Yucca flaccida, or Weak-Leaved Adam’s Needle

Yucca flaccida, colored plate by
S.A. Drake in Edward’s Botanical
Register
, published in 1836
While Riverview Cemetery has a significant tree inventory, the grounds also include a rather large collection of perennials and woody plants. I am always on the lookout for those that have a “history,” especially when they are found in our historic cemeteries.

Yucca flaccida, commonly known as the Weak-Leaved Adam’s Needle, is a member of the Asparagaceae family, its Latin epithet deriving from weak sword-like outer leaves that generally fold under their own weight, supporting the inner leaves. Native to Eastern North America from Ontario to Florida, they stand about 1-1/2 feet tall and two feet across, and panicles of bell-shaped creamy white flowers rise four feet above the foliage in early-summer.

A hand-colored lithograph of Y. flaccida drawn by Sarah Ann Drake in London’s Garden of the Horticultural Society in 1835 appeared in Edward’s Botanical Register that was published the following year.

Indeed, the literature is replete with descriptions of Y. flaccida, including The Horticulturist, edited by landscape designer, horticulturist and writer Andrew Jackson Downing, who in 1852 noted that the plant “blooms in our northern gardens as freely as the common white lily—throwing up its beautiful pyramidal flower stalks, two or three feet high, about the end of June, and bearing a profusion of fine milk-white flowers, all the month of July. It is one of our favorite evergreen plants, beautiful at all seasons.”

A stand of Y. flaccida is located along Elm Avenue in Section N.

Riverview Cemetery’s Receiving Vault

The Receiving Vault at Riverview Cemetery
A “receiving vault” is a structure designed to hold the bodies of the deceased during the winter months when the ground is too frozen to dig graves, but they are sometimes used to store a body that is to be transported elsewhere, or a family mausoleum is to be constructed.

With the charter of the Riverview Cemetery Corporation in 1858, the company began construction of a receiving vault into the hillside along what is today Valley Avenue. It was completed the following year. Built of stone and brick, it has four arched-ceiling vaults, two on either side, each of which originally had wooden shelves capable of storing three caskets, and above the iron door is found “Receiving Vault 1859” on the lintel.

The receiving vault found use during the blizzards of both 1888 and 1899 as noted in the Trenton Sunday Advertiser of February 19, 1899. “Whether the blizzard of last week was more severe than the one in March 1888 has been a topic of discussion. There are two classes of men, however, who are satisfied that 1899 outdid 1888. These are the undertakers and the sextons and grave-diggers at the cemeteries.”

David Lukens and the Underground Railroad

I recently came across the obituary for Sarah Lukens Woolman in the Trenton Times of December 8, 1903, which noted that “She was the widow of Samuel Woolman of Fallsington and daughter of David Lukens, whose farm near Morrisville was a station of the underground railroad in slavery days.”

The Underground Railroad, of course, was the loosely organized network of safe havens with no clearly defined routes by which fugitive slaves made their way to the free states and Canada. Secreted away in homes and barns in their journies to freedom, it became a risky endeavor for abolitionists after passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 which made it a Federal crime to aid those escaping the brutal conditions of slavery.

David Lukens was born at Horsham Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, on March 10, 1793; married Eliza Woolman at the Rancocas Meeting, Burlington County, New Jersey, on November 13, 1817; and died at Morrisville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on February 14, 1869.

Gravemarkers for Eliza (left) and David Lukens.
His obituary in the Bucks County Intelligencer of February 23, 1869, provides the account of his passing:

“David Lukens, an old and respected citizen of Morrisville, aged about 75 years, died very suddenly on Sunday evening week. During the day, he was in his usual health, and about five o’clock he went over to Trenton in company with some friends who had been spending the day with him. On returning to Morrisville, he went to the stable and put up his horse, but not returning to the house for a considerable time the family became alarmed, and one of his daughters went to see what had become of him, and found him lying upon the barn floor unable to move. By the aid of his daughter he was got to the house, where he soon after expired on the lounge in the arms of his wife. Medical aid was promptly summoned, but to no effect. The cause of his sudden death was heart disease.”

He and his wife Eliza, their graves marked by modest stones, are interred in the Friends’ Plot.

William Harris Tantum IV, Maritime Historian

William Harris Tantum IV
Courtesy of Titanic Historical Society

William Harris Tantum IV (1930–1980), publishing company executive and maritime historian, was a co-founder and former president of the Titanic Historical Society.

Born in Trenton, he resided in Lower Makefield, Pa., before moving to Greenwich, Conn., and it was there that he became acquainted with Edward S. Kamuda who had founded the Titanic Enthusiasts of America some years earlier.

Given Tantum’s flair for publicity, he was one of the co-founders of the Titanic Historical Society as a successor and the driving force in that organization achieving national acclaim.

He encouraged Robert D. Ballard, Ph.D., to search for R.M.S. Titanic, which foundered after striking an iceberg on April 14, 1912, but died five years before the ship was discovered in the icy waters of the North Atlantic in 1985. In recognition, however, a plaque was placed at the site the following year. The inscription reads: “In memory of those souls who perished with the ‘Titanic’ April 14-15, 1912. Dedicated to William H. Tantum IV, whose dream to find the ‘Titanic’ has been realized by Dr. Robert D. Ballard. The officers and members of the Titanic Historical Society Inc., 1986.”

He was a graduate of Valley Forge Military Academy and Pennsylvania Military College (now Widener University), and retired a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Tantum IV is interred in Section B, Lot 416-418, in the Zerman-Tantum family plot.

The Monument for Welling G. Sickel

Sickel Monument in Riverview Cemetery, Trenton, N.J.
One of my research interests is the histories of monument companies, and the study of the monuments they created and the individuals that were memorialized.

I recently came across an article in the August 25, 1912, issue of the Trenton Evening Times that described how the well-traveled Welling G. Sickel (1858–1911), a wealthy rubber manufacturer and mayor of Trenton from 1897 to 1899, had visited the Vatican Museum while touring Italy with his wife Margaret (1858–1931) where they both admired the sarcophagus of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus that was on display. After her husband’s death, she decided to commemorate his life with a monument modeled after the sarcophagus they had so admired many years earlier for the family plot in Section U, Lot 81-84, here at Riverview Cemetery.