Maple Grove Cemetery To Honor Victorian-Era Couple

Staff Writer

Maple Grove Cemetery is highlighting its past once again, this time, celebrating five people buried at the facility.

On May 17, the cemetery will honor the Victorian time period it was founded in by hosting a wedding for Mary and Jonathan Coward, a pre-Civil War couple who were separated by the war, reunited 50 years later and eventually got married.

An actor playing the journalist Jacob Riis will be at a Victorian-style wedding in Maple Grove Cemetery.

An actor playing the journalist Jacob Riis will be at a Victorian-style wedding in Maple Grove Cemetery.

According to Maple Grove’s website, Mary Coward had four brothers in the war, including Francis Trow Johnson, who was a lawyer in Brooklyn before going off to war. Mary passed away on May 9, 1939 at the age of 96, while Jonathan died on November 20, 1917 at 75 years old. They are both buried at Maple Grove.

In addition to the wedding, two featured guests at the ceremony will be Jacob and Elizabeth Riis. Jacob was a famous journalist and photographer who primarily wrote about New Yorkers living in poverty and tried to help those people through his stories and photography. Jacob has multiple public places named in his honor in Queens, including Jacob Riis Park in Rockaway and the Jacob Riis Settlement House in Queensbridge. The couple’s final resting place is also in Maple Grove.

Carl Ballenas, head of the Friends of Maple Grove organization, said this is just another unique way to remember and honor some of the estimated 88,000 people that are buried at Maple Grove. Following last year’s successful Victorian Funeral Tea event, they wanted to organize another event to remember that time period. Their different twist was to combine hosting the Coward wedding while also honoring the Riis couple and Jacob’s accomplishments.
“It just worked hand-in-hand, people were very interested,” he said.

Ballenas said they were researching for unique stories amongst the people buried at Maple Grove and when they discovered the Coward’s story of separation and reunion, they knew that was the one to go with.

“Our goal is to do the teenage wedding that they missed out on in their lives,” he said, referring to how they were married at an old age instead of their younger days because of the war.

They have hired five actors for the occasion, two to play Coward couple, another pair that will be Jacob and Elizabeth Riis and the final actor will play Rev. Charles Camp, who will act as the priest for the wedding. Camp helped during the laying of the cornerstone ceremony for the foundation of the Statue of Liberty in 1884 and is buried at Maple Grove.

There will also be food, a wedding cake and a pianist playing Victorian-era music. If you are attending the event, you are encouraged to dress as close as possible to what you would wear to a Victorian wedding, Ballenas said.

The wedding will begin at 2 p.m. on May 17. Maple Grove Cemetery is located at 127-15 Kew Gardens Road in Kew Gardens. To make a reservation for the ceremony, call the cemetery at (347) 878-6614.

Reach Luis Gronda at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127,, or @luisgronda.