Jonathan Reed was the most famous permanent resident of the Evergreens even before his death. After his wife Mary E. Gould Reed was laid to rest in the Brooklyn cemetery in the 1893, Jonathan Reed began to live the now legendary story of supreme devotion to the memory of his wife.
Initially, Mary was laid to rest inside her father’s vault on March 19, 1893. Jonathan, a retired merchant in his sixties, began to visit her regularly. His father-in-law’s objections stopped that, but after he died in 1895, Reed purchased another vault for his deceased wife in the Whispering Grove section. Reed had his Mary’s casket transferred to the vault, where he installed an empty casket in which he would eventually lie. He then settled into what became his second home. Domestic furniture stood in the vestibule, a wood stove provided heat, and scattered about the vault were a clock, some urns filled with flowers, photographs, paintings on the wall, a deck of playing cards, Mary’s half-finished knitting, and the family’s pet parrot (first alive, later stuffed). As word of Reed’s story spread, company began stopping by. Around 7,000 people stopped by in the first year alone.
Witnesses said he ate all of his meals there and held imaginary conversations with his wife. According to the New York Times article, published in March of 1905, “Mr. Reed could never be made to believe that his wife was really dead, his explanation of her condition being that the warmth had simply left her body and that if he kept the mausoleum warm she would continue to sleep peacefully in the costly metallic casket in which her remains were put.” The article also states, “According to his friends, he really believed that his wife could understand what he was saying to her.”
In May 1905 Reed was found unconscious on the tomb’s floor with his arms stretched out toward Mary. After he was laid to rest a few weeks later, the vault door was closed for the last time. It remains locked to this day.
Information taken from the book Green Oasis in Brooklyn: The Evergreens Cemetery by John Rousmaniere. Learn more here.