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Married in a Cemetery

During a month noted for weddings, it may be of interest to recall a romantic story circulated more than 120 years ago about the unusual wedding of a Nebraskan and a New York girl. Under the heading "Married in a Cemetery," the Omaha Daily Bee on August 17, 1889, reprinted a Philadelphia report of the recent ceremony uniting Harry Burbank and Sadie King in Green-Wood Cemetery, now a National Historic Landmark, in Brooklyn:

"Mr. and Mrs. H. Burbank arrived here [Philadelphia] yesterday on their way from New York to Nebraska. They had a strange story to tell. At the Brooklyn theater fire years ago [on December 5, 1876] the father and sister of young Burbank were lost, as were the mother and sister of Sadie King, who then lived in State street, Brooklyn. [At least 278 people died, some of whom were never identified.] Burbank wrote from the west for information about his folks and was answered by Miss King, who wrote occasionally for her uncle, an undertaker. Young Burbank read the letter, and the correspondence has been kept up ever since."

Burbank while he corresponded with Miss King, was said to have inherited a substantial estate in Nebraska and gone into the cattle buying business. When he proposed marriage to her, she "suggested as the Brooklyn fire had been the means of their meeting, that they should carry out the marriage ceremony in Greenwood cemetery, near the monument that was erected by the city of Brooklyn for the unknown dead who perished in the terrible disaster.

"Wednesday Mr.Burbank, accompanied by Colonel Montgomery Green, of St. Louis, an old friend of his father's, Foster Bishop, of Cincinnati, and his sister, arrived in Brooklyn and met Miss King for the first time at her house on DeKalb avenue. They drove to the cemetery with a minister and stood facing the tall shaft. There were eight in the party, and the group was quickly made aware of the solemnity of the spot. . . .
"The minister then arranged them in a line facing the monument, and the ceremony proceeded. After being made man and wife they walked up the grassy incline to the shaft. The bride and groom knelt while the clergyman offered a short but affecting prayer. Then all returned to the city, the bride and groom going to the house of an aunt, Mrs. C. Barnum, at Yonkers, where they remained until yesterday, when they left for their home in Nebraska."

The story appeared in a number of newspapers around the country which (like the Bee) republished it without comment. They were perhaps unaware that the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on August 16 had reported its unsuccessful effort to substantiate the tale. The Eagle could not locate any King family on DeKalb Avenue that knew of a Sadie King, and there was no legal record of her marriage. "Three of the keepers at Greenwood Cemetery were seen and, while admitting that such a wedding might have taken place without their knowledge, are strongly inclined to believe the story to be an out and out invention-in technical parlance a 'fake.'" The Eagle also noted that in the lists of those killed and missing published immediately after the theater fire in December 1876, the names of Burbank and King did not appear.

One can only conclude that the touching, if somewhat strange, story of the Nebraska cattle buyer who wed his New York sweetheart in a cemetery was a benign newspaper hoax, perhaps intended to fill column space on a slow news day.

The Brooklyn Theatre after a fire on the evening of December 5, 1876, which claimed the lives of 278 people.

This monument in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery marks the common grave of 103, out of the 278 persons who perished in the Brooklyn Theatre fire in 1876.



(June 2012)



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