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General Thomas Eckert
11-26-2017, 05:46 PM
Post: #1
General Thomas Eckert
Greetings everyone I just joined the forum.

I’m the Tour Director for the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan and I wanted to start a thread on General Thomas Eckert. I hope I am posted this in the correct section or maybe the Moderators could create a new topic on the General. The reason for this is that I run daily public tours of the CATACOMBS below the Old Cathedral and one of the vaults on the tour is that of General Eckert. What’s unique about his vault is that you can actually go inside of it. He spent $83,000 on the vault in 1904 built of Guastavino tile to accommodate 12 members of his family. There are only 4 people laid to rest there though:

Thomas Thompson Eckert Sr.
Joanna Rice Eckert (2nd wife?)
Eliza Rice - Joanna’s mother
Christopher Rice - her father.

I can’t find any books on him, I know nothing of his first wife and marriage. Would love to know more about his personal life. Any assistance would be appreciated.

Thank you

Tommy
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11-26-2017, 09:11 PM
Post: #2
RE: General Thomas Eckert
Welcome to the forum, Tommy, and I hope that we can fill in some of the blanks about Thomas Eckert. He seems to be best-known for the anecdote that he could break iron pokers over his arm and that he refused the invitation to accompany President and Mrs. Lincoln to Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865. His whole life, however, seems to be heavily tied to the invention, use, and expansion of the telegraph.

Thomas Eckert is one of the chapters in David Homer Bates's well-respected book on Lincoln in the Telegraph Office, but I don't remember that there is much personal history there. Bates's Papers are in the Alfred W. Stern Collection of Lincolniana at the Library of Congress, and you might be able to find personal reminiscences of his work and friendship with Eckert at both the Telegraph Office during the war and at Western Union afterwards. I did find this link online that might help a little:

https://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s...s%20Eckert
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11-27-2017, 06:48 AM
Post: #3
RE: General Thomas Eckert
Welcome to the forum, Tommy. I think one of the most interesting things about Eckert is (are?) his visits to Lewis Powell when Powell was being held aboard the Saugus. Stanton directed Eckert to visit and talk to Powell about the plot to assassinate Lincoln, Seward, etc. Powell made some revealing comments to Eckert. As far as I know, the best account of the Eckert-Powell meetings is in Bates' book that Laurie mentioned above.
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11-27-2017, 08:20 AM
Post: #4
RE: General Thomas Eckert
You can find a copy of the book in The Internet Archives

https://archive.org/details/cu31924032766846

So when is this "Old Enough To Know Better" supposed to kick in?
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11-27-2017, 11:34 AM
Post: #5
RE: General Thomas Eckert
Hello Tommy, approximately 5 years ago you gave a tour of the catacombs to my wife and I. I was primarily interested in Eckert's final resting place. I do not have too much info on him. He was married to the former Emma D. Whitney of Wooster, Ohio and they had two sons - Clendenin and Thomas T. Emma died in 1868 and ten years later (1878) Thomas married Joanna C. Seitzinger who died circa 1899 and was buried in St. Patrick's Old Cathedral. They were living at 549 5th Ave. in New York at the time. He also had a summer home on Ocean Ave. in Long Branch, NJ which was still standing 5 years ago when I visited.
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11-27-2017, 11:44 AM
Post: #6
RE: General Thomas Eckert
Welcome aboard, Tommy!

I have an extensive file on Major Eckert - here are some tidbits which I found regarding Eckert and his later home-life, as well as his much-loved cat, "Honey-Bubbles"... This from posts made in July of 2012 -

Eckert may have suffered from dementia in his final years.

Eckert’s younger son, James Clendenin Eckert, contested Eckert’s will. “By the terms of the will, Thomas T. Eckert, Jr., received about $1,500,000 while his brother [Clendenin] was left $50,000 outright and a life interest in $100,000. Clendenin contested the will on the grounds that his father, who died in 1910 at the age of 92, was not fit mentally to make a will when this instrument was executed... and that he was unduly influenced.” Philadelphia Inquirer, Mar. 8, 1914.

"James Miles, a general utility man at the Eckert estate in Elberon, N.J., was a star witness at the hearing in Surrogate's Court. He testified to witnessing Gen. Eckert's will. Gen. Eckert, he said, was ill from August, 1908, until the time of his death. The aged man, he said, saw visions of pictures in space, saw faces at the window when no one was there, and spoke as if his bedroom were a cabin on a ship sailing to Washington, and asked what deck he was on." New York Times, Feb. 7, 1911.

It was disclosed that Minnie Egan, Gen. Eckert's housekeeper, was given the late Mrs. Eckert's jewels, worth $100,000, as a "wedding present." Minnie and Thomas, Jr. had announced their engagement in August 1910 and married Nov. 23, 1910, one month after Gen. Eckert’s death on October 20. The private secretary to Gen. Eckert testified that, "Following the General's directions...I gave the jewels to Minnie Egan, his housekeeper, as a wedding present two days before he died." New York Times, Feb. 11, 1911.

Thomas Reilly, a "trained nurse" was "with Gen. Eckert from August 15, 1908 until his death." Reilly testified that Gen. Eckert told him that "his wife's jewels were to go to Joanna, the eighteen-year-old daughter of the contestant [Clendenin]...

"General Eckert gave various versions of the capture and burial of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin who killed Lincoln, Reilly said. He insisted that he identified Booth by his thumb and broken leg. One time he said that Booth had been dumped into Delaware Bay, and another time, Reilly said, he described a land burial and gave the location of the grave." New York Times, Feb. 15, 1911.

The Surrogate's Court upheld the will. New York Times, Dec. 16, 1911. Clendenin appealed and Joanna, who had been deprived of the jewels, joined in the suit. New York Times, Feb. 19, 1913.

The case was heard in the NY Supreme Court. Witnesses testified as to Eckert's state of mind when he signed the will on August 30, 1910. "Joseph Finn, a carpenter, gave a description of the catnip bed, which, he asserted, the General had caused to be built in his Elberon home for 'Honeybubbles,' his cat. According to the carpenter, it was a miniature greenhouse. When the family was in New York, he said, it was customary to have catnip shipped there daily.

"Bessie Tracy, a servant, was asked about the cat.

"'The cat came to the table for every meal,' she said. 'He had a chair like the rest of the family, and the same food that the family ate was served to him. During meals he would walk all over the table and eat the flowers.'

"'Would he eat food from other plates than his own?' Justice Greenbaum inquired.

"'No. Only from his own plate.'" New York Times. Feb. 25, 1913.

On March 5, 1913, after only forty minutes of deliberation, the jurors "returned to Justice Greenbaum a verdict breaking the will of General Thomas Thompson Eckert..." "By the verdict, James Clendenin Eckert, the contestant who was cut off with $50,000 and a trust fund of $100,000, gets an equal share of the $1,650.000 estate with his brother, T. T. Eckert, Jr." Joanna was "the most joyful person in the courtroom when the verdict was announced." New York Times, Mar. 6, 1913.

Thomas, Jr. appealed but he lost again. "The decision of the jury... was affirmed today by the appellate division of the Supreme Court." Philadelphia Inquirer, Mar. 14, 1914.


I had heard that poor Major Eckert suffered from Alzheimers before he died. It is hard to fathom that he had that much money so as to afford $100,000 worth of jewels for Mrs. Eckert. One hundred thousand was a huge amount of cash in the 19th Century.

"The Past is a foreign country...they do things differently there" - L. P. Hartley
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11-27-2017, 01:09 PM
Post: #7
RE: General Thomas Eckert
Evidently, being president of Western Union paid very well.
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11-27-2017, 02:50 PM
Post: #8
RE: General Thomas Eckert
Wow thank you all for the responses and information.

There seems to be a few anomalies but maybe we will be able to validate those inconsistencies over time.

Joanna

Was there mOre than one?

He was remarried to a Joanna C. Rice (who was much younger than him)

She was daughter of Christopher Carleton Rice, purser of the Navy. He was from Limerick Ireland.
Her mother was Eliza M. Rice.

I will post photos of the Vault later this evening.
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11-27-2017, 07:37 PM
Post: #9
RE: General Thomas Eckert
be careful Tommy, you don't want Betty to start a file on you. :0
Two of the best researchers in this field are Betty and Rich.

Welcome to the club.
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11-27-2017, 08:02 PM (This post was last modified: 11-27-2017 08:04 PM by TommyTokens.)
Post: #10
RE: General Thomas Eckert
Thanks Jim!

Attached are images of the Eckert vault doors, the Rice Tombstone and Plaque on stone


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