The Graves of George William Clinton (1807 - 1885) and Family
by P. M. Eckel
Res Botanica
Missouri Botanical Garden, April 17, 2014
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The Graves of George William Clinton (1807 ‑ 1885) and Family

 

P. M. Eckel, P.O. Box 299, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, Missouri, 63166‑0299; email: mailto:patricia.eckel@mobot.org

 

 

(Part 4.) Some plants noted at the G. W. Clinton and David Fisher Day (1829 - 1900) gravesites

 

George William Clinton had a collegial friendship with a fellow lawyer of Buffalo, New York, David F. Day. In many ways, throughout the duration of their acquaintance, the complexity of their interactions is difficult to sort out, given the fragmented documentary resources available for both men, but it seems that both men were masters at self promotion, in the dignified, civilized manner of two American Victorian attorneys and official judges in one of the most prominent cities in New York State. Both men were intensely interested in the cultural development of the society of Buffalo, especially its scientific culture, that is, its culture of natural history, primarily through the establishment of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences through the rigors of incorporation in late 1861 and its first establishment in January of 1862. Although both men were deeply reliant on one another in their pursuit of the civic welfare of their city, Clinton, with his superior political, social and professional advantages, often seemed to upstage his friend, but never enough to generate real resentment. Indeed, their rivalry seemed to mutually stimulate these friends to ever higher contributions to the public good. Other examples of the rather gentle roughhousing literary character of Clinton’s postal correspondence may be found in his collected letters, some 2,532 of them archived at the Buffalo Museum of Science in Buffalo, New York together with the specimens that accompanied them in the Clinton Herbarium (BUF) also of the Buffalo Museum of Science.

 

The friendship of these two men may also be seen in their mortuary relics preserved in Forest Lawn Cemetery, in the Buffalo where they lived out their lives and where they sleep, each in their own special area, decorated by the ornaments they loved most of all - the vegetation which they both studied and collected with competitive zeal.

 

The plot of the David Day family is as simple and austere as any plot throughout this cemetery, distinguished for the resting places of many of the greatest sons Buffalo has produced. Although there are some who could spend more on their statues and other mortuary architecture, those of the Days and Clintons reside in simple dignity, as in most of the plots and graves in this peaceful place.

 

And yet, their rivalry lives on.

 

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As you can see, this is the gravesite of David F. Day and his family in Forest Lawn Cemetery at the beginning of spring, 2014. Note the little bit of snow at the base of the stone. Note also, the little group of flowering plants. These are the Snowdrops. One’s mind might run to the magician Aleister Crowley’s erotic nonsense book “Snowdrops from a Curate’s Garden,” but on a more serene and respectful level, not to say academic, these delicate flowers, indicative of the purity of the returning life above ground, are the Galanthus nivalis L., the Common Snowdrop, the generic name compounded from the Greek gala, ‘milk,’ and anthos, ‘flower. The nivalis means ‘snowy’ in Latin. It is in the family of the Amaryllis, close to that of the Lily, and is one of the very first of the spring bulbs to delight the earth.

 

It could not have appeared in this beautiful place alone - it had to have been planted in the ground by someone, as a tribute of affection and respect to Mr. Day, Esq., and to distinguish his grave from those of his nearby relations, who do not possess such tributes Indeed, it is probably not allowed.

 

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While there are no horticultural plants coming up in the turf around Clinton’s grave site at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York, one cannot say that there is no botanical richness there. G. W. Clinton avidly developed the botanical collections of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, and this was not just for vascular plants, not just native plants, useful plants, beautiful plants. He created significant taxonomic collections of all plants, ugly ones, weeds, alien species, many of which are now considered invasive. He also created collections of authoritatively identified material of non-flowering plants such as lichens, mosses, liverworts, fungi and algae as well, when these groups were just beginning to be studied, if not in Europe, then in the United States.

 

I did not think Clinton or Clinton’s next of kin would mind if I picked a small plant or two growing near them to take back to my study and identify under a microscope.

 

Although it was only the beginning of April (April 1, 2014), the turf surrounding the Clinton graves was springy with moisture from rain and snow, the ground loose with release from the frost of winter. In honor of Clinton’s efforts, and his colleagues, I was able to identify a handful of lowly species growing mixed and tangled in a sod or turf that was over a century old and undisturbed, except perhaps for mowing, which prevented tall-growing species from establishing themselves, and favored inconspicuous, tiny plants and species that flourished for decades just under the cutting blades of the mowers. It was curious how little grass there was, and how green was the turf of miniscule plants.

 

Clinton may have sent specimens of the following species to Charles Peck or Leo Lesquereux in Columbus, Ohio, or Coe Finch Austin in New Jersey for identification or verification at one time. There were several minute plants, Weissia brachycarpa (Nees & Hornsch.) Jur., and, just beginning to fruit, a rich green acrocarpous moss, called Weissia controversa, Hedw. together with a similar-looking species in the same family, Barbula unguiculata Hedw. Pleurocarpous mosses grew there, the common Brachythecium oxycladon  (Brid.) Jaeg. & Sauerb, Rhynchostegium serrulatum (Hedw.) A. Jaeg. & Sauerb., as well as the ubiquitous acrocarp Ceratodon purpureus (Hedw.) Bridel. There were two species of the moss Fissidens growing near one another, F. bryoides Hedw. and F. taxifolius Hedw. The stones of some nearby graves of other people were ornamented with round black patches bristling with the shaggy little fruits of Orthotrichum anomalum Hedw., which is supposed to grow exclusively on limey rock in the eastern United States. This moss grows throughout the cemetery on the (presumably calcareous) stones in rich, black-brown patches. Hedwigia ciliata (Hedw.) P. Beauv. was also present on granitic rock. Among the grasses, there was Atrichum altecristatum (Ren. & Card.) Smyth & Smyth, Atrichum undulatum (Hedw.) P.-Beauv. with its sharp teeth, curling and twisting until the next rain would straighten it out as the plant cells swelled up with water.

 

Clinton would have been excited to have discovered a rare and difficult moss to determine, Weissia phascopsis R. H. Zander. The author of the name, and the botanist who identified it for me, are the same. Dr. Zander was the last Curator of the Clinton Herbarium at the Buffalo Museum of Science, where he served in the Botany Division for thirty years. Late winter is just the time of year that these more minute species are bold enough to bear their fruit -- little capsules on stalks.

 

Fungi were a great component of Clinton’s correspondence with his Albany protégé, Charles Peck, and there were several dark red, rather tattered specimens of what looked like low-growing Ganoderma tsugae Murr. amid the gravestones. A brilliant green lichen colored some stones and the blue-gray of Parmelia rudecta.

 

A tiny, tangled plant grew intermingled with others, and alien weedy species, Arenaria serpyllifolia L., the Thyme-leaved Sandwort, which would flower in the next few weeks, as well as a violet: Viola cucullata Aiton, the Marsh Violet, a tribute to the dampness of the hardwood forests here. The Sandwort was named after the leaves of the herb Thyme, and it was with some suprise that another sod-forming species found later in the year (August 3, 2015) was actually Thymus puligioides L., a plant with minute purple flowers growing entangled with the other springy, turf-forming species, kept low by constant mowing.

 

Doubtless among the sterile-appearing stems of other species there will occur specimens of Veronica in the Figwort family (Scrophulariaceae). Although the trees were leafless, the spent, autumn leaves of Red Oak (Quercus rubra) drifted across the lawns together with the leaves of the Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum Marsh.); several stately trees of which shaded the Clinton family graves.

 

These specimens are deposited in the herbarium of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

 

LITERATURE CITED

 

Clinton, Guy. 1936. The Clintons appearing in the early American Records. type-written copy, Research Library, Buffalo History Museum, 1 Museum Court, Buffalo, NY  14216.

 

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