Bag of Bones: The Sensational Grave Robbery of the Merchant Prince of Manhattan

Overview

In 1878, two years after the death of multi-millionaire A. T. Stewart, his body was stolen from St. Mark's Churchyard. The ghoulish crime, the bumbling chase for the culprits, the years-long ransom negotiations, and the demise of the Stewart retail empire fed a media frenzy. When his widow eventually exchanged $20,000 for a burlap bag of bones on a country road, not everyone was convinced that "The Merchant Prince of Manhattan" was really home.A. T. Stewart had been a pioneer of the department store business, a ...

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Bag of Bones: The Sensational Grave Robbery of the Merchant Prince of Manhattan

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Overview

In 1878, two years after the death of multi-millionaire A. T. Stewart, his body was stolen from St. Mark's Churchyard. The ghoulish crime, the bumbling chase for the culprits, the years-long ransom negotiations, and the demise of the Stewart retail empire fed a media frenzy. When his widow eventually exchanged $20,000 for a burlap bag of bones on a country road, not everyone was convinced that "The Merchant Prince of Manhattan" was really home.A. T. Stewart had been a pioneer of the department store business, a man who rose from the flood of Irish immigration to a place alongside names like Astor, Vanderbilt, and Rockefeller. Treated as the black sheep of New York's affluent Gilded Age society, the Stewarts relied heavily on their friend and confidante, the conniving Judge Henry Hilton, for entrée into elite social circles. As author J. North Conway details the futile tactics used by police to identify the grave robbers, he also unveils the villainy of Judge Hilton, who not only interfered in the case repeatedly but also dismantled a once-great business empire piece by piece . . . all the while profiting quite nicely. By the end of this fascinating slice of history, one is left to wonder who displayed the greater evil: the grave robbers or JudgeHenry Hilton. Completing J. North Conway's widely acclaimed trilogy of Gilded Age New York City Crime—following King of Heists and The Big Policeman—Bag of Bones combines the era's affluence, decadence, and corruption with a gruesome deed fit for the tabloids of today.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for J. North Conway's The Big Policeman: The Rise and Fall of Thomas Byrnes, America's First, Most Ruthless, and Greatest Detective "Creating period atmosphere by quoting extensively from newspaper accounts of the sensational crimes Byrnes solved, Conway portrays his subject's cleverness and excesses with a flawed-hero flavor that should draw in true-crime fans." —Booklist "An essential read for those interested in police work, detective stories, and New York City history." —Library Journal "A fascinating, fast-moving account of one of the most polarizing and influential figures of 19th-century New York. Conway brings 'the big policeman' to life." —Daniel Stashower, author of The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder "A treasure trove of information not only on larger-than-life pioneering detective Thomas Byrnes but also on law-and-order in wide-open nineteenth-century Manhattan."—David Pietrusza, author of Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series Praise for J. North Conway's King of Heists: The Sensational Bank Robbery of 1878 That Shocked America "Engrossing . . . Conway skillfully paints a backdrop of fierce and flamboyant personalities who paraded across the Gilded Age, from Brooklyn Bridge engineer John Roebling to Marm Mandelbaum, 'queen of the criminals.' . . . [H]e capably recounts his story against a background of glitter and greed." —Publishers Weekly "A page-turning account of one of the most brazen crimes of our time." —Reader's Digest "Conway, a college prof and ex-newspaper man, covers this ancient tale in a way that makes it feel like a hot news story." —New York Post
Kirkus Reviews
The final installment of the author's true-crime trilogy about New York City in the Gilded Age. Conway (The Big Policeman: The Rise and Fall of America's First, Most Ruthless, and Greatest Detective, 2010, etc.) tells the story of the life and death of "The Merchant Prince of Manhattan," A.T. Stewart, the father of the American department store, who was, at the time of his death, the third richest man in the United States (behind William Astor Sr. and Cornelius Vanderbilt). A hard-working Irish immigrant, Stewart eventually grew his fortune to $40 million but was never accepted by New York's elite--despite two landmark retail outlets and his massive Italian marble mansion, "considered one of the most ornate and elaborate private homes in America." Two years after his death in 1876, his body was stolen from the family crypt. "Not only did the grave robbing cause a national sensation," writes Conway, "it also led to one of the most notoriously bungled police investigations in New York City's history." Judge Henry Hilton, Stewart's friend, was directed to sell off Stewart's businesses, but he ran them into the ground within six years. Eventually Stewart's wife exchanged $20,000 for a bag of bones she hoped were her husband's. Hilton also impeded the police investigation, which never got off the ground, and may have committed fraud in the form of Cornelia's will, which named him as a significant benefactor. In support of his story, Conway uses numerous headlines and portions of articles from newspapers of the era. The device is occasionally clunky and leads to a repetitive, though generally engrossing, narrative. A quick read about a gruesome crime with a twist at the end--will appeal mostly to die-hard fans of historical true crime.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780762778126
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/1/2012
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

J. North Conway is the author of nine non-fiction books, including, The Big Policeman and King of Heists (both from Lyons Press); The Cape Cod Canal: Breaking Through The Bared and Bended Arm; and American Literacy: Fifty Books That Define Our Culture and Ourselves. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth.

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Table of Contents

Introduction x

Bones of Contention

1 Counter Culture 1

2 The Cast Iron Palace 18

3 Caveat Emptor 41

4 A Problem with Hotels 59

5 The Ghouls Strike 83

6 The Best Detective Talent 99

7 The Search Continues 114

8 Vreeland and Burke 130

9 Keeping Up with the Joneses 145

10 The Mysterious Package 165

11 The Cypress Hills Cemetery Incident 177

12 Going Out of Business 190

13 Bag of Bones 201

14 Memorial to the Merchant Prince 213

15 Expiration Date 228

Acknowledgments 243

Chapter Sources 244

Bibliography 262

Index 278

About the Author 290

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