George Bird Grinnell and Others

gbgI went up to Woodlawn Cemetery to visit the grave of Herman Melville, and I stumbled upon George Bird Grinnell. Grinnell was born in Brooklyn and tutored by Lucy Bakewell Audubon, widow of John James, at the Audubon home in upper Manhattan. He started the first Audubon organization, believing the name should live on. Bird Grinnell, who was born with that name, was an influential editor of the magazine Forest & Stream, campaigning for national parks, respect for Native Americans, saving the bison, and protecting birds from the slaughter of the millenary trade (one of fashion’s many dark hours). This headstone is modest, by the way, but the family obelisk is pretty imposing (it is a competitive neighborhood; the robber barons flocked to Woodlawn in their effort to perpetuate their names after death).Patricia CroninPatricia Cronin’s stunning “Memorial to a Marriage.” Stunning because this is rather good, and because it depicts two women, Cronin and her wife (a little disconcertingly, they’re both still alive), and you know how often you see sculptures of actual women (non-symbolic), and how often you see sculptures of women lovers. Also, chipmunks, who are all over the cemetery, have burrowed underneath it, which means it has natural history value, too. It’s not as shiny as certain parts of Victor Noir, but give it time… Quercus albaA sprawling old White Oak (Quercus alba), one of the city’s Great Trees, said to be the oldest in the cemetery, but I couldn’t find any dates associated with it. Woodlawn opened in 1863.Procyon lotorA scratchy clambering sound on a tree turned out to be this youngish Raccoon (Procyon lotor) who had clearly just been in the lake. The last time I was in Woodlawn, some 19 years ago (!), I saw a Coyote. QuercusAnd Melville? I’m planning a group walk from his birthplace in lower Manhattan to his death place (26th St.) to his final “resting” place here, c. 17 miles, and wanted to be sure of the destination. The whole unhappy gang is there, with a cenotaph (marker without a body) for Stanwix, who was buried in California. Next to the family plot is a fine oak, Black, I think (Q. velutina), with huge leaves.Gleditsia triacanthosSpine of a Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos); postulated as defense against now-extinct giant herbivores. Sure could do a number on a mammal. Speaking of which:furIt was darker than it looks here, with some white, so I thought skunk.

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3 Responses to “George Bird Grinnell and Others”


  1. 1 judysbirds July 6, 2014 at 8:51 am

    Fascinating post. But then I find cemeteries fascinating… Love the history and the photos.

  2. 2 Tom Andersen July 6, 2014 at 11:07 am

    George Bird Grinnell was connected with Connecticut Audubon Society in the early days. We had his diaries and his collection of bird skins at our Birdcraft Museum until just about 18 months ago, when we gave the skins to Yale Peabody (the diaries went to Yale earlier). Among the skins were those that Grinnell collected while with Custer in the Dakota territories. That was during Custer’s first visit; the story here is that when asked to go on the second trip, Grinnell declined and chose to go to Yale instead. (I hasten to add that I made no effort to document that.)

    As for Melville, in October 1977, I was an intern-copy boy at Channel 6/WRGB TV in Schenectady. The Yankees were playing the Dodgers in the series and I had tickets to the first game. I mentioned it to the Channel 6 sports anchor and he said he was covering the game with a cameraman and that they could use someone to hold the lights for pre-game, on-the-field interviews. Was I interested in helping? Silly question. I drove down on my own. To avoid post-game traffic, I parked at Woodlawn and took the subway. But before boarding, I wandered through the cemetery in search of Melville’s grave. The Yankees won in extra innings. Being on the field for the hoopla of the first game of the World Series was dazzling and almost overwhelming. Upstairs I have a college textbook, a Norton Anthology, “Eight American Writers.” Pressed into the first Melville page is a sprig of English ivy I plucked from his grave.

    • 3 mthew July 6, 2014 at 6:34 pm

      A great history, Tom. I first visited Melville’s grave nearly 20 years ago. I have a photo: boy, I’m skinnier. I feel like we stumbled on it, like Duke Ellington’s and Sir (yes; he was a Knight of Malta evidently) Miles Davis’s and LaGuardia’s. Not sure I’d read Moby D yet; have several times since. My friends had a nap on the cemetery grass, when they woke, I pointed out the dog — wait a minute, that’s not a dog, that’s a coyote looping off over there. This time, I bought my sperm whale tooth — pre-ban, a gift of my parents, purchased on Nantucket, summer island of my youth and, ultimately, high school — homage.


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