Back in the Day

Crumbling mausoleum contains hundreds of stories

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In 1926, 52-year-old building contractor Thomas Francis Cullinan opened the doors of his new private mausoleum for business.

The Roger Williams Park Mausoleum, located on Cyr Street in Cranston, was a three-story stone building designed by Cullinan, with compartmented walls in which to hold caskets. Although official interment records for the mausoleum no longer exist, it is estimated that over 500 bodies were placed within the structure, which was to serve as their final resting place.

When Cullinan died in 1938, care of the mausoleum was inherited by his daughters, Helen and Katherine. Helen died in 2000 and Katherine two years later. No provisions had been made for future care of the mausoleum. Condemned by the city of Cranston for being “dangerous and unsafe” in 2005, the structure was locked, fenced off and posted with “no trespassing” signs.

Over the past 17 years, time has taken its toll on the abandoned building. The roof and walls are crumbling. Rain and snow have entered just as easily as those who have ventured past the signs and locks to vandalize and steal from the dead.

Eventually the building will have to be razed. Yet despite years of legal discussions and philanthropic ideas, there is still no logical solution to dealing with the present tragedy and averting one even worse in the near future.

Different estimates have been placed on the cost of removing bodies. Because the building is contaminated with asbestos and mold, and contains human remains, removal of a body necessitates Haz-Mat intervention. Some estimates state that the cost of removing one body is about $6,000, while others say the cost to remove them all would surpass $3 million.

While a few families have removed their loved ones already, the emotional trauma of relocating a deceased relative along with having to finance a second burial is not something many are able to do. And for many of those interred in the mausoleum, there is no family to come forth.

Walter Grant Stackpole lies within the mausoleum’s walls. Born in Rhode Island on April 1, 1869, he was the son of George Stackpole and Amy Salisbury and the husband of Ida Hawkins. A lifelong City Hall engineer in Providence, he also served as a police constable, residing on Eddy Street and then Calla Street. After struggling with diabetes, he died on July 9, 1939. He and his wife had no children.

Frederick Krenkel came to America from his birthplace of Pforzheim, Germany, in 1923, arriving in New York aboard the Canopic on Dec. 22. Born on July 1, 1898, despite only obtaining and eighth-grade education, he became an electro-plater for a Providence jewelry manufacturer. He and his wife, Helene, lived on New York Avenue, and he became a naturalized American citizen on June 24, 1929. He died on April 4, 1970. He and his wife had no children and repose side by side within the abandoned mausoleum.

Harry Rivers Corey was born on March 4, 1879, the son of Frederick Corey and Annie Bradley. While he worked as a nursing attendant at Wallum Lake State Sanatorium, his wife Elsie (Paul) worked alongside him as a practical nurse. Harry died in Massachusetts on Jan. 19, 1931. Elsie died at the Westerly Hospital on Dec. 29, 1981. They were laid to rest within the Roger Williams Park Mausoleum.

Ludwig Jefferson Roehr was born in New York in 1852. He later married Isabella Frances Bannister and relocated to Sefton Drive in Cranston. A jewelry designer and manufacturer, he became a successful Providence businessman and president of the Bassett Jewelry Company on Garnet Street, which manufactured solid gold jewelry and rustless steel flatware. With patented designs on lockets and bracelets, Roehr’s jewelry is now collectible. He died in Cranston in 1932, and his wife followed four years later. They lay at rest within the mausoleum.

There are over 500 stories contained within the crumbling walls on Cyr Street – stories of veterans, nurses, police officers, successful businessmen and immigrants who came to America seeking a better life. And none of those stories ended with the deaths of the people who lived them. Unfortunately, their fates still remain unknown.

Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.

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