Alexander McDonald Company

For much of the first half of the last century, the monumental works of Alexander McDonald Company were located just outside the gate of Riverview Cemetery, next door to the old superintendent’s house and office, and it was here that its many artisans and carvers turned out all manner of memorialization in stone from simple headstones to elaborate monuments for the city’s burgeoning population.

The office and display of Alexander McDonald Company
on Centre Street and stone-yard on Second Street as they appeared in 1921

Alexander McDonald was born April 28, 1829, in Aberdeen, Scotland, and emigrated to the United States in 1852. Arriving in New York City, he made his way to Albany, N.Y., and finally to Cambridge, Mass., where in 1856 he established a monumental firm bearing his name opposite the entrance to Mount Auburn Cemetery. After retiring in 1887, his son Frank R. McDonald took over the day-to-day operations and the firm continued as Alexander McDonald and Son.

The Northern Red Oak, or Quercus ruba

Among the 500 trees comprising 71 species at Riverview Cemetery is a majestic specimen of Northern Red Oak, or Quercus ruba, which can be found along Myrtle Avenue in Section E near the southern boundary of the grounds.

Known for its brilliant red fall color, the tree is native to the eastern and central United States; its range extends into Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana to the south and Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Minnesota to the west. It can reach 60 to 75 feet in height with a crown spread of 45 feet at maturity when open grown, and the oblong-shaped leaves are five to eight inches long with seven to 11 bristle-tipped lobes.

Our tree has a 60-inch caliper as recorded by B.W. Bosenberg and Company, landscape architects based in Far Hills, N.J., which translates to a circumference of nearly 16 feet. The Sunday Times-Advertiser of December 12, 1915, notes that “due to his extensive knowledge in the care of trees, [Isaac] Stephens was given entire charge of the planting of all the trees in Riverview Cemetery, of which he was one of the founders,” likely making it among the earliest planted on the grounds after the Cemetery’s incorporation on February 28, 1858, a feat all the more remarkable as I am told it survived a lightning strike a number of decades ago.

The Sojourn of Catharine Maloney

A “receiving vault” is a structure designed primarily to hold the bodies of the deceased during the winter months when the ground is too frozen to dig graves. They were also used to store a body that is to be transported elsewhere or a family mausoleum is to be constructed, and a notable instance of the latter is the sorrowful story of Catharine Maloney, daughter of Philadelphia capitalist Martin Maloney, whom found temporary rest in Riverview Cemetery’s receiving vault at the turn of the last century.

Born on November 11, 1848, Martin Maloney emigrated with his parents and siblings from Ballingarry, Ireland, when he was a young boy. He worked in the coal mines around Scranton, Pennsylvania, with his father, afterward apprenticing himself as a tinsmith, coppersmith, plumber and gas-fitter. He organized the Hyde Park Gas Company, the nucleus of a system that eventually provided gas to Scranton and surrounding areas, and subsequently organized the Maloney Oil, Gas and Manufacturing Company.

Maloney married Margaret A. Hewitson on December 31, 1868, and together they had seven children. All but three daughters—Margaret, Catharine (Kitty) and Helen—passed away in their younger years.

Sassafras, or Sassafras albidum

Riverview Cemetery has but one Sassafras tree in its plant collection, that being a weather-beaten specimen in Section K that is likely more than a hundred years old. A deciduous tree, Sassafras albidum is native to Eastern North America where it generally grows from 40 to 50 feet in height in its northern range. Larger specimens are found in its southern range.

Sassafras in Section K at Riverview Cemetery in summer and fall colors

Sassafras is unusual in having three distinct leaf patterns — unlobed oval, bilobed, and trilobed — on the same plant. The leaves are bright green in the summer and turn a brilliant yellow-orange and red-orange in the fall.

Richard E. Weaver Jr., in the January 1976 issue of Arnoldia, the quarterly bulletin of the Arnold Arboretum, writes “the color and the effect of the fall foliage is about as spectacular as that of any tree, the leaves typically turning orange with tints of yellow, red, and salmon, and for this reason alone the tree deserves more recognition as an ornamental.”

“The Last Voyage”

Among my cemetery research interests is the study of the Monumental Bronze Company and the “white bronze” monuments they produced. The Last Voyage, one of my favorite motifs, was among many that were used to embellish monuments. Modeled by sculptor Archibald McKellar and finished at the company’s art foundry in February 1881, it was first offered in their 1882 catalog.

The Last Voyage, modeled by Archibald McKellar and
offered in the 1882 catalog of the Monumental Bronze Company. Institution

This motif was taken from A Gentle Wafting to Immortal Life, a bas-relief marble sculpture by Felix M. Miller and a later engraving by William Roffe. As described in The Art Journal (1879), Miller portrayed the elder of two deceased brothers, Herbert Mellor, on the angelic mission of guiding his younger brother, Theodore, on his last voyage over the “sea of bliss.” They were the deceased children of J.J. Mellor, Esq., of the Woodlands, Whitfield, Manchester.