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Ed Koch, Fourth mayor of Washington Heights. The company he'll keep.

Of course Edward I. Koch (b. December 12, 1924), who died on Friday, February 1st, was once Mayor of the (entire) City of New York, from 1978 to 1989. A few years ago he said, “The idea of leaving Manhattan permanently irritates me,” and so had his gravestone and memorial bench erected at Trinity Church Cemetery & Mausoleum. He had no choice. The historic memorial park is the last active cemetery in Manhattan, located in Washington Heights.

Edward I. Koch, fourth New York City mayor buried in Trinity Church Cemetery
Schumacher, Karl H.,White House Photographer - public domain
Memorial headstone and bench for Edward I. Koch (1924-2013), former Mayor of New York City, Trinity Church Cemetery & Mausoleum, NYC
©2011 by Eric K. Washington

Koch’s gravestone is conspicuous from the sidewalk. The white monolith rises upon a grassy mound, bigger than life. When he is laid to rest there on Monday, February 4th, the former mayor will join the ranks of three other mayoral predecessors who are now permanent uptown residents.

For those who haven’t met them, here is an introduction to the company Hizzoner will be joining, and why they are remembered, or forgotten. In reverse order of decease, they are:

A. Oakey Hall

(b. July 26, 1826, d. October 7, 1898). Mayor: 1869-1872.

Abraham Oakey Hall transcended abject childhood poverty to become a paragon of respectability and success. Many were sure the lawyer and writer was eventually destined for the country’s presidency, until political scandal shot down his mayoralty. In 1872, “Elegant Oakey” was indicted for alleged complicity with the infamous “Boss” Tweed Ring that had swindled the city during construction of the New York County Courthouse, today’s Department of Education on Chambers Street. Hall was acquitted, but the trial left him somewhat broken.

Even sympathetic pundits called him “eccentric,” and the New York Times puzzled over what “made one of the most likely and really innocent of human beings a tool of public plunderers.” In 1875, the fallen Hall turned to the theatre, starring in his own play at the Park Theatre, The Crucible, about a man falsely accused of stealing. Two years later, he left the U.S. for England. Back in New York in 1894, Hall defended the famous activist Emma Goldman for inciting to riot. Although Goldman lost, and went to jail for a year, she praised Hall as “a great jurist.”

Fernando Wood

(b. June 14, 1812, d. February 14, 1881). Mayor: 1855-1858; 1860-1862.

Largely self-taught, Fernando Wood was one of the most controversial of public figures. He left home and school at thirteen to clerk in various brokerage houses. By 1848, the 36-year-old was a prosperous shipping merchant when word of California gold induced him to head off the rush of San Francisco-bound miners with a shipload of cargo. Having sold his goods at an exorbitant profit, Wood subsequently retired, invested in real estate and settled into politics.

Wood’s first mayoral term (1855-1856) was backed by both Democratic Party wings, the Hard Shells and the Soft Shells. But charges that he’d used the Municipal Police to tip the election for his second term (1857-1858) prompted the State to induct a rival Metropolitan Police force, and city businessmen decried him as the “master spirit” of municipal corruption. Wood’s third mayoral term (1860-1862) coincided with the outbreak of the Civil War, which prompted him to recommend New York’s secession from the Union as a “free city” in solidarity with the South.

Cadwallader D. Colden

(b. April 4, 1769, d. February 7, 1834), Mayor: 1818-1821.

Cadwallader D. Colden’s late 18th-century rural Manhattan estate partially became today’s chic Strivers Row in Harlem. In 1800, he prosecuted Levi Weeks in the sensational Manhattan Well case, the country’s first recorded murder trial, although the accused sweetheart-killer was acquitted. By 1815, Colden was president of New York’s three-decades-old Manumission Society, wherein he presided over the first African Free-School, founded in 1787, that was the forerunner of New York’s public school system. In the 1860s, the first official history textbook of New York State recalled “the energetic aid of Cadwallader D. Colden...and other friends of humanity” for persuading the Legislature to set the state’s emancipation date for July 4, 1827.

In 1818, New York State Governor DeWitt Clinton appointed Colden mayor (as the city’s public mayoral elections didn’t occur until 1834). Colden had just written the earliest biography of steamboat developer Robert Fulton. He ardently championed the Erie Canal (1825), which prompted New York City’s Common Council to commission him to write the celebratory essay. In 1843, nine years after he’d died, Colden became one of Trinity Cemetery’s first burials, placed in a receiving vault near Mayor Koch’s present grave, and then was removed again two years later to a more prominent plot overlooking the corner of 153rd Street and today’s Broadway, then called the Bloomingdale Road. But in 1869, the city’s preparation to widen that old rustic byway forced Colden’s removal yet again to an obscure spot in the cemetery’s opposite division where it lay undiscovered until less than two years ago.


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