From North to West Philly: Central High School and The Woodlands

Like many other West Philly residents, I've made The Woodlands Cemetery a part of my life; I’ve biked there, walked there, picnicked there, and in 2013, started interning there. When working at The Woodlands and reading through the files of some of the cemetery’s  most remarkable residents, I couldn’t help but notice that many of them shared one hallmark of success: they attended Philadelphia’s Central High School. As a rising senior at Central myself, I wanted to learn more about the connection between my high school and The Woodlands. Here’s what I found:

The original Central High School Building at 13th and Market. Image from the Library Company of Philadelphia.

The original Central High School Building at 13th and Market. Image from the Library Company of Philadelphia.

  • There are no female graduates of Central buried in The Woodlands; this is because the majority of Central grads buried here lived in the mid to late 19th and early 20th centuries; Central didn’t go co-ed until 1983, when the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas declared the school’s longstanding male-only admission policy unconstitutional. Six girls integrated the student body that year, and today over half the student population—including me—is female.
  • There are dozens of medical professionals who went to Central buried in the Woodlands. This is likely because Central’s 19th century curriculum focused on the sciences, which led many students to Jefferson Medical College (now Thomas Jefferson University). These students were able to attend medical school immediately following their graduation from high school without attending college because of Central’s unique ability to confer bachelors’ degrees upon graduating seniors. This practice continues today; all seniors with a 90% average or above receive a B.A. when they graduate from Central, but this degree is unfortunately no longer as valid as it was in the 19th century.
  • The most powerful connections between the Woodlands and Central are the hundreds of Central alumni and former faculty buried in the cemetery. Here are some of the most interesting stories:

Thomas Eakins (38th graduating class, Section C, Lot #513)

Thomas Eakins' school picture, taken at Central High School, 1861. From the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Thomas Eakins' school picture, taken at Central High School, 1861. From the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Eakins is one of the most well-known of the Central’s alumni, as well as one of the Woodlands’ most notable residents. During his time at Central, Eakins focused on what the High School deemed practical skills, studying in mostly technical and scientific fields. Although his art education at Central was limited, it was there that he was introduced to the fields of science he would famously go on to depict later in life. Eakins is known for his paintings of medical scenes; his most famous work, The Gross Clinic, portrays the famous surgeon Dr. Samuel Gross presiding over a surgery at Jefferson Medical College.

 

William Williams Keen (21st graduating class, Section D, Lot #179-182)

Keen, a Central graduate buried in the Woodlands, was the first American brain surgeon. He worked closely with a number of Presidents, performing a secret operation on Grover Cleveland to remove a jaw tumor. Although President Cleveland would never visit his surgeon’s alma mater, two other presidents, James K. Polk and Theodore Roosevelt, would visit Central in the years following Keen’s graduation.

Top Right: The Keen Clinic depicts Dr. Keen teaching in the surgical amphitheater at Jefferson Medical College. The Gross Clinic by Thomas Eakins depicts Dr. Samuel Gross teaching in the same amphitheater; both Gross and Eakins are buried in the Woodlands. Image from Jefferson Medical College.

Bottom Right: President Theodore Roosevelt at Central High School. From the Mary Gaston Barnwell Association.

 

The Peales and Belfield:

Self Portrait by Rembrandt Peale. From the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Self Portrait by Rembrandt Peale. From the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Woodlands resident Rembrandt Peale (Section F, Lot #55) was the son of renowned portrait painter of the American Revolution, Charles Willson Peale and was a distinguished painter himself. After studying under Benjamin West in England and gaining an international reputation for his work, Rembrandt returned to the U.S. where, in 1841, he assumed the post of professor of drawing and writing at the young Central High School, which at the time was desperately in need of faculty members for its growing student body.

In addition to Rembrandt’s work at the High School, Charles Willson Peale’s grandson, Harry Peale (Section L, Lot #25-29), attended Central and is buried in the Woodlands.

The Artist in his Museum, a self portrait by Charles Willson Peale. From the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

The Artist in his Museum, a self portrait by Charles Willson Peale. From the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

The Peale family is also geographically related to Central; the family’s Germantown estate, Belfield, covered much of the ground now occupied by Central. It was from Belfield, just a few hundred feet away from Central, where Charles Willson Peale corresponded with Thomas Jefferson at Monticello.

When Charles Willson Peale sold his estate, it was bought by entrepreneur William Logan Fisher. Fisher’s woolen mills in Germantown once produced 90% of the country’s hosiery; the crowning glory of his enterprise was his largest mill, Wakefield, which stood immediately southeast of the grounds that now house Central. Although the mill burned down in 1985, Wakefield Park now stands in its place and serves as a practice space for Central’s Ultimate Frisbee and Cross Country teams. 

 

 

 

 

 

Joseph William Drexel (13th graduating class, Drexel Mausoleum, Section L, Vault 190)

The Drexel Mausoleum at the Woodlands, where Anthony Joseph Drexel, Joseph William Drexel, and other members of the Drexel Family are buried.

The Drexel Mausoleum at the Woodlands, where Anthony Joseph Drexel, Joseph William Drexel, and other members of the Drexel Family are buried.

Joseph William Drexel was the director of the Metropolitan Opera, President of the New York Philharmonic Society, a trustee at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a student at Central High School. Drexel’s brother, Anthony Joseph Drexel, was the founder of Drexel University, and both are buried at the Woodlands. Not only did members of the Drexel family attend Central, but today, more than 50 members of Central’s graduating class matriculate at Drexel annually.

 

William Bucknell (Section G, Lot #307)

Bust of William Bucknell. From Bucknell University.

Bust of William Bucknell. From Bucknell University.

William Bucknell became wealthy through his endeavors in the finance and railroad industries. Instead of keeping all his money for himself, however, Bucknell donated one tenth of all his earnings to educational and religious organizations. By the end of his career, Bucknell is said to have donated $1,000 a week, each to a different charitable cause. On one occasion, Bucknell made a $50,000 donation to the then University of Lewisburg and, in 1887, the University was renamed Bucknell in honor of this generous donor. Bucknell is buried in the Woodlands, and Central High School frequently sends students to the university named in his honor.

The Baches

Alexander Dallas Bache, the first President of Central High School. Image from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Archives.

Alexander Dallas Bache, the first President of Central High School. Image from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Archives.

As Philadelphia institutions, both the Woodlands and Central High School are inevitably connected to the city’s very own Renaissance man, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin’s great-grandson, Alexander Dallas Bache, founded Central High School and served as the school’s first president. In addition to his work in education, Dallas Bache was also a Second Lieutenant of the Corps of Engineers and worked as a surveyor, creating detailed maps of the American Coasts. Hartman Bache (Section I, Lot #829-831), also a grandson of Franklin, was likewise a prominent civil engineer and General in the Corps of Engineers. Hartman is buried in the Woodlands along with hundreds of graduates of the high school his cousin founded.

 

 

 

 

 

Peter Frederick Rothermel Jr. (49th Graduating Class)

Peter Frederick Rothermel Sr. was a celebrated Philadelphia artist who painted historical scenes ranging from De Soto Discovering the Mississippi to the famous Battle of Gettysburg, which hangs in the Pennsylvania State Museum. Rothermel’s son of the same name attended Central High School and went on to become the Philadelphia District Attorney.

Battle of Gettysburg: Pickett's Charge by Peter Frederick Rothermel. From the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission/State Museum of Pennsylvania. 

Battle of Gettysburg: Pickett's Charge by Peter Frederick Rothermel. From the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission/State Museum of Pennsylvania. 

William M. Abbey (1st graduating class, Section F, Lot #70):

The Pennsylvania State Capital Rotunda, painted by Edwin Austin Abbey. (Photo by Ad Meskens)

The Pennsylvania State Capital Rotunda, painted by Edwin Austin Abbey. (Photo by Ad Meskens)

William Abbey was the first student ever listed on the roll at Central High School. He went on to become a merchant after graduating from Central. His son, Edwin Austin Abbey, was a famous illustrator and muralist in the late 19th century, best known for his paintings of Victorian and Shakespearean scenes, as well as for his mural on the Pennsylvania State Capital Rotunda. William M. Abbey is buried in The Woodlands along with Charles M. Cresson and James A. Kirkpatrick, both members of Central’s first graduating class of 63 students. When Central graduates its 275th class this year, nearly 500 students will receive degrees.

Written by Ella Comberg (275th graduating class of Central High School)

7 More Mysteries Solved. 29,853 To Go.

Each year students from Mr. Gilligan’s AP US History (APUSH for short) class at the J.R. Masterman School complete the Cemetery History Project: an in-depth, group research project on an individual who has become a permanent resident of The Woodlands.

The students visit The Woodlands in the early fall, enjoy a Victorian Era picnic (often dressed in period garb for extra credit!), and roam the grounds in search of a headstone that speaks to them, intrigues them, and/or humors them. The students' research subject must be born before 1850, cannot be famous, and must not have been researched by prior students, or have a headstone shorter than Mr. Gilligan, who is 67 inches tall. How do we know that? Because one of the past groups created a short booklet titled "People We Could've (and Might've) Done if Mr. Gilligan Was Taller." The cover lists Mr. Gilligan's height at 67 inches, and the following pages are filled with photographs and measurements of headstones and grave-markers that they couldn’t choose because they were slightly taller than Mr. Gilligan.

After they choose a headstone, students then embark on a 5-month long adventure of rigorous research as they attempt to recreate the life of the chosen deceased. Because of their hard work and dedication over the course of the semester, we're a step closer to learning more about the individuals who make up this "garden of biographies." It’s interesting to see the intellectually investigative research of the students, but even more interesting to see their personalities shine through in their introductions, personal reflections, historical fictions, and more. The ways in which the students decorate the binders and the photographs they choose to include in their personal reflections act as reminders that the people doing the research and completing these projects are 16 and 17 years old.

Below is a glimpse of some of the incredible work of the students. This year Mr. Gilligan’s class separated into groups and researched seven of The Woodland’s  permanent residents. Reporting from the Woodlands Cemetery on May 17, 2015- the following information and images are my notes from the Masterman student presentations:


1. Mark Huntington Cobb - Researched by Kyle Wilson, Nathan Syken, Annika Nordlof, David Ludwig, Jesse Carpenter

Born in 1828 in Colebrook Connecticut, Mark Huntington Cobb was a poet, writer, husband, father, newspaper owner, forward-thinking Republican, clerk, employee of the U.S. Mint and respected citizen of Philadelphia until his death in 1913. Masterman students discovered and compiled  documents ranging from Cobb’s published literary works to his birth and death records. Shown here is an image of a “creative extra” that the students made: a Mark Cobb commemorative coin.


2. Theodore L. Debow - Researched by Alexandrea Gosnell, Enri Kina, Alexis Riddick, and Kevin Yang

Born in 1841 in Philadelphia, Theodore Langhe Debow was a Girard College graduate, jeweler’s apprentice, Union Army soldier, War Department clerk, Central National Bank cashier, member of the Board of Managers of the Young Men’s Christian Association, member of the Sea Isle’s City Council, and beloved husband and father until his death on August 21, 1906 of a stroke. This group of students found incredible records of Debow, from documents which stated that he was held prisoner during the Civil War, to documents of the Debow’s stays at the Tivoli Hotel in Sea Isle City, New Jersey. Shown here is a “creative extras” that the students made: one of the “trading cards,” which features a fun fact about Debow.

 

 

 

3. John Graham - Walter Chen, Aubrey Luk, Haoxuan Yuan, Rohith Thaiparambil, Elizabeth Zhou

Shown here is a photograph of the students dressed in period garb from their initial picnic at The Woodlands.

Shown here is a photograph of the students dressed in period garb from their initial picnic at The Woodlands.

Born in Philadelphia in 1854, John Graham was an engineer, the beloved husband of Florence Beale, father of three children, chief engineer of the New River Railroad and Manufacturing Company, and member of the St. Andrew’s Society of Philadelphia, until he died of a cerebral hemorrhage on February 7, 1924. The group of students who researched Graham found incredible records like Graham’s baptism certificate and a record of his active membership of the Philadelphia Cricket Club. 

 

4. Albert Gumpert - Researched by Jack Aaron, Jean Donohue, Ali Landers, and Owen Fox

Born in 1847 in Bernburg Germany, Albert F. Gumpert was a German immigrant, businessman, cigar manufacturer, husband, traveler, father, founder of the Cigar Manufacturers’ Protective Association, Master Mason, and family man  until he died in Heidelberg, Germany on May 31, 1894. The students could not find a definitive cause of death, as they found various obituaries that stated he died from consumption, neurasthenia, and falling off of a bridge… all of which the audience found hilarious. It was a teachable moment, though, because there will always be discrepancies when performing primary source research. Shown here is a print that depicts the Gumpert Brother’s Cigar Store on 1341 Chestnut Street, just one of the many documents that the students discovered

 

5. George C. Leib - Joel Chacko, Valentino Papa, Joe Previdi, Manfred Thomas, and Alex Zharovsky

Born in Pennsylvania in 1809, George Clinton Leib was a graduate of Norwich University, graduate of University of Pennsylvania, doctor, naturalist, leading member of the Academy of Natural Sciences, ornithologist, researcher for the National Institute for the Promotion of Science, second sergeant of the Brady Guard, traveler, explorer, discoverer of the Myotis Leibii, and 44 year resident at the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane. Although George Leib spent most of his life institutionalized, the students found many documents about him, including many of his published works. Shown here is a “creative extra” that the students made: a “trading card” that depicts the species of bat that Leib discovered, the Myotis Leibii.

*At the Woodlands our interests are peaked and we want to know more about the dynamic life of Leib- hopefully more research to come!

 

 

 

6. William Henry Parish - Azariah Harris, Jeremy Romano, Vicky Zheng, Brandon Balsirow

Born in 1845 in Mississippi, William Henry Parish M. D. was a graduate of Jefferson Medical College, volunteer in the Confederate Army, resident physician at Pennsylvania Hospital, Chief of the Gynecological Clinic at Jefferson Medical Hospital, Professor of Gynecology at Philadelphia Polyclinic, Professor of Anatomy at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, Vice-President of the American Gynecological Society, President of the Philadelphia Obstetrical Society, Fellow at the College of Physicians, member of the Philadelphia County Medical Society, member of the Medical Society of Pennsylvania, and member of the American Medical Association until his death on July 19, 1903 of myocarditis, which was defined as “inflammation of the heart muscle.” Shown here is a “creative extra” that the students made: an illustrative comic strip of the life of William Henry Parish.

 

7. Harry Peale - Fiona Bardhoshi, Siduri Beckman, Emily Bosaczyk, Calla Bush St. George

Born in 1830 in Philadelphia, Harry Peale was the grandson of Charles Willson Peale and a clerk and eventually partner at Thomas A Biddle & Company, a Civil War draftee who paid the commutation fee in order to avoid service in the Union Army, adoptive and biological father, husband, and widower until his death on July 16, 1904. This group of students found many records about Harry Peale and of the whole Peale family, as the Peales were a prominent Philadelphia family. Shown here is a photograph of the group of students in front of Harry Peale’s former home on 4415 Baltimore Avenue. Many Peale’s are buried here at the Woodlands Cemetery, and are a prominent Philadelphia family, as Charles W. Peale founded the first public museum in the country.

 

 

Masterman students have compiled over 100 biographies of permanent residents at The Woodlands, and their work is so important to us! They are solving mysteries about all of the people buried here, developing research skills, learning to place the history of a person within the context of Philadelphia and the nation, and so much more! We love the work that the Masterman students produce, and wait excitedly to add more stories to our Garden of Biographies.

 

--- By Grace DiAgostino, Graduate Intern

 

The Mystery of the Magees

Several weeks ago, our friends at Laurel Hill Cemetery informed us that there was a possible error in the information provided on The Woodlands website about James F. Magee, a prominent Philadelphian associated with the Pennsylvania Railroad. Each cemetery claimed him as a "Notable Resident," but he couldn't possibly have been buried in both places! Our summer intern Katie started sleuting and solved the mystery! Check out her research below.


Two James Magees, buried in two different historical cemeteries in Philadelphia. Which James Magee was the famed “Father of the Pennsylvania Railroad?” And who was the other man?

The search began with some basic cemetery sleuthing: looking at lot cards (see below).

Lot card of the Magee Family lot at The Woodlands, Section I, Lot 1016.

Lot card of the Magee Family lot at The Woodlands, Section I, Lot 1016.

Big Clue #1: The James F. Magee buried at The Woodlands died in 1903 at age 70. If he had been the Magee of the Pennsylvania Railroad, he would have been 12 when he became a founder and director.

Part of the mystery was solved: the famous Magee associated with the Pennsylvania Railroad is buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery. However, more research exposed the life of his nephew, the James F. Magee buried at The Woodlands--especially his impact on the fields of chemistry and photography, and his contributions to the city of Philadelphia

Magee Family tree (prepared by Katie Breiner using Ancestry.com).

James Francis Magee (1834 - 1903) was born June 5, 1834 to Michael Magee and Catherine Horter. His father was a successful chemist from a prominent Philadelphia family. His uncle James later became the famous head of the Pennsylvania Railroad. James F. Magee spent his childhood in Philadelphia, raised in a house on Germantown Road. He graduated from Central High School in 1850. After high school, Magee followed his uncle’s footsteps and worked for the railroad. He left quickly, however, deciding to move to Germany began to study chemistry diligently under Hofrath Wöhler, one of the most notable German chemists. 

"A reproduction of a daguerrotype of James F. Magee, taken about the time he went abroad." From An American Student Abroad: From the Letters of James F. Magee.

Big Clue #2: Magee traveled extensively throughout Europe and described his studies and experiences to his family through extensive letters, which his grandson compiled and published after his death. He wrote to his father on June 16, 1855:

My time here passes very pleasantly. I like Professor Wöhler very much and he devotes all his time to his students. I spend about nine hours a day in the laboratory… and although I have about sixteen working hours, the day seems very short. The quietness of the town I like very much, with no inducements for anything but study.

After his education and adventures, he returned to Philadelphia in 1856 and bought a laboratory on 5th Street. He started a chemical manufacturing business, soon to be the J.F. & M.H. Magee company, that specialized in solutions used for photography. Their chemicals were considered to be the best of their kind.

In December of 1859, he married Cynthia Ann Jarden and they moved to 1716 Vine Street.

Big Clue #3: According to the 1880 Philadelphia Census, he lived at the above address with his wife, four children named Cynthia W., Michael J., James F., and George W. Magee, his mother-in-law Cynthia E. Jarden, and two servants, Annie Henry and Mary Carroll.

"James F. Magee, from a later photograph." From An American Student Abroad: From the Letters of James F. Magee.

Big Clue(s) #4:  Magee’s name was written in numerous newspaper articles on lists of donors and attendees for special events around the city. While Magee made his business profitable, he also was very active in his own church, Arch Street Presbyterian, and the general Presbyterian community. He was the treasurer of the Presbyterian Home for Widows and Single Women, a trustee of the Presbyterian Hospital, and a member of the Social Union, to name a few.

Big Clue #5: The Inquirer’s obituary states that James F. Magee “died suddenly” at the age of 69 on October 3, 1903. His sons inherited his effects, valued at $439,448.53.

Despite the fact that our James Magee was not as renowned as his uncle, he still left his own legacy for the city of Philadelphia.

There are still questions left unanswered in this case: How did Magee die? Did he inherit most of his money, or did he make his business that profitable? How did his chemicals affect the history of photography? The mystery continues…

---by Katie Breiner


RESOURCES

Magee, James Francis, and George Washington Magee. An American Student Abroad: From the Letters of James F. Magee. Philadelphia: Magee, 1932. Print.

"Caught on the Fly." Philadelphia Inquirer 20 Jan. 1895: 6. America's Historical Newspapers. Web. 24 June 2014.

"Presbyterians Dine February Banquet of the Social Union and Its Lady Friends at [Illegible]." Philadelphia Inquirer 25 Feb. 1890: 4. America's Historical Newspapers. Web. 24 June 2014.

"Presbyterian Home Officers." Philadelphia Inquirer 12 Dec. 1896: 15. America's Historical Newspapers. Web. 24 June 2014.

"Facts." Ancestry. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 June 2014 <http://www.ancestry.com/learn/facts/default.aspx>.

Philadelphia Inquirer 3 July 1861: 5. America's Historical Newspapers. Web. 20 June 2014.

Philadelphia Inquirer 6 Oct. 1903, 149th ed., sec. 98: 4. America's Historical Newspapers. Web. 20 June 2014.

Philadelphia Inquirer 27 Oct. 1903: 15. America's Historical Newspapers. Web. 24 June 2014.

Philadelphia Inquirer 11 Nov. 1903: 15. America's Historical Newspapers. Web. 24 June 2014.