Post by Graveyardbride on Oct 4, 2016 22:03:27 GMT -5
Man Lives in Tomb with Dead Wife
In Brooklyn, New York, on Thursday, September 14, 1905, hundreds of deciduous trees lent bold strokes of gold, orange and red to the funereal landscape as undertakers carrying the corpse of Jonathan Reed waited for a caretaker to unlock the door of a splendid mausoleum in The Evergreens Cemetery. The men then entered and placed the elderly gentleman, who had died the day before, in the coffin beside that of his beloved wife. If Reed knew what was taking place, he felt right at home, for he had spent most of his waking hours for the past several years within the tomb.
Fifty-nine-year-old Mary Gould Reed died March 23, 1893, and as her inconsolable husband sat beside her deathbed, he promised to remain by her side until he joined her in the hereafter. Jonathan Reed, around 68 at the time, never got over his loss. Most people begin to recover from the death of a loved one around eight weeks after his/her demise, but Reed’s grief persisted and he was unwilling to accept the fact his companion was gone. He told friends and acquaintances the only change was that the warmth had left Mary’s body. He believed if he kept her warm, she would be just as much his wife as before death.
Initially, Mrs. Reed was interred in the Gould family vault, but the heartbroken widower was spending so much time at the grave site that his father-in-law finally lost patience and told him it wasn’t normal – and in very poor taste – to hang around the cemetery for hours every day, no matter how much he loved Mary. Two years later, Mr. Gould died and Reed purchased space in the fashionable Whispering Oaks section of The Evergreens, where he oversaw the construction of a substantial mausoleum of rough-hewn stone that extended into a high embankment. He then had his wife’s expensive metal coffin transferred to her new resting place and proceeded to turn the two-room crypt into a dwelling that would, for all practical purposes, become his home. First, he purchased a casket for himself and had it placed in the sepulcher beside that of his beloved. Then he went about decorating the tomb with comfortable furniture, bright red curtains, a clock, urns filled with fragrant blooms, photographs, paintings (one of which depicted Charon crossing the River Styx), a deck of cards, china and silverware, his wife’s half-finished knitting project and a wood-burning stove he had specially made for the sepulcher. He even brought Mary’s pet canary to the tomb. (The bird later died, but Reed wasn’t discouraged; he took the carcass to a taxidermist to preserve the little yellow songbird and had it placed back on its perch inside the cage.)
Reed was a retired merchant and he and Mary had lived comfortably in a fine dwelling (no longer standing) in the East New York section of Brooklyn; his net worth in today’s currency would amount to approximately $500,000. Early each morning, he left his home at the corner of Marcy Avenue and South 9th Street and made his way to The Evergreens, usually arriving around 6 a.m. when the gates opened. For the next several hours, he spent his time in the elaborately-furnished mausoleum reading, napping and talking to Mary and those who stopped by to pass the time of day, interspersed with short strolls about the manicured grounds of the sprawling cemetery. As with old-time postal workers, neither rain, snow, hail nor extreme heat or cold kept Reed from his appointed visits. People said he took most of his meals inside the tomb while carrying on an imaginary conversation with the woman he loved. In an interview with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1895, Reed explained, “My wife was a remarkable woman and our lives were blended into one. When she died, I had no ambition but to cherish her memory. My only pleasure is to sit here with all that is left of her.” His comment indicates he knew very well Mary Reed was dead. Apparently, he simply preferred the company of his deceased wife to that of the living.
Word soon spread about the eccentric old man who had taken up residence in the graveyard and during the first year, in excess of 7,000 curiosity seekers visited the mausoleum to exchange a few words with Jonathan Reed. Before long, Mr. and Mrs. Reed were receiving guests from around the globe, including a group of Buddhist monks from Burma who were convinced the old man in America possessed some secret knowledge of life after death. Though in his 70s, Reed also attracted the attentions of local widows and other available ladies and many came to call. He cordially received them, but firmly explained Mary was simply sleeping and he aspired only to be laid to rest beside her. Nevertheless, Reed didn’t actually “live” in the cemetery. The gates of The Evergreens closed at 6 p.m. and so far as is known, he was always gone by that time.
Mary Reed had loved the springtime and when she died, the promise of spring was in the air. It was on such a day in the month of March 12 years later that a laborer at Evergreens Cemetery noticed the door of a tomb was ajar. Not realizing Jonathan Reed practically lived in the huge mausoleum, he poked his head inside and in the gloomy interior, saw what he thought was a dead man lying on the cold marble floor. He immediately informed a police officer by the name of Dooley, who, in turn, summoned Dr. Meister from the Bradford Street Hospital. The doctor checked the old man, who was still alive, but appeared to be the victim of apoplexy. At this point, no one present knew the identity of the elderly gentleman and he was transported by ambulance to the hospital and admitted to the pauper’s ward. That night, doctors told his niece her uncle was alive, but in critical condition.
Local newspapers, including The New York Times, reported Reed’s collapse, emphasizing the fact he was found in a state of unconsciousness on the floor of his wife’s tomb. “Mr Reed could never be made to believe that his wife was really dead,” one journalist wrote, “and that if he kept the mausoleum warm, she would continue to sleep peacefully ... Friends often visited him in the tomb and although they at first tried to convince him that his wife was really dead, they long ago gave up that argument and have for years honored the whims of the old man,” who “ate all of his meals in the mausoleum and was in the habit of holding imaginary conversations with his wife. According to his friends, he really believed that his wife could understand what he was saying to her.”
Another paper reported: “When his wife died about eight years ago,* Mr. Reed had built for her in Evergreens Cemetery, one of the most remarkable tombs ever constructed,” then proceeded to recount Reed’s strange obsession, but ended by conceding, “In spite of this remarkable eccentricity in regard to his dead wife, Mr. Reed is in other respects an unusually intelligent and interesting man. He converses on all subjects with a degree of knowledge and insight rare to a person of his age. It is only upon the subject of death that he appears to be at all deranged.”
Jonathan Reed never recovered and remained an invalid until his death September 13, 1905, at the age of around 80 years. The following day, the tomb at The Evergreens was opened and closed for the last time. His obituary stated: “Mr. Jonathan Reed, known throughout the United States as the ‘Hermit of Evergreens Cemetery,’ is dead and was today [Sept. 14] entombed beside his wife in the magnificent mausoleum where he had passed most of his time mourning her. On his wife's deathbed, he promised never to leave her side until he should join her in death and he faithfully kept his pledge, in all weathers and all seasons.”
Sources: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 24, 1905; The New York Times, March 24 and September 14, 1905; Green Oasis in Brooklyn: The Evergreens Cemetery by John Rousmaniere; The Evergreens Cemetery; Find-a-Grave; Jeff Dobbins, Walks of New York, October 29, 2011; and Findery.
*Actually, Mary Reed had been dead 12 years.