Robert Fulton's Neglected Grave
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
A WRITER gives the following description of the sadly neglected and unremembered grave of Robert Fulton :
" When the selected group of prominent Americans voted as to which American inventor's name should be enrolled at the Hall of Fame, Robert Fulton, the man who invented the steamboat, received the largest number of votes. Every schoolboy has lauded Fulton's achievement, and his fame has extended to every part of the civilized world. Yet the mortal remains of this man, a Pennsylvanian by birth, rest in a grave in New York which does not even contain a slab bearing his name. Very few persons know that the remains of Robert Fulton are interred in Trinity Churchyard, in New York City—that remarkable burying ground which seems strangely out of place, surrounded by immense buildings, in one of the busiest thoroughfares in the world. Less than a hundred years ago Fulton was the most talked of inventor in the land ; today he lies among the unnamed dead. In one of the vaults in Trinity Churchyard are eight caskets; one of these contains all that is mortal of Robert Fulton. On the top of the vault is a brownstone slab, weather-beaten and dingy, with the letters almost obliterated. It is only by hard work that the following inscription can be made out: ` The vault of Walter and Robert C. Livingston, sons of Robert Livingston, of Livingston Manor.' There is nothing else—nothing to show that the remains of the inventor are also interred there. Few people are acquainted with Fulton's domestic life. At some time he married a Miss Livingston, and for that reason his remains were placed beside those of his wife in the Livingston vault when he died. Sometimes when the sexton is around, he tells visitors that the grave contains the remains of Fulton. But hundreds visit the church-yard every day without discovering the fact. The graves of Hamilton, Lawrence, Gallatin, and other distinguished men buried there are suitably marked.
The sexton said that the American Society of Mechanical Engineers had started a fund for a monument some years ago, but he never heard anything more of it."
It makes no difference to Fulton now what the people do with his dust ; whether they mark it with a stately monument, or are compelled to search for it with a guide. But there ought to be gratitude enough in the hearts of a generation which has received such untold benefit from his discovery, to fit-tingly mark his resting-place in marble or in bronze. Such a monument would be a good object lesson to the young, reminding them of the rewards of thought, study, industry, experiment, enterprise and illustrious achievement.
Fulton's is not the only neglected grave of a great man ; all over the world there are graves of men who have rendered signal service to their fellow men, which are unmarked by the plainest slab, and are even hidden from view by the weeds and briars. The dead are not hurt—only the living—by such neglect. Fulton's grave is only a sample of what will happen to the rest of them, sooner or later. However hard the granite or durable the bronze, the monuments will all come down ; the frost in the ground will tilt them, the rains and the ice will eventually chip and dissolve them ; the moss will eat out the names on the slabs and the graves will be unknown. The cities of the living only halt for appearance sake at the fence of the cemetery, and then they rush pell-mell over the sleeping-places of the dead as their highways, and appropriate them for the store, the shop, the office, the house. What about the dust of those who belonged to the earlier ages? With the exception of here and there an embalmed specimen for museums, they have all gone down under the flood of years. By the chemistry of nature and the march of the ages, the costliest monuments of the greatest heroes will be pulled down and covered up by the dust which is scattered through the fingers of Time. The law of Oblivion serves a wise purpose, in throwing us in on the living Present for our plans and labors ; and in prompting us to seize the hand of the Absolute in the midst of the mutable and the perishable.