Monday, May 10, 2010

Most Valuable Vaults Part 2: Everyone Else

Of course, the vaults aren’t just a few bishops’ graves. Rather, the crypt has sheltered the remains of a number of other noteworthy characters in New York and American history, with a far-reaching range of influence. Here are a few:

John Kelly, 1822-1866

John Kelly, known throughout the city as “Honest John,” was a major player in New York politics during the mid-nineteenth century. Although his economic security and prominent occupational positions were sometimes obtained through methods that were anything but honest, he had a hold on the trust of much of early America’s Irish population. He became the boss of Tammany Hall, a political organization that exercised power over New York City politics and allowed Irish immigrants upward social and political mobility. Because the institution was recovering from a corruption scandal that ousted Kelly’s predecessor, his honest reputation was an asset. During Kelly’s time in office, he was credited with reducing the city’s debt, although he also charged exorbitant membership fees to office-holders in the organization (Myers 258). He also used his political influence to cause dissent within the Democratic Party when his personal enemies ran for office (Myers 260). After Grover Cleveland’s election in 1884, he became deeply depressed, and eventually required opiates to be able to sleep; after two years of giving orders to Tammany Hall from his bed, he died in 1886 (Myers 265). With a considerable fortune left to his name, he was buried in the crypt below St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral.

The John Kelly family vault at Old St. Patrick's

Isaac Hecker, 1819-1888

Though he no longer rests at Old St. Paul’s the body of Isaac Hecker was once housed in the crypt along with the rest of the Hecker family, whose tomb still remains in the vaults. Hecker, a convert to Catholicism, is best known for founding the Paulist Fathers, whose home parish was St. Paul the Apostle Church on 59th Street and Ninth Avenue, now adjacent to Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus. The group, which began with five Catholic converts in 1858, focused on evangelizing, simple community living, and retreat and meditation. He aimed to convert the world to the Catholic Church because he believed that intelligent people would see its truth if they were only presented with it more adequately. He wrote, “The world is governed too much is no less the truth in the ecclesiastical than the political world. The systems and customs and laws suitable to the infancy of society, are not only unsuitable, but barriers to the advancement of the youth or the manhood of society” (O’Brien 190). His aim was to bring the Catholic Church into its “manhood,” in which the truth would be preached in a way that made it clear to all people. By 1866, he had become the “best-known and most-respected Catholic spokesman before the American public” (O’Brien 209). Hecker died of leukemia in 1888 and was buried in the Hecker family crypt at Old St. Patrick’s, though he was exhumed in the twentieth century and reinterred in an above-ground crypt at St. Paul the Apostle Church. Now officially known as s Servant of God, Hecker is currently being considered for sainthood in the Catholic Church.

The Hecker family vault still rests at Old St. Patrick's.

The Delmonico Family

The most recent incarnation of the classic Delmonico's restaurant
is housed near its original location in the Financial District.

The Delmonico family is known for its historical presence as the namesake of one of America’s first fine dining establishment. Opened as a pastry shop in 1827, Delmonico’s went through several location changes and expansions before the final Delmonico family-owned incarnation closed in 1923. In the 1860s, Delmonico’s chef Charles Ranhofer was credited with inventing eggs benedict, baked Alaska and lobster Newburg. It was also one of the first American restaurants to offer an à la carte menu, as most of its predecessors served set meals at a uniform price. Thus “bill of fare,” also known as a menu, would become the standard mode of operation for American restaurants. Since its closing, numerous imitators have opened in New York and across the U.S.

Pierre Toussaint, 1766-1853

Pierre Toussaint was a powerful Catholic abolitionist and philanthropist in New York City during the nineteenth century. Born in Haiti in 1766, he was a plantation slave who learned to read after his master opened his personal library to him. He moved with his owners to New York and was freed at the age of 41 after their early deaths. However, during his time as a slave he had amassed a considerable amount of money due to his entrance into the lucrative business of hairdressing—enough to buy his sister out of slavery even though he opted to remain a slave himself. Even as a slave, he donated the majority of his funds to charity, then after he gained his freedom, he married and opened a home for orphaned black children, an employment agency and a home for priests and the impoverished. Toussaint also provided funding for the construction of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral. After his death in 1853, he was buried in the crypt at Old St. Patrick’s, later to be exhumed and reinterred at the new St. Patrick’s on Fifth Avenue. Now known as the Venerable Pierre Toussaint, he is currently in the canonization process.

For more information on the Delmonico family, as well as the Lynch family, rumored to be the originators of "lynch law," check out this video of our tour of the crypts with Chris Flatz:


Delmonico’s History. Delmonico’s Restaurant New York. 2008.
Myers, Gustavus. The History of Tammany Hall. New York: Boni & Liveright, 1917.
O’Brien, David J. Isaac Hecker: An American Catholic. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1992.
Venerable Pierre Toussaint. Saint Vincent de Paul Management, Inc. 2004.

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