Rose Hill Cemetery Tour Offers Glimpse into Matawan's Unique History

From shark attack victims and Spanish influenza victims to hero firefighters and powerful political leaders, a stroll through Rose Hill Cemetery reveals the area's unique history.

The Matawan Historical Society hosted the second annual Rose Hill Cemetery Tour this weekend, guiding numerous attendees through the cemetery's winding hills and historical significance. 

The tour was led by Al Savolaine, a Matawan resident and member of the Historical Society. Savolaine, known as 'The Cemetery Man,' has now spent three years researching the lives of the people buried in the cemetery in order to create this tour.

Rural burial grounds, like Rose Hill, gained popularity when church cemeteries became overcrowded. In fact, Savolaine pointed out, cemeteries were the first public parks and were often visited by locals looking to take a walk or share a picnic on a Sunday afternoon.

Rose Hill Cemetery has gained notoriety as the most haunted cemetery in New Jersey. Whether or not it is haunted really depends on one's individual experiences, however, the cemetery is most certainly haunted with the history of a community once known as Middletown Point. 

If you missed the cemetery tour, don't worry. Rose Hill Cemetery is open to the public during daylight hours, just as it always was. The "No Trespassing" sign on the property is directed toward vandals, Savolaine explained. 

Here are just five interesting moments into Matawan's history that are represented in Rose Hill Cemetery:

1. The Panic of 1907 Yields Three Local Suicides

The Panic of 1907 was the result of a nationwide fear that the country was heading into a severe depression. Tough economic times effect everyone differently, but during the spring of 1908 three successful businessmen shot themselves in the head in a span of three months. 

William Kaufer was an immigrant from Germany who was the owner and operator of the Homestead Hotel. He suffered from a form of depression that was accompanied by delusions, and decided that he wanted out of the hotel business. In March of 1908, it became clear no one was going to purchase his hotel. He went out into building behind his hotel at about 8:30 a.m. and shot himself in the head with a pistol.

J. Don Conover was a tax collector and a member of one of the wealthiest, most prominent familes in town. After a sum of money went missing and Conover was unable to produce receipts, telling the judge that his wife threw them out, Conover is given a chance to locate the missing money. On a Friday night in April 1908, he takes Strychnine, a pesticide used to killed small vertebrates, and survives. The following morning at about 9:30 a.m., he goes behind the barn, lays in a ditch, and shoots himself in the head with a revolver. 

Morgan Delancey Magee was a local banker who accepted a cashier job in Manasquan and later became the president of the National Bank of Manasquan. He authorized a large sum of money as a loan to the New Jersey Brick Company. As a result of the Panic of 1907, the Brick Company went under and Magee was on the line for the loans. One morning at about 10 a.m. in May 1908, he walked out to the shore and shot himself in the head. 

2. Hero Firefighter Emerges During The Great Fire of Matawan

The Great Fire of Matawan was actually three fires that happened in the winter of 1901. On Jan. 27, an arson set a fire in the borough that burned eleven different businesses, an opera house, several apartments, and nearly took a number of old mansions with it. 

A 22-year-old volunteer fireman named Levi Emmons responded to the fire. While near a laundry business, a bystander asked if anyone had seen the business owner, Sam Lee. Emmons ran into the burning laundry building and although he sustained burns, he carried Lee out of the building over his shoulder, saving his life. 

Even with the burns, Emmons kept on fighting the blaze. He and several other firefighters saved a local woman's Victorian mansion by battling it from the roof of the burning building. 

3. One Unlucky Family 

In 1876, Moses and Lizzie Stoll lost their infant son, Moses, Jr. Three years later, their daughter Eleanor passed away. The Stolls, with their surviving son Georgie, decided to go to Waco, Texas for a period of time where Moses was offered a job with Coleman Construction Company to assist in the construction of the railroad.

One day, Lizzie and Georgie were taken by a special train to observe Moses' work. At about 9 p.m., the return train had never arrived to take the Stoll family and several workers home. An engineer arranged for a pull cart. As the pull cart slowly traveled up a hill, a construction train filled with steel rails came over the top of the hill toward the pull-cart. 

The train was unable to stop and struck the pull-cart, killing Moses and Lizzie immediately, as well as all of the employees on the cart. Georgie died about an hour after the accident. 

4. Two United States Presidents Have Attended Funerals at Rose Hill 

The Little family and the Terhune family were related through marriage. The families share a grave site in Rose Hill Cemetery, and the monument at their burial site was estimated to cost $20,000 in 1910. 

William Little was a very prominent man in town. He started the Farmer's Merchant Bank, which was the first bank in Monmouth County, the Middletown Point Academy and also a steam ship company. 

William's son, Henry Stafford Little, was born in Matawan and was one of the first students to attend his father's school. He went on to graduate from Princeton University and become a lawyer in Matawan as well as the president of the New Jersey Central Railroad. He was elected as a state senator and later was appointed as the Clerk of the Chancellery. He loved Princeton University, and now several buildings are named for Henry Stafford Little. He established a speakership at the university for Grover Cleveland, and had a good relationship with the president of the university at that time, Woodrow Wilson. When Henry Stafford Little died in 1904, his coffin was carried by Grover Cleveland, a past president, and Woodrow Wilson, a future president.

Henry Stafford Little's nephew, Henry Stafford Terhune, also attended Princeton University. He also attended Columbia Law School, became a lawyer, was elected to the state senate and became a judge. He built a mansion on Main Street, and later the Terhune family donated the land that is now Terhune Park. 

5. The 1916 Shark Attacks

In the early 1900s, there was little understanding of sharks, and no one believed they would travel through a creek attached to the Raritan Bay. Scientifically, however, it would be possible for a shark to travel through the tidal waters.

On July 12, 1916, Captain Thomas Cottrell saw a shark swimming under the trolly bridge in Keyport and attempted to notify the town marshall. Cottrell's account was so unbelievable that local officials dismissed it, but Cottrell took to his motor boat to warn local residents.

Minutes after he passed the Wyckoff Dock, Lester Stillwell, Albert O'Hara, Johnson Cartan, Frank Clowes, Anthony Budblin, and Charles VanBrunt came to cool off in the creek. While splashing around in the water, the boys noticed what they thought was a wooden board, but would shortly find was a shark, heading toward Lester.

The skinny-dipping boys ran in the nude up to Main Street, trying to get help, however no one believed a shark could be in Matawan Creek. Stanley Fisher, a 24-year-old tailor who's shop was located next to what is now Victoria's Cozy Corner, knew that Lester suffered from epilepsy and ran down to the creek, concerned that the boy was having a seizure in the water.

Along the way to the creek, Fisher found Arthur Smith and George Burlew, and they began to search for Lester in the water.

By the time the three young men reached the creek, they realized that it was going to be a recovery not a rescue. They got in a boat and began probing around in the water with an oar and some poles, and soon began diving in the water to find Lester's body.

As they prepared to give up the search, Stanley dove into the water a final time and noticed something beneath the water. He closed his arms around Lester's body and as he came up, the shark closed its jaws around Stanley's upper thigh. 

Stanley was rushed to the hospital, but on his way to the operating room he said to his good friend, William Shepherd, "I got Lester away from the shark. I did my duty." Stanley then died from his injuries. 

About half an hour after the shark bit Stanley, Joseph Dunn, 12, and Michael Dunn, 14, of Brooklyn, and Jeremiah Hourihan, 16, of Matawan, were swimming off of the New Jersey Brickyard Pier as the shark made its way back toward Keyport.

Word of the shark attacks finally reached Joseph, Michael and Jeremiah, and the boys swam for the pier. Jeremiah and Michael climbed out, but as Joseph was doing so the shark grabbed him by the leg and tried to pull him under the water.

A sort of tug-of-war began between the shark and the older boys as they jumped back in the water and refused to let go of Joseph. Joseph was severely injured, but managed to survive.

Stanley Fisher is buried on a hill overlooking Lester Stillwell's grave. William Shepherd is buried only a few feet from his good friend Stanley.

Jo Pica October 24, 2012 at 02:25 AM
Allen Savolaine makes this tour so interesting - he makes you feel like you are traveling in Matawan History with him - and if you don't believe in ghosts in the begining of the Cemetary Tour or Borrows Mansion Tour - you will leave a Believer! We all forget to thank these volunteers like Al and Catherine and Bob and Julius and the rest of the gang who work endless hours dedicating their time and love of history to educate and inform us of how much went on in our little town of Matawan - Who knew? Anyway Thankyou - The Pica Family - Jo-Lor-Ralphie


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