagine James Reynolds assuming a new identity and disappearing into the crowd, aided by the lack of official records, identity papers, photographs, or electronic communication of any sort in early 19th century America. The young Republic was a good place to be a career criminal.

6. SAMUEL SEABURY

The Anglican bishop—who, in the musical, Hamilton memorably mocks in "The Farmer Refuted"—initially opposed independence but later played a central role in the founding of the Episcopal Church in America. By the time of his death in 1796, Seabury had helped craft the Episcopalian liturgy and established continuity between the Anglican and Episcopal Churches, healing the religious rupture caused by the Revolution and thus maintaining the direct line of succession running back to the early Apostles. Among other contributions, Seabury persuaded the American Episcopal Church to adopt the Scottish Prayer of Consecration rather than its shorter English counterpart. Today the anniversary of his consecration in Aberdeen, Scotland, on November 14, 1784, is a feast day in the Episcopal Church.

7. GEORGE EACKER

The New York City lawyer who killed Alexander Hamilton’s son Philip in November 1801 only ended up outliving him by a few years. Eacker, a supporter of Burr, insulted Hamilton senior in a speech by implying he was open to treason against the Jefferson administration, causing Philip and his friend Richard Price to demand satisfaction (a.k.a. an apology). Instead, Eacker cussed them out, an insult to their honor that could not be overlooked. The fracas resulted in two duels on November 22 and 23, 1801, both held at the same popular dueling ground in Weehawken, New Jersey, where Burr and Hamilton would later duel. First Eacker faced off against Price, with the expected result—two shots fired, no injuries, honor maintained. The next day, Eacker killed Philip in the second duel. Eacker didn’t get to savor his victory for long, however: He died, likely of consumption (tuberculosis), on January 4, 1804, six months before Burr killed Alexander Hamilton.

8. CHARLES LEE

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Considered by some a traitor to the Revolutionary cause, the hard-drinking Lee (who sings "I'm a General, wee!" in Hamilton) never achieved the notoriety of Benedict Arnold because his attempt at treason (if that’s what it was—he wrote to William Howe about the best way to defeat the Americans) never really went anywhere. After his capture by British forces in 1776, Lee was freed in a prisoner exchange and returned to service in 1778. He led—or rather, failed to lead—the Continental attack at the Battle of Monmouth later that year, when he ordered his troops to retreat and left Washington to sort it all out.

Some historians claim his disobedience was a deliberate gambit hatched with the British during his captivity, while sympathetic biographers note that Washington’s orders were vague and Lee’s troops outnumbered 2-to-1. Whatever the truth was, Washington was furious and relieved Lee of command on the spot. Lee demanded a court martial to clear his name. He was found guilty, and retreated to live in his Virginia (now West Virginia) estate Prato Rio—then earned himself even more disfavor by attacking Washington’s character, resulting in a duel with Washington’s aide John Laurens.

While at his estate, he drew up plans for a utopian society without clergy, in which citizens would cultivate virtue through music, poetry, and philosophy. He died of fever in Philadelphia in 1782. In his will, Lee—a Deist who made no secret of his scorn for organized religion—specified: “I desire most earnestly, that I may not be buried in any church, or church-yard, or within a mile of any Presbyterian or Anabaptist meeting-house; for since I have resided in this country, I have kept so much bad company when living, that I do not chuse [sic] to continue it when dead.” So they buried him in the churchyard of Christ Church in Philadelphia. Fort Lee in New Jersey is named after him.

9. THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The elegant, idealistic young French nobleman led an equally adventurous life after the American Revolution, including a star role in another, far more violent uprising across the Atlantic. After returning to France a military hero for his role in the American Revolution, in 1791, during the first, moderate phase of the French Revolution, Lafayette helped write the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen with help from Thomas Jefferson, elaborating on the idea of universal rights set forth in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.

When the Revolution took a radical turn, however, Lafayette’s noble status became a liability, as the Jacobins led by Robespierre accused him of secret monarchist sympathies for defending the royal family from a mob. In 1792, he fled to the Austrian Netherlands (today Belgium), where he was promptly arrested by the Austrians as an anti-monarchist, proving sometimes you just can’t win (if anyone cared to ask, he wanted a moderate constitutional monarchy).

After spending five years in an Austrian prison, during which the Revolution burned itself out, Lafayette was freed at the request of Napoleon Bonaparte—then busily laying the groundwork for (another) dictatorship—in 1797. Disagreeing with Napoleon’s authoritarian tendencies, Lafayette wisely sat out most of the Napoleonic era, grieving the death of his wife Adrienne in 1807 and only returning to public life in 1815 to help force the emperor to abdicate after his second, short-lived return to power.

In 1824, at the age of 68, Lafayette returned to the United States with his son Georges Washington to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of independence. Riding an unprecedented wave of public adulation, Lafayette reunited with Revolutionary War veterans and undertook a 16-month grand tour of the nation he helped create, including a visit to the aging Jefferson and Madison at Monticello, and a separate visit to John Adams in Boston. Before he left, Congress awarded him the stupendous sum of $200,000 along with land in Florida. When Lafayette returned to France, he carried with him a case of American soil, which was later spread on his grave after his death in 1834 at the age of 78.

10. HERCULES MULLIGAN

One of Hamilton’s best friends during his footloose youth in New York City, the Irish-born Mulligan, 17 years Hamilton's senior, helped convert him to the Revolutionary cause and continued to play a central role organizing resistance to British rule in New York during the Revolution, using his position as a tailor for British officers to gather key information which his slave Cato then passed to the rebels. After the Revolution, many Patriots, ignorant of Mulligan’s secret wartime service, accused him of being a British collaborator and wanted to tar and feather him—usually a fatal procedure. Thankfully, George Washington intervened by visiting Mulligan in New York the day after the British evacuated the city in 1783, later employing him as his personal tailor. This endorsement by the Father of the Country was enough to bring Mulligan lifelong fame and prosperity, and presumably a bunch of awkward apologies.

In 1785, Mulligan joined Hamilton in founding the New York Manumission Society, one of the first official organizations devoted to ending slavery, and a predecessor to William Lloyd Garrison’s American Anti-Slavery Society. He continued working as a tailor until his retirement at age 80 in 1820, his business doubtless benefiting from the sign reading “Clothier to Genl. Washington” out front. He died in 1825 and was buried in the cemetery of Trinity Church, along with his old friend Hamilton.

11. KING GEORGE III

King George III, the “tyrannical” monarch (who was actually fairly conciliatory before Parliament pushed him into open confrontation with the colonists) had his good days and bad days after the colonies went their own way, the latter mostly due to his habit of going nuts for long periods of time. (The lyrics in "You'll Be Back" are a subtle nod to his fits of madness: "When you're gone / I'll go mad ..." he sings.) The king’s madness has often been attributed to porphyria, a genetic condition that also causes the victim’s urine to turn blue, but historians and medical experts have also suggested that he suffered from a mental illness like bipolar disorder, while others point to arsenic poisoning.

Whatever the cause, George III’s bouts of insanity began almost three decades into his 60-year reign from 1761-1820, with the first episode of prolonged derangement recorded in 1788. From then on, he would alternate between periods of apparent normality and increasingly bizarre behavior—talking for hours on end until foam starting coming from his mouth, for example (the story that he shook hands with a tree is a myth, though).

Given the primitive state of medicine in general and mental healthcare in particular, it’s no surprise the treatments tried out on the king proved more or less useless, including harsh chemical applications and forcible restraints. In 1789, Parliament attempted to pass a bill to create a regency, which would allow his son, the future King George IV, to carry out royal duties in his place. But George III recovered before the bill was passed, and the idea was shelved. George III relapsed in 1801 and 1804, and a final relapse in 1810 (possibly aggravated by the stress of the wars with Napoleon) led to the formal creation of the Regency in 1811, which continued until George III’s death in 1820. Despite his madness, King George III was remembered in England as a kind, considerate monarch who was concerned for the welfare of his people.

12. ANGELICA HAMILTON

In Hamilton, the Treasure secretary's oldest son, then 9, raps that he "has a sister but I want a little brother!" That sister was Angelica, the Hamiltons' second child, who was destroyed by Philip's 1801 death. Grief drove her insane, and she remained institutionalized until her death at the age of 73 in 1857. For the rest of her life, she continued to speak about Philip as if he were still alive even as she sometimes failed to recognize her own family members. Her one pleasure was playing the piano, as her father had taught her when she was a girl.

13. AND 14. WILLIAM P. VAN NESS AND NATHANIEL PENDLETON (THE "SECONDS")

Van Ness, who served as the second to Aaron Burr in the famous duel, and Pendleton, who served as the second to Hamilton, became respected judges in later years, despite technically being complicit in the criminal affair of the duel, as they freely admitted. In fact, hours after the duel, they cooperated to write a joint statement giving their combined eyewitness account, which they submitted to the court on July 17, 1804. The statement reads, in part:

The pistols were discharged within a few seconds of each other and the fire of Col: Burr took effect; Genl Hamilton almost instantly fell. Col: Burr then advanced toward Genl H——n with a manner and gesture that appeared to Genl Hamilton’s friend to be expressive of regret, but without Speaking turned about & withdrew… No farther communications took place between the principals and the Barge that carried Col: Burr immediately returned to the City. We conceive it proper to add that the conduct of the parties in that interview was perfectly proper as suited the occasion.

15. DAVID HOSACK

The physician who attended both Alexander Hamilton and his son Philip after their duels (and who served as the physician for Aaron Burr and his daughter) continued a long and successful medical and scientific career after their deaths. Motivated by the death of his son Alexander in 1792 and the death of his first wife Catharine during childbirth in 1796, Hosack made the care of pregnant women the subject of lifelong study; he was also an early advocate of the smallpox vaccination, in addition to advancing the treatment of yellow fever. In addition to previous appointments as a professor of natural history and botany at Columbia University, he was named Professor of Surgery and Midwifery, the precursor to obstetrics, in 1807. From 1801 to 1805, Hosack created America’s first botanical garden, Elgin Botanical Garden, in New York City (it was eventually given to New York State, which gave it to Columbia College, who would ultimately lease it to the Rockefellers—who turned the site into Rockefeller Center). He later founded the New York Horticultural Society and recruited a number of luminaries to join it, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, and the Marquis de Lafayette. In 1821, Hosack was honored with membership in the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which today hands out Nobel Prizes—kind of a big deal. Following the death of his second wife Mary in 1824, Hosack married a wealthy widow, Magdalena Coster, and eventually purchased a large estate in Hyde Park on the Hudson River Valley in addition to their Manhattan townhouse. He died in 1835 at the age of 66, apparently due to shock after a disastrous fire destroyed much of his beloved New York City.

Original image
iStock / Collage by Jen Pinkowski
arrow
The Elements
9 Diamond-Like Facts About Carbon
Original image
iStock / Collage by Jen Pinkowski

How well do you know the periodic table? Our series The Elements explores the fundamental building blocks of the observable universe—and their relevance to your life—one by one.
 
 
It can be glittering and hard. It can be soft and flaky. It can look like a soccer ball. Carbon is the backbone of every living thing—and yet it just might cause the end of life on Earth as we know it. How can a lump of coal and a shining diamond be composed of the same material? Here are eight things you probably didn't know about carbon.

1. IT'S THE "DUCT TAPE OF LIFE."

It's in every living thing, and in quite a few dead ones. "Water may be the solvent of the universe," writes Natalie Angier in her classic introduction to science, The Canon, "but carbon is the duct tape of life." Not only is carbon duct tape, it's one hell of a duct tape. It binds atoms to one another, forming humans, animals, plants and rocks. If we play around with it, we can coax it into plastics, paints, and all kinds of chemicals.

2. IT'S ONE OF THE MOST ABUNDANT ELEMENTS IN THE UNIVERSE.

It sits right at the top of the periodic table, wedged in between boron and nitrogen. Atomic number 6, chemical sign C. Six protons, six neutrons, six electrons. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen, and 15th in the Earth's crust. While its older cousins hydrogen and helium are believed to have been formed during the tumult of the Big Bang, carbon is thought to stem from a buildup of alpha particles in supernova explosions, a process called supernova nucleosynthesis.

3. IT'S NAMED AFTER COAL.

While humans have known carbon as coal and—after burning—soot for thousands of years, it was Antoine Lavoisier who, in 1772, showed that it was in fact a unique chemical entity. Lavoisier used an instrument that focused the Sun's rays using lenses which had a diameter of about four feet. He used the apparatus, called a solar furnace, to burn a diamond in a glass jar. By analyzing the residue found in the jar, he was able to show that diamond was comprised solely of carbon. Lavoisier first listed it as an element in his textbook Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published in 1789. The name carbon derives from the French charbon, or coal.

4. IT LOVES TO BOND.

It can form four bonds, which it does with many other elements, creating hundreds of thousands of compounds, some of which we use daily. (Plastics! Drugs! Gasoline!) More importantly, those bonds are both strong and flexible.

5. NEARLY 20 PERCENT OF YOUR BODY IS CARBON.

May Nyman, a professor of inorganic chemistry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon tells Mental Floss that carbon has an almost unbelievable range. "It makes up all life forms, and in the number of substances it makes, the fats, the sugars, there is a huge diversity," she says. It forms chains and rings, in a process chemists call catenation. Every living thing is built on a backbone of carbon (with nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements). So animals, plants, every living cell, and of course humans are a product of catenation. Our bodies are 18.5 percent carbon, by weight.

And yet it can be inorganic as well, Nyman says. It teams up with oxygen and other substances to form large parts of the inanimate world, like rocks and minerals.

6. WE DISCOVERED TWO NEW FORMS OF IT ONLY RECENTLY.

Carbon is found in four major forms: graphite, diamonds, fullerenes, and graphene. "Structure controls carbon's properties," says Nyman.  Graphite ("the writing stone") is made up of loosely connected sheets of carbon formed like chicken wire. Penciling something in actually is just scratching layers of graphite onto paper. Diamonds, in contrast, are linked three-dimensionally. These exceptionally strong bonds can only be broken by a huge amount of energy. Because diamonds have many of these bonds, it makes them the hardest substance on Earth.

Fullerenes were discovered in 1985 when a group of scientists blasted graphite with a laser and the resulting carbon gas condensed to previously unknown spherical molecules with 60 and 70 atoms. They were named in honor of Buckminster Fuller, the eccentric inventor who famously created geodesic domes with this soccer ball–like composition. Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering this new form of carbon.

The youngest member of the carbon family is graphene, found by chance in 2004 by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in an impromptu research jam. The scientists used scotch tape—yes, really—to lift carbon sheets one atom thick from a lump of graphite. The new material is extremely thin and strong. The result: the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

7. DIAMONDS AREN'T CALLED "ICE" BECAUSE OF THEIR APPEARANCE.

Diamonds are called "ice" because their ability to transport heat makes them cool to the touch—not because of their look. This makes them ideal for use as heat sinks in microchips. (Synthethic diamonds are mostly used.) Again, diamonds' three-dimensional lattice structure comes into play. Heat is turned into lattice vibrations, which are responsible for diamonds' very high thermal conductivity.

8. IT HELPS US DETERMINE THE AGE OF ARTIFACTS—AND PROVE SOME OF THEM FAKE.

American scientist Willard F. Libby won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for developing a method for dating relics by analyzing the amount of a radioactive subspecies of carbon contained in them. Radiocarbon or C14 dating measures the decay of a radioactive form of carbon, C14, that accumulates in living things. It can be used for objects that are as much as 50,000 years old. Carbon dating help determine the age of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5300-year-old corpse found frozen in the Alps. It also established that Lancelot's Round Table in Winchester Cathedral was made hundreds of years after the supposed Arthurian Age.

9. TOO MUCH OF IT IS CHANGING OUR WORLD.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important part of a gaseous blanket that is wrapped around our planet, making it warm enough to sustain life. But burning fossil fuels—which are built on a carbon backbone—releases more carbon dioxide, which is directly linked to global warming. A number of ways to remove and store carbon dioxide have been proposed, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which involves planting large stands of trees, harvesting and burning them to create electricity, and capturing the CO2 created in the process and storing it underground. Yet another approach that is being discussed is to artificially make oceans more alkaline in order to let them to bind more CO2. Forests are natural carbon sinks, because trees capture CO2 during photosynthesis, but human activity in these forests counteracts and surpasses whatever CO2 capture gains we might get. In short, we don't have a solution yet to the overabundance of C02 we've created in the atmosphere.

Original image
Nicole Garner
arrow
History
How One Widow's Grief Turned a Small Town Into a Roadside Attraction
Original image
Nicole Garner

Like many small towns, the southwest Missouri town of Nevada (pronounced not as the state, but as Nev-AY-duh) loves to tell tales. Incorporated in 1855, the 8000-person city was once a railroad hub and a former home to the outlaw Frank James, the elder brother of the more infamous Jesse James. But the one story Nevada residents love to tell above all others isn't about anyone famous. It's about an atypical above-ground grave in the town's oldest cemetery, the man who's interred there, and how he can't get any rest.

Scan of the Nevada Daily Mail from March 4, 1897.
Nevada Daily Mail; March 4, 1897.
Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

On March 4, 1897, the body of a young man was found near Nevada, Missouri, apparently struck by lightning. The local newspaper, the Nevada Daily Mail, printed the story of his death that evening right next to the news that William McKinley had been sworn in as president that day; a bold-faced headline declared "Death Came Without Warning," and noted “His Clothing Torn From His Body." A reporter at the scene described how the body, which was found around 11 a.m., was unrecognizable at first. Eventually the young man's father identified him as Frederick Alonzo "Lon" Dorsa, and the coroner determined that an umbrella was the cause of Lon's electrocution.

Lon left behind a widow whose name was never mentioned in newspapers; to this day, other printed versions of the Dorsas' story omit her identity. But she had a name—Neva Dorsa—and her grief led her to commission a singularly peculiar grave for her husband—one that would open her up to years worth of ridicule and also make their small town a roadside attraction.

A funeral announcement in the Daily Mail noted that undertakers had prepared Lon's body in a "neat casket" before a funeral service set for March 7. A follow-up article the next day read that Lon's funeral was widely attended, with a large procession to the cemetery and burial with military honors. His widow—whose name was determined from a marriage license filed at the Vernon County courthouse showing that Lon married a Neva Gibson on February 12, 1895—had gone from a newlywed to a single mother in just two years.

But, Lon's first interment was temporary. Neva had arranged a grand resting place for her husband, which wasn't ready in the short time between his death and the funeral. Modern newspaper retellings of Lon and Neva's tale say she ordered a large, above-ground enclosure from the Brophy Monument Company in Nevada. A large piece of stone—some accounts say marble while others suggest limestone or granite—was shipped in via railroad car. When it arrived, the stone was too heavy to move, so a local stonecutter spent more than a month chiseling away before the piece was light enough to be pulled away by horses. A wire story described the stone tomb as being "12 feet long, 4 feet wide and 5 feet high. Its weight at completion was 11,000 pounds."

Before Lon’s body was placed inside, Neva made a few key additions—specifically a hidden pane of glass that let her view her husband:

"A piece of stone, covered to represent a bible [sic], is the covering of the aperture. It can be lifted easily by the widow's hand and when Mrs. Dorsa's grief becomes unusually poignant, she goes to the cemetery and gazes for hours at a time upon the face of her dead husband."

The Daily Mail covered the second tomb's installation with morbid attention to detail on May 6, 1897, precisely two months after Lon was initially buried:

"When the grave was opened this morning the coffin looked as bright and new as when buried but it had water in it which had at one time nearly submerged the body. The remains looked perfectly natural and there were no evidences of decomposition having sat in—no odor whatover [sic]. A little mould [sic] had gathered about the roots of his hair and on the neck, otherwise the body looked as fresh as when buried."

The newspaper called the tomb a "stone sarcophagus" and noted that Neva was there to examine her husband's corpse and watch the reburial of his remains. There was likely no inkling from those present, or the community who read about it in that evening's paper, that Neva had designed the tomb with unexpected and usual features, like the pivoting stone Bible that would reveal Lon's face below when unlocked and moved.

Instead, the newspaper suggested that the "costly mousoleum [sic] provided for the reception of his remains is the tribute of her affection."

Lon Dorsa's grave.
Lon Dorsa's grave at Deepwood Cemetery in Nevada, Missouri.
Nicole Garner

Following Lon's re-interment, Neva managed her grief by visiting her deceased husband regularly. Her home was near his grave—the 1900 U.S. Census listed her as a 25-year-old widow living on south Washington Street in Nevada, the same street as the cemetery—and three years after her husband's death, she was employed as a dressmaker, working year-round to provide for their young children, Beatrice and Fred.

By 1905, a new wave of public scrutiny hit the Dorsa (sometimes spelled Dorsey) family when the details of Neva's specially designed, above-ground grave began circulating. It's not clear who reported the story first, but the Topeka Daily Capital, published across the Kansas border 150 miles from Nevada, published a piece, which eventually spread to The St. Louis Republic. Early that spring, the same story was printed in the Pittsburgh Press, a Chicago church publication called The Advance, and in the summer of 1906, a description of Lon Dorsa's crypt had made it nearly 1000 miles to the front page of the Staunton Spectator and Vindicator in Staunton, Virginia:

"The strangest tomb in America, if not in the world, is that which rest the remains of Lon Dorsa in Deepwood cemetery, Nevada, Mo. It is so constructed that the widow can look upon her deceased husband at will, by the turning of a key in a lock which holds a stone Bible just above the remains."

Articles at the time noted that Lon's remains were in an airtight tomb and that scientists supposedly told Mrs. Dorsa that her husband's body would be well-preserved in those conditions, but decomposition had already taken place: "It [the body] has turned almost black, but the general outline of the features remains unchanged."

According to a 1997 walking tour pamphlet of Deepwood Cemetery, it wasn't long before community members caught on that Neva visited the cemetery all too often: "Fascinated children hung about to watch the lady arrive in her buggy. If she saw them, she'd go after them with a whip, shrieking like a madwoman …" the guide stated. Eventually, "her family had the pivot removed and the Bible cemented down."

Local lore suggests that the publicity and Lon's deterioration drove Neva to insanity. Some say she ended up in an asylum and died soon after—a fairly believable tale, considering Nevada was home to one of the state's hospitals for mental illness. However, a list of Deepwood Cemetery lot owners, found at the Vernon County Historical Society, doesn't have a burial space for Neva.

A more likely explanation—based on a listing on Find a Grave, a website that indexes cemeteries and headstones, and which matches Neva's personal information—suggests she simply remarried and moved to California. The California Death Index, 1945-1997, shows that a Neva (Gibson) Simpson died Dec. 30, 1945 in Los Angeles. The birth date and place match those of Neva (Gibson) Dorsa.

Newspaper clipping featuring a picture of a skull.
Nevada Daily Mail, Nov. 30, 1987. Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.
State Historical Society of Missouri

Wherever Neva ended up, Lon's body didn't exactly rest in peace. In July 1986, vandals broke into the town's most famous tomb and stole his head. It was recovered the following year in a Nevada home, but law enforcement and cemetery caretakers noted that the stone Bible, which had been cemented down for some time, was periodically ripped off the tomb.

Talbot Wight, the Deepwood Cemetery Board’s president at the time, told the Daily Mail in 1987 that Lon's hair, skin, and clothing were well preserved until vandals broke the encasing glass. "Evidently, he was still in pretty good shape until July," Wight said.

But when Lon's skull was photographed for the newspaper's front page, it featured no hair or skin, both of which likely decomposed quickly after being stolen if not before. The skull was buried in an undisclosed location away from the body so as to not tempt new grave robbers, and the tomb was re-sealed with marble in an attempt to prevent further damage.

Still, the story of Neva Dorsa and her husband’s remains hasn't died away. It circulates through southwestern Missouri, drawing visitors to Deepwood Cemetery to gaze at the stone plot—just not in the same way Neva had intended.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER