Almost four years ago, Green-Wood purchased the New York City landmark Weir Greenhouse. Work to convert it into a visitors center is proceeding apace; hopefully it will be open by the end of 2016. Soon after the purchase of the Weir Greenhouse, Green-Wood purchased the adjoining real estate of the Brooklyn Monument Company. The two buildings on that property are being torn down to create space for a new building with an exhibition gallery, library, conference room, archival storage and offices.

The owner of the Brooklyn Monument Company left many of its business records when he retired and closed up shop. We felt that these records created a great opportunity to tell an important story related to Green-Wood’s–that of a monument-making business closely related to the cemetery. So, our archivist, Tony Cucchiara, our manager of collections, Stacy Locke, volunteer Jim Lambert, and me, spent hours in very dusty conditions gathering materials to be saved. There were file cabinets from the 1950s and 1960s full of orders for monuments–with sketches. There were monument catalogues. But we didn’t find anything really early.

However, it turns out that there was one early record book there that was a real gem. It was found as the tear down process proceeded. It did have a promising look to it:

This volume looked good. Might there be something interesting in it?

This volume looked good. Might there be something interesting in it? It is approximately 15″ x 7″.

But what was this book? This inscription, at its beginning, began to reveal its story:

It reads: William Pitbladdo

It reads:
William Pitbladdo/ 5th Av(enue) bet(ween) 26th and 27th St./ Greenwood (Gowanus)/ 8th Ward City of/ Brooklyn (W[estern] D[istrict])/ Long Island/ N.Y.

Now that was intriguing. I knew the Pitbladdo name. In fact, I knew that he had been a monument maker working near Green-Wood’s main entrance and that he was interred at Green-Wood. I knew that the Brooklyn Monument Company was the successor to his and his descendants’ businesses. In fact, I recall seeing his son’s name, Thomas Pitbladdo, painted across the peak of the wood building at the back of the business.

Just a few years ago, the triangular section just below the roof had "Thomas Pitbladd" painted across it before it was painted over.

Just a few years ago, passersby could see “Thomas Pitbladdo” in paint across the triangular section just below the roof of the building at center and left. It was painted over about 10 years ago.

So who was William Pitbladdo? He was born in Scotland in 1806, immigrated to America from Ireland in 1836 and started his monument-making business near Green-Wood in 1842. He became a United States citizen in 1851. His son Thomas, born in 1832, later took over the business from William. Then it was Thomas’s son, Grant, who wound up running it, followed by his sons, William and Kenneth.

The business moved a bit over time. So, according to the entry above, William’s business, in 1856, was on Fifth Avenue between 26th and 27th Streets. That makes sense–in 1856, the funeral entrance to Green-Wood  was where William Pitbladdo’s business was located–at 5th and 26th-27th. According to the Worldwide Masonic Directory of 1860, William Pitbladdo was in the granite, marble and freestone business at the corner of 27th Street and Fifth Avenue. And, when Green-Wood moved its entrance to the east side of the intersection of 25th Street and Fifth Avenue (where it still is today), William Pitbladdo moved two blocks north on Fifth Avenue, to the southwest corner of that same intersection. According to the 1865 New York State census, Pitbladdo was 58 years old, living with his wife Cherry in a brick house valued at $8000, and was a “Stone Cutter.” In fact, according to his will of 1869, he owned the property from the southwest corner of 25th Street and Fifth Avenue down 25th Street for a distance of 150 feet. That is the land under what is now the Weir Greenhouse as well as the land where the Brooklyn Monument Company’s buildings now stand.

I bought the below photograph–a stereoscopic view of Green-Wood’s 25th Street and Fifth Avenue entrance–about 20 years ago. I was intrigued by this early view–circa 1865–of Green-Wood’s entrance road and the intersection of 25th Street and Fifth Avenue. It also seemed to have some interesting details in the distance–though I was unable to make them out when I bought it. Here’s a close-up of the businesses on the west side of Fifth Avenue:

Green-Wood's entrance road stretches

Green-Wood’s entrance road stretches to the west, reaching the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 25th Street, in this half-stereoview circa 1865. Note that there were monument makers on both the north and south sides of 25th Street–on the north side, the signs of Alexander Edwards and John Feitner can be made out under magnification. Note also how close the waters of New York Harbor are–landfill extending Brooklyn to the west had yet to be put in place. Now take a look at the next image, a closer view of the south side of the intersection . . .

William Pitbladdo's monument-making and repair business at the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 25th Street, where the Weir Greenhouse now stands.

At the left is William Pitbladdo’s monument-making and repair business at the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 25th Street, where the Weir Greenhouse now stands. Note the lettering at the top of the small white building in the foreground at left (about an inch in from the left edge of this image), just in front of the steep-roofed building that is itself in front of the brick building. With 10x magnification, “WM. PITBLADDO” can be read at the top of that small white building. To the left of the uncropped image from which this was taken was a sign for an “Ice Cream Saloon.” You can see Green-Wood’s fence at lower right and the bed of 25th Street stretching diagonally to the west, just to the right of the brick building.

William Pitbladdo died in 1870 and, fittingly, was interred at Green-Wood. His wife, Cherry Humble Pitbladdo, as well as their son Thomas, and other members of the Pitbladdo family, are interred in section 58, lot 3221.

The Pitbladdo family lot at Green-Wood. Note the gravestones of William Pitbladdo and his wife, Cherry, at front. And notice that the gray granite is not the only material in the lot; two intricately-carved marble monuments are at right.

The Pitbladdo family lot at Green-Wood. Note the gravestones of William Pitbladdo and his wife, Cherry, at foreground left. And notice that a fine gray granite is not the only material in the lot; two intricately-carved marble monuments are at right.

Since the discovery of William Pitbladdo’s Order Book, I have been able to look through every page of it. It tells a fascinating story! Here’s its first page:

This was the first indication that this book dated from the mid-19th century.

This was the first indication–other than the general appearance of the book–that this volume dates from the mid-19th century.

The order book runs almost 120 pages and offers a fascinating insight into the monument business serving Green-Wood between 1856 and 1867. It records just under 1000 orders–ranging in price from pennies to thousands of dollars. A few of the entries specify that the monument is to be installed in Green-Wood. But none specify any other cemetery–and the vast majority of those I was able to identify by client name and job description did match up with work done at Green-Wood. One monument, strangely enough, was ordered for shipment to Tallahassee, Florida.

With respect to work other than the fabrication of monuments or tombs, Pitbladdo offered at variety of services. Non-skilled labor, such as the cleaning of monuments and fence posts, in one case took 12 days and cost $20.62 (the equivalent of $559–quite a bargain by today’s standards for two and one-half weeks of work). Pitbladdo would paint an iron fence–the only color ever specified was “dark green” (I would have have guessed black) for a few dollars. Iron fencing could be ordered “galvinised.” Even “Blue stone coping” was available, as were granite posts as well as iron rail fences and gates. Pointing the Charles Morgan vault–a job requiring more skill than cleaning or painting–took 6 days of labor; the cost was $25.25 ($684 today–still a bargain for labor by today’s standards, at a $114 a day). Letters carved on monuments were 5 cents each (the equivalent of $1.36 today). 195 feet of coping for Jasper Grovesnor was $780 ($21,144 today):

The coping around the Jasper Grovesnor "vault" is 195 feet. It would have been topped by an iron fence; the holes for that fence are still visible today.

The coping around the Jasper Grovesnor “vault” stretches for 195 feet. It would have been topped by an iron fence when it was installed in 1857; the holes for the fence posts and gate are still visible today.

The brownstone coping, shot from above. Note the marking that Pitbladdo made in the stone; upon installation, the fence posts were slightly off, and had to be moved a few inches when they were installed in 1857.

The brownstone coping, shot looking straight down from above. Note the dressing of the stone–those parallel lines that were cut into it. Also note the shallow rectangle that Pitbladdo cut into the stone to mark the spot  where he anticipated the iron posts would go; upon installation, the fence posts were slightly off, and had to be moved a few inches when they were installed on site in 1857. Ostensibly a base plate attached to the post would have covered this marking.

There were other services offered. Blacking–the placing of a black coloring into letters cut into a monument to make them more visible–was a service that Pitbladdo offered. In April of 1867, George E. Biddle contracted for painting of his lot, cleaning of his monument, and “Blacking Letters on Headstone.” The total charge for this was $23.50. And here is that headstone, showing traces of blacking that was also applied years later, after his death and the death of his wife.

The Biddle headstone, with traces of the blacking of letters.

The Biddle headstone, with traces of the blacking of letters.

Repairs to leading–the lead strips that were placed in the joints between the stones that made up a tomb–were also done regularly. Here is a photograph of leading that has come loose over the years:

Note the lead strips--a soft metal that would contour to the stones, sealing them--that has come loose here.

Note the lead strips–a soft metal that would contour to the stones, sealing them–that has come loose here. This photograph was taken recently at the Hallett hillside mausoleum above Green-Wood’s Historic Chapel.

In 1867, C.V.B. Ostrander asked Pitbladdo to do work on his existing brownstone mausoleum. Here it is at Green-Wood today:

C.V.B. Ostrander's mausoleum, which he asked William Pitbladdo to work on in 1867.

C.V.B. Ostrander’s mausoleum, which he asked William Pitbladdo to work on in 1867.

Ostrander wanted a tablet rubbed, letters cut and blacked, the joints pointed, white lead and putty repairs made, and painting done. He also ordered a lock for $2 ($31 today) and an iron door for $7 ($109 today). This is the entry in the Order Book for this transaction:

The order placed by C.V.B. Ostrander.

The order placed by C.V.B. Ostrander.

Here is the iron door Pitbladdo supplied:

This iron door was ordered from Pitbladdo in 1867; he would have obtained it from a supplier and charged $7 for it.

This iron door was ordered from Pitbladdo in 1867 for $7; he would have obtained it from a supplier.

Terminology is interesting: only a rare reference in the Order Book is made to a tomb and none to a mausoleum; rather, the terms used by Pitbladdo for above ground buildings are catacombs and vaults.

A note on Green-Wood’s early lot sales and burials. Green-Wood Cemetery was chartered by the State of New York on April 18, 1838. The next two years were spent in selling lots and fixing the place up: combing rocks off the hills, raking tons of manure into the ground, laying out paths and roads, and contouring hillsides. The first burials at Green-Wood occurred on September 5, 1840–and those burials were in lot 233. Earlier lot numbers appear to have been reserved for large purchasers–Henry E. Pierrepont, Green-Wood’s founder, purchased lot #1 on August 15, 1842–after several hundred lots had already been sold and assigned lot numbers in the low hundreds. Two years later, by the end of 1842, there had been a grand total of 89 interments at Green-Wood. By January, 1850, 3671 lots had been sold. By March, 1858, business had picked up: by the time this Pitbladdo Order Book was put into use, 11080 lots had been sold. As of December 2015, 45,704 Green-Wood lots have been sold.

The cemetery appears to have been treated as something of an open air showroom. Orders were placed for monuments or iron gates by name of those already on the grounds: a monument “like Stevenson,” gates “like Bleakley.”

Using Green-Wood’s records and the information in the Order Book, we were able, in many cases, to determine the lot to which the order pertained. Unusual names paired with low (and therefore early) lot numbers helped with making these matches.

During the period of the Order Book–between 1856 and 1867–three types of stones for monuments were available from Pitbladdo: brownstone, “Italian Marble,” and granite. Brownstone was out of fashion by this time. But John B. James ordered a “Brownstone Headstone” on July 22, 1865. It was for “Little Fannie,” who had died that very day:

The brownstone headstone for "Little Fannie" was ordered the day that she died.

The brownstone headstone for “Little Fannie” was ordered the day that she died. She was just a few months old at the time.

All of Pitbladdo’s marble orders are for “Italian Marble.” This likely means marble imported from Italy, rather than just a reference to a commercial grade of stone. We were able to track several examples of Italian Marble monuments by Pitbladdo at Green-Wood. They are, by and large, simple and rather uninspired. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see the age of these monuments and their comparative prices. Here are examples of his work:

In 1862, Morris K. Jessup ordered "7 Italian Marble Headstones" at $35 each--or $796 in today's money. Here are two of them; others are in the background.

In 1862, Morris K. Jessup ordered “7 Italian Marble Headstones” at $35 each–or $796 each in today’s money. Here are two of them; others are in the background.

"Italian Marble Headstone" ordered for Edwin F. Poulterer on March 24, 1859. It was billed at $68 ($1883 today), with an additional $5.67 for carving 227 letters.

“Italian Marble Headstone” ordered for Edwin F. Poulterer on March 24, 1859. With some nice decorative carving on its edges, it was billed at $68 ($1883 today)–more than twice what the simple Jessup headstones above cost–with an additional $5.67 for carving 227 letters.

The order for this plain monument specified "Bowles in raised letters on base" and a price of $300.

The order for this plain monument specified “Bowles in raised letters on base” and a price of $305 ($5 for the raised letters, BOWLES, on the base (a total of $5632 in today’s cash–quite a substantial investment).

Mrs. John H. Whitaker placed an order for this Italian Marble Monument "the same as Jewetts" on August 26, 1859; she paid $465 ($12,879 in 2015 money) for it.

Mrs. John H. Whitaker placed an order for this Italian Marble Monument “the same as Jewetts” on August 26, 1859; she paid $465 ($12,879 in 2015 money) for it. That is nice carving at the top.

Granite monuments were also available. Granite is a very dense and hard rock. It survives in the elements very well. Take a look at these monuments–they show little if any wear after more than a century and a half outdoors:

Elias Wade of 78 South Street ordered this granite monument on May 10, 1859 for $500 ($13,849 today).

Elias Wade of 78 South Street ordered this granite monument on May 10, 1859 for $500 ($13,849 today). It is solid and simple.

Large granite obelisks seem to have been quite popular in this period. Here is a comparison of several:

Charles A. Baudouine ordered this granite obelisk on May 25, 1859; it was billed at $800 (which would be $22,157 today). The customer was paying for the stone and some basic shaping here; there are no carving flourishes.

Charles A. Baudouine ordered this granite obelisk on May 25, 1859; it was billed at $800 (which would be $22,157 today). The customer was paying for the massive stone and some basic shaping here; there are no carving flourishes. That’s Jim Lambert, volunteer extraordinaire. Jim is 6 feet tall–we used him in these photographs for scale.

The Leveridge Obelisk. Pitbladdo charged $850 for it; that comes out to $23,543 in today's money.

The Leveridge Obelisk. Pitbladdo charged $850 for it; that comes out to $23,543 in today’s money.

This is quite the demonstration of granite carving! Good work, William!

This is quite the fine demonstration of granite carving. Good work, William! The inscription, “Virtute et Opera,” translates to “By Virtue and Industry.”

F. and L.B. Reed ordered this granite obelisk on February 28, 1864; it was billed at $1200 ($17,573 in today's money).

F. and L.B. Reed ordered this granite obelisk on February 28, 1864; it was billed at $1200 ($17,573 in today’s money).

Detail of Pitbladdo's work on the Reed Obelisk. Note the winged globes, resurrectionist symbols. The globe represents eternity--it has no beginning and no end. The wings refer to resurrection--the flight to Heaven.

Detail of Pitbladdo’s work on the Reed Obelisk. The winged globes are resurrectionist symbols. The globe represents eternity–it has no beginning and no end. The wings refer to resurrection–the flight to Heaven. This is fine granite work.

This granite monument, ordered n December 12, 1867 for the Schenck-DeBevoise lot, was billed at $2300--the equivalent of $25,736 today.

This granite monument, ordered on December 12, 1867 for the Schenck-DeBevoise lot, was billed at $2300–the equivalent of $25,736 today.

Detail of the Schenck-Debevoise obelisk. Note the wonderful granite carving, a tour de force.

Detail of the Schenck-Debevoise monument. Note the wonderful granite carving, a tour de force.

I looked at this obelisk and couldn't quite figure out why it was more expensive that other more-elaborately carved monuments. But, when i re-checked the order book, I noticed that the entry was for "Scotch Peterhead Granite Monument" at $1100 (the equivalent of $30,467 today). It turns out that Scotch Peterhead granite was a choice red--and a buyer paid a premium for it.

I looked at this obelisk and couldn’t quite figure out why it was more expensive than the above more-elaborately carved monuments. But, when I re-checked the order book, I noticed that the entry was for “Scotch Peterhead Granite Monument” at $1100 (the equivalent of $30,467 today). It turns out that Scotch Peterhead granite was a choice red granite–and buyers paid a premium for it.

William Shepard Wetmore made a fortune in the China Trade. His home in Newport, Rhode Island, is owned by the Newport Preservation Society and is open to the public. This "Granite Hexagon Monument with Raised Names" cost $2050 in 1860--which translates to $56,779 in today's dollars.

William Shepard Wetmore made a fortune in the China Trade. His elaborate home in Newport, Rhode Island, Chateua-sur-Mer, is owned by the Newport Preservation Society and is open to the public. This massive “Granite Hexagon Monument with Raised Names” cost $2050 in 1860–which translates to $56,779 in today’s dollars.

A granite vault, with granite coping and a railing around it, and with “Hallett to be cut on front of vault,” was ordered by T.S. Hallett on September 8, 1860. The cost was $3950–equivalent to $109,400 today. This is it:

The Hallett Mausoleum. The granite coping and iron railing are long gone. Look closely and you can see a white material at the joints in the stones; that is the leading--lead strips placed to make the vault watertight.

The Hallett Mausoleum. The granite coping and iron railing that surrounded this lot are long gone. Look closely and you can see a white material in the joints of the stones; that is the leading–lead strips placed to make the vault watertight.

Pitbladdo worked on some of Green-Wood’s most interesting and elaborate mid-19th century tombs. This is the Jerome Mausoleum:

Leonard W. Jerome agreed in 1864 to purchase "I Granite Tomb as per plan Specifications" for $8000 (which would be $117,156 today). The "flight of Steps" was ordered in 1865, at a price of $800, the equivalent of $11,325 today.

Leonard W. Jerome agreed in 1864 to purchase “1 Granite Tomb as per plan Specifications” for $8000 (which would be $117,156 today). The granite “flight of Steps” was ordered in 1865, at a price of $800, the equivalent of $11,325 today.

Leonard Jerome, a notorious stock manipulator, and his wife, Clara, had a daughter named Jennie; she was born in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, married Sir Randolph Churchill, and gave birth to Winston Churchill.

Pitbladdo took the order for John Anderson’s Greek Revival “underground vault” in 1863; it cost $16,000. Anderson made his fortune in tobacco and that is a whole lot of tobacco! It translates to $295,000 today:

The John Anderson Tomb was ordered in 1863 and is dated, above its front door, 1864. This is a circa 1875 half stereoview of its back, with Green-Wood's brownstone gates seen in the distance at the left.

The John Anderson Tomb was ordered in 1863 and is dated, above its front door, 1864. This is a circa 1875 half stereoview of its back, with Green-Wood’s brownstone gates seen in the distance at left.

On June 3, 1864, Peter Moller ordered this tomb at the agreed-upon price of $19,000–the equivalent of $278,246 today:

Peter Moller's tomb--the most expensive item in the Order Book.

Peter Moller’s tomb–the most expensive item in the Order Book in dollars of the time.

On June 27, 1860, Isaac N. Phelps agreed to pay $11,000 ($304,670 in today’s dollars) for the construction of “1 Marble Vault to be built as per Plan.” In today’s money, this is the most expensive tomb Pitbladdo billed in this Order Book:

Isaac N. Phelp's tomb.

Isaac N. Phelp’s tomb.

Crockets–stylized carvings of buds, flowers, or leaves used to decorate spires, finials, and pinnacles of Gothic Revival architecture–were billed to Isaac N. Phelps at an additional $500:

Crockets on the Phelps Tomb.

Crockets decorate the spires on the Phelps Tomb.

As we printed section maps of Green-Wood so that we could find Pitbladdo’s work on the grounds, a surprising pattern emerged: many of these monuments were right along Green-Wood’s avenues. Undoubtedly, prime locations in the cemetery were those along the roads. They had the easiest access, were the simplest to find, and were the most visible. Further, highly-visible monuments would add to the excitement of tourists who came to take “The Tour”–a prescribed route through Green-Wood featuring such attractions as “The Mad Poet” and “The Indian Princess”–which had the ultimate goal of increasing lot sales. One wonders if Green-Wood’s sales force of the mid-19th century–when the cemetery had only been selling lots for two decades– encouraged lot buyers to purchase lots along the roads, rather than farther back, so that the cemetery would look that much fuller, thereby impressing visitors while also encouraging prospective customers to buy so as not to lose out.

Inside the back cover of the Order Book appear two interesting documents:

This chart makes it apparent that Pitbladdo's work was concentrated at Green-Wood. He put his business at its entrances and was ready to go with a chart of lot sizes; no other cemetery had such a chart in his Order Book.

This chart makes it apparent that Pitbladdo’s work was concentrated at Green-Wood. He put his business at its entrances and prepared a chart of lot sizes there; no other cemetery had such a chart in his Order Book.

This recipe gives you an idea of the somewhat primitive state of the monument making business in 1850 Brooklyn.

This recipe for “Cement for Statuary Marble” gives you an idea of the somewhat primitive state of the monument making business in 1850 Brooklyn. It starts off: “Dissolve 5 or 6 pieces of Mastic as large as peas in as much spirits of wine as will suffice to render it liquid . . . .” The recipe then calls for use of “French brandy or rum”–to taste?

In the 1870 Brooklyn Directory, William Pitbladdo is listed in the marble business at the corner of 5th Avenue and 25th Street and living on 25th Street. He died in February, 1870, leaving an estate described in his will as “less than thirty thousand dollars.” He was interred at Green-Wood on the 13th of that month–at the end of a long and successful Green-Wood career. Today the memorials that he created more than a century and a half ago stand as monuments to him. And his Order Book that he kept from 1856 through 1867 provides insight to the cemetery’s development and to monument making in America–detailing the monuments and tombs that were being fabricated during this period and their prices. It is a great find!

 

8 thoughts on “William Pitbladdo, Monument Maker

  1. Hi, i stumbled across this site, and find it very fascinating. My great great grandfather was a stonecutter in Brooklyn, and he actually worked for Thomas Plitbladdo. I was hoping there might be some information about him in the book you found. His name was Thomas F. Molen, and he died in 1917 in Brooklyn. This except is from his obituary, published in the Brooklyn Eagle: Mr. Molen was one of the oldest members of St. John’s Church. He was born in Cahir, County Tipperary, Ireland, and came to this country in 1851, settling in South Brooklyn, where he had lived ever since. Mr. Molen was a skillful granite monument cutter, and was for years in the employ of Quinn Bros., Thomas Pitbladdo and John Wade, monument dealers of the vicinity of Greenwood Cemetery.” Thank you for your time!

    • Thanks for sharing your great great grandfather’s story. William Pitbladdo’s account book, about which I have written, covers his work from 1856 to 1867–which may have been before Thomas F. Molen was working as a stonecutter. In any event, the Pitbladdo account book makes no mention of the men working for him as stonecutters–the only names mentioned in it are those of his customers.

      • Thank you so much for your reply. I suppose my gg grandfather Thomas worked for William Pitbladdo’s son Thomas during the 1870-1890 period. The book sounds like an incredible discovery.

  2. He was also my great-great-great grandfather. I thoroughly enjoyed the story. Kenneth Pitbladdo who was mentioned early on in the story was my grandfather and I have many great memories of that fine and hard working man.

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