David W. Dunlap’s story about the Cypress Hills Cemetery lots reserved for “friendless journalists” who died without money for a proper burial is getting a lot of buzz today. The New York Times reporter tells JimRomenesko.com readers the story behind that story:
I found the journalists’ burial ground in Cypress Hills doing research work for The New Yorker. Yes, The New Yorker.
You would think that the newspaper of record had a record of its own chief news executives over the years. The New Yorker evidently thought so, because it asked for such a list to accompany “Changing Times,” Ken Auletta’s Oct. 24 profile of Jill Abramson, the newest in a 160-year-old line.
But there was no such list. If there ever had been, we’d lost it. And it was no easy thing to construct. In most histories of The Times, the period between its founding in 1851 and its acquisition by the Ochs-Sulzberger family in 1896 is treated merely as prelude (with the exception of its exposé of Boss Tweed).
There was the further complication that masthead rosters weren’t printed in the 19th century. And The Times of that period didn’t discuss changes in management publicly. And titles often didn’t tell the story: “Editor in Chief,” for instance, was what we now call “Editorial Page Editor.”
It fell to me, as unofficial Times historian, and my colleagues Jeffrey P. Roth and Danielle Rhoades Ha, to compile as comprehensive a list as we could. I started by following the trail of George Jones, the first publisher, whom I’d profiled a few months earlier.
That brought me to a clipping from 1886 in which Jones was shown as one of the top benefactors (Joseph Pulitzer was another) of the “Press Club plot in Cypress Hills Cemetery” where “friendless journalists are buried.” A reporters’ graveyard? I was astonished. I’d never heard of this place and, at 59, thoughts do start straying in the direction of — ahem — future arrangements.
I was lucky at Cypress Hills to reach a cemetery official, Stephen C. Duer, who is also an amateur historian and co-author of a pictorial history in Arcadia’s Images of America series. He readily confirmed the existence of the Press Club plot and welcomed me to come out and visit. Groundskeepers were just finishing tidying the grave sites when I arrived on the morning of Oct. 20.
The modern New York Press Club is no relation to the New York Press Club that oversaw the friendless journalists’ plot. But my inquiries clearly piqued the interest of Peter O. E. Bekker, consulting director of the club, who had the last word after my piece appeared online Sunday, when he wrote me:
“I suppose we’ll now have to form a committee and endure endless meetings and strident exhortations about duty, honor, obligation., etc., etc., as we select a Visiting Friends contingent for periodic trips to ‘the plots’ to commune with our dearly, nearly forgotten.
“Wait! We might be able to fast-track the process. Based entirely on merit, familiarity and demonstrated interest, perhaps you would like to become the Press Club’s official Periodic Visitor? Could mean a huge break on dues and possibly a free tee-shirt.
“Only kidding. We start giving away tee-shirts, there goes the budget!”