Garrison Mausoleum


Cornelius Kingston Garrison
March 1, 1809–May 1, 1885

This Moorish Revival mausoleum is the final port of call for Commodore Cornelius Kingston Garrison. Garrison’s tomb was designed by New York architect Griffith Thomas, who also designed a number of buildings in New York City, including the original New York Life Insurance Building (1860). In 1908, The American Institute of Architects called Thomas “the most fashionable architect of his generation.” For the Garrison mausoleum, Thomas worked with Islamic, Byzantine, and Moorish forms, topping his creation with a dome that one can easily imagine was transported straight from St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. Of particular interest is the way the polychrome granite treatment is used to bring attention to the different architectural elements. It is one of the most elaborately styled mausoleums in Green-Wood.

Cornelius Kingston Garrison’s title of Commodore was largely honorary: rather than piloting ships, he was in the far more lucrative business of owning them. After moving to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1839, he earned his first fortune building steamboats and operating a steamboat company. At age 40, he made money capitalizing on the 1849 California gold rush, not by mining gold but by establishing a banking house in Panama, which was one of the routes the gold seekers took to get from the East Coast to the California gold fields. Several years later, he took a job as an agent for the Nicaraguan Steamship Company, earning $60,000 a year (about $1.7 million today). By 1853, he was elected mayor of San Francisco. Although he only served as mayor for one year, he instituted a number of social reforms, brought gas lighting to the streets, started a city beautification program, and had new schools built. After his term as mayor ended, he went to New York where he found continued success as a financier, speculator, and operator of steamship lines. It appears that his highly successful steamship lines, which traded goods with Australia and the Orient, may have had a strong influence on the design of his mausoleum.

Unfortunately, Garrison may be best remembered as the recipient of a now famous letter from Cornelius Vanderbilt. Referring to a business Garrison and his partner Charles Morgan had that must have competed with Vanderbilt’s business, Vanderbilt wrote: “Gentlemen: You have undertaken to cheat me. I won’t sue you, for the law is too slow. I’ll ruin you. Yours truly, Cornelius Vanderbilt.”
Photos and text © Douglas Keister Visit Doug’s Author Page

[address cemetery=”Green-Wood Cemetery” street=”Willow Avenue” city=”Brooklyn” state=”New York” zip=”11218″]

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