Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Cemetery Mystery Solved

On Monday, Gossips asked the question, "Who is buried in Jones' tomb?" Today, we have the answer: Fred W. Jones himself, along with his daughter, Mabel Jones Hoffman, and two other people whose presence in the Jones mausoleum inspires further questions.

As Gossips reported previously, on June 17, 1901, the Hudson Daily Register ran the story that body of Fred W. Jones was missing from his mausoleum. The next day, on June 18, 1901, the Register followed up with an explanation of what had happened. Apparently, Fred W. Jones, the owner of the New York Coral and Shell Marble Company and creator of the "mountain railroad" from the quarry to the river, which bisected South Bay and evolved into the now controversial "causeway," had, by the time of his death on January 7, 1901, at the age of 59, fallen into financial difficulties. In December 1900, just a month before his death, Jones had gone bankrupt. 

The census records for 1900 indicate that Jones's home was mortgaged, and presumably the grand mausoleum he had built for himself in 1884, at a cost of $10,000, was mortgaged, too, because, in June 1901, the bank repossessed it and removed Jones's remains. According to the newspaper account, the bank put the casket and the body in another vault, but which one is not indicated. 

Cemetery records show that, in November 1902, Fred W. Jones was interred in Section 18-H, Plot 91--an individual grave--almost a year and a half after he'd been evicted from his mausoleum. If Jones was buried in the ground somewhere in the cemetery, who was buried in Jones' tomb? 

On Thursday morning, I accompanied Paul Barrett, Gossips' favorite collaborator in cemetery sleuthing, up to the cemetery to find out. Our first stop, before keeping an appointment with Gail Grandinetti in the cemetery office, was the Jones mausoleum, where peering through the iron gate into the crypt, we could see that there were four people entombed there: Mabel Jones Hoffman, Fred W. Jones, Frank Shults, and Mary Shults.

Mabel Jones Hoffman we know is Fred W. Jones's daughter, who was still a teenager when her father died, but who were Mary Shults and Frank Shults and why are they in Jones's mausoleum?

At the cemetery office, we learned from Gail Grandinetti that Jones's daughter had managed to pay off the debt and reclaim the mausoleum. Cemetery records show that in 1911 Jones was disinterred from Plot 91 in Section 18-H, and the plot was sold to Maria Miller, who is now buried there. At this point, ten years after his death, the body of Fred W. Jones was moved to its intended resting place.

That leaves the question of Mary Shults and Frank Shults. In the census records for 1900, the year before this death, Fred W. Jones is listed as a widower and the head of a household that includes Mabel Jones "Daughter," Mary Shults "Housekeeper," and Frank Shults "Clerk Office."

The records from the next decennial census, in 1910, nine years after Fred W. Jones's death, show a different and puzzling household configuration. In 1910, the head of household is William R. Pierce and the other members of the household are, in order of appearance, Ada "Wife," Elsie "Daughter," Andrew M. "Son," Jefferies Hochlander "Boarder," Mary Shults "Boarder," Frank Shults "Son," and Mabel Jones "Daughter." The order of entries seems to suggest that Mabel Jones, born the daughter of the rich and influential Fred W. Jones, is now, at the age of 25, being identified as the daughter of her father's former housekeeper, living with her as a boarder in her own home.

The story continues. On New Year's Day 1914, Mabel Jones, then nearly 30, married Harry Hoffman. In the report of the wedding, which appeared the next day on the front page of the Daily Register, the bride is identified as the "daughter of Mrs. Mary Jones and the late Fred W. Jones." Is Mrs. Mary Jones actually Mary Shults? 

If the names Mary Shults and Frank Shults sound familiar, here's why. In 1917, Frank Shults, executor of the will of Mary Shults, his mother, sued the New York & New England Cement and Lime company "not only to obtain damages for personal and real estate injuries, but to restrain the cement company from further commission of a nuisance." One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit was Mabel J. Hoffman.

During the trial, Mabel Hoffman (née Jones) testified at length about the deplorable conditions in her mother's house caused by the operation of the cement plant. The newspaper accounts of the trial identify Mary Shults as Mabel Hoffman's mother and Frank Shults as her brother. They also reveal that in 1917 Mabel and her husband, Harold (Harry) W. Hoffman, along with Frank Shults, were living on the Jones estate, located on the south side of Route 9 just beyond Ten Broeck Lane--property Fred W. Jones had acquired in 1881. Orphaned at the age of 16, Mabel Jones seems to have adopted her father's housekeeper and the housekeeper's son as her de facto family, which would explain the presence of Mary Shults and Frank Shults in Fred W. Jones's mausoleum.

There is an afterword to the story. Although her husband seems at some point to have decamped to Buffalo, Mabel Jones lived in her father's house until her death in 1958. An article that appeared in the Chatham Courier on June 5, 1958, reports the "methodical destruction" visited on the house by vandals a few months after Mabel Jones's death. The account of what was destroyed suggests that in spite of her father's bankruptcy and her marriage to a machinist, probably considered marrying beneath her station, Mabel managed to retain the trappings of wealth. (Of course, Henry Ford started out as a machinist, so who knows what Harry Hoffman may have achieved?)

Once upon a time, I'm told, the Chatham Courier had a reputation for inaccuracy, and this article certainly supports that. Fred W. Jones was not a "pioneer in Hudson's cement industry." In fact, when the cement plants opened (the one adjacent to his property opened in 1910), Fred Jones was already dead. He died in 1901, not in the 1920s as the article would have it. Also, Mabel Jones was Fred Jones' daughter not his wife.

Thanks to Paul Barrett, Gail Grandinetti, Chad Weckler, and Timothy O'Connor for the information they contributed to this post


  1. Congratulations to all involved in this. As Brendan Gill so eloquently stated, "Every scrap of the past is worth preserving, and not least for this reason: that from one generation to the next we can never be certain whether the value of a given object—a coin, a book, a bundle of old letters—is great or small. Nor is this inconsistency in respect to value a function of anything as simple as scarcity; it is related also to how remarkably often scholars are capable of changing their minds. History is a speculation base on a vast kitchen-midden of indiscriminate facts, from which a variety of contradictory hypotheses can be plucked. We destroy at our peril what strikes today as trash, for tomorrow we may be damned for having failed to detect its obvious importance."

  2. Which home was this? The once-grand but dilapidated stone house on the west side of Route 9?

    1. No, Virginia. The house you're thinking of belonged to Stephen T. B. Heermance: Fred Jones's house is the Greek Revival, also on the west side of Route 9 heading south, just beyond the street that Kaz dubbed Vapor Trail. (I don't know what it's called now.) It's directly across the street from that row of houses that Fred W. Jones built for his workers. Before Jones owned it, it was the Peter Van Deusen homestead. This post includes a satellite view of the house:

      The irony is that Jones's "mountain railroad" made the Heermance house uninhabitable. A few decades later, Jones's heirs brought a lawsuit against New York & New England Cement and Lime Company because the cement plant, where Holcim is now, which started up in 1910, was making their house uninhabitable.