Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Parcella Post by Bill Ketzer

Another great post by Delmartian Bill Ketzer.  Enjoy!

Parcella Post. Who knows the story?
Located in the Town of Bethlehem until annexed by Albany in 1870, Graceland Cemetery on Delaware Avenue offers more land than meets the eye when driving by. Its manicured grounds wander far south of what can be seen from the road, its bordering woodlots rising high above the banks of Normanskill Creek and Bethlehem’s quiet hamlet of Normansville beyond. In one of the farthest lots down that expanse is a handsome, unassuming little headstone with a carved lamb adorning its top. In its remoteness, it is rarely visited by anyone, but the tranquility of the space is almost indescribable despite the perpetual swoosh of automobile traffic nearby, like waves crashing on a nearby shore. There, the calm presence one feels is almost like carefully holding a baby bird in your palm for the first time.
On November 20, 1922 – a Monday afternoon – a mailman came to the front door of the A. B. Kiernan Funeral Home at 38 Grand Street in Albany’s South End (now where South Mall Towers apartments stand across the street from Café Capriccio) and delivered a package, as he did every day. The parcel was 20 inches long and seven inches square at the sides, and he handed it to Thomas Kiernan, the proprietor’s uncle, who in turn asked an employee to open it, thinking it was probably a delayed doll prize he'd won at a club carnival the week before.
However, the employee drew back abruptly after opening on end, then ripped its dirty white string and the rest of the wrapping away to reveal the nude body of a tiny baby girl. On her body lay a $5 bill. The funeral home immediately called the police and Dr. Morris Bellin (who was summoned by Albany County Coroner John E. Mullin) reported the child had been born alive, in perfect health, but had been smothered a day or two later by an adult given the telltale marks on the child's face. “It was the first Instance in the history of Albany that parcel post been used for such a macabre purpose,” the Times Union reported in 1946. The only mark on the outside of the package was the almost Illegibly-scrawled Grand street address in blue pencil.
Police began an intensive search to discover who sent the parcel – to this day one of the strangest and most heartbreaking objects ever sent through the U. S. mail. Early evidence indicated that the package couldn’t have travelled very far, judging by the date used on the newspaper used to wrap the infant and that it had the brown mark of a flat iron on it, indicating it had been used around the house for a day before it was used as wrapping. The cancellation on the postage stamps was a smudge of concentric rings of ink, revealing that it was sent from a small post office (by that time larger POs were already sending larger circle stamps with the date and time included). Detectives interviewed postal clerks, hospital staff, doctors’ offices and midwives in the city to no avail.
Then, on the third day of the investigation, they learned the parcel had been sent from PO Substation 23 at 119 Madison Avenue – just three blocks away from Kiernan’s funeral parlor (now the vacant lot next to Lombardo’s Restaurant). Unfortunately, 74-year-old Postmaster Gennaro Pisarri was unable to identify the girl who posted the package, other than that she was a “neatly-dressed, typically American 16-year-old girl.”
The aged postmaster recalled asking the girl why she didn't deliver the package herself instead of mailing it, but she responded that it was laundry and she didn't have to take it over. This account was verified by a co-worker, Maria Tarezzi, and also by G. P. Baccelli, Albany’s Italian consul in Albany who had offices located just above the substation. According to Baccelli, the girl gave the parcel to the postmaster on Saturday, November 18, between 4 and 4:30 PM and he overheard Pisarri asking her why she wouldn’t just carry the package to the funeral home, since it was a short walk away. “No, I want to mail it,” he reported her as saying. “It is a package of Laundry.”
Ultimately – for reasons never explained fully in news reports – the police believed this young woman was an unwitting accomplice in the crime and not the perpetrator. Pondering the societal conditions of the South End in that era (my Irish and German ancestors lived there, as did many immigrants from those countries at the time) it seems very strange that the police so quickly dismissed the possibility of the girl being the killer (or the daughter of the killer), as she was a teenager, almost certainly Catholic, and did not want to risk being identified by the funeral director.
But the newspapers did announce, rather bluntly, that the infant would be buried in Potter's Field (there were several near New Scotland Avenue and Hackett Boulevard) unless someone came forward to help the nameless babe. By then however the story had caught the interest of many Albanians, who began to take personal interest in the tale and demand that the infant be given services and buried with “all proper reverence.” By the weekend following the awful discovery, more than 200 women had filed into the funeral parlor to view the tiny child.
Mr. Kiernan subsequently announced he would hold “simple, but impressive” funeral services for the baby, but those plans soon became more elaborate. Instead of a cardboard coffin, the funeral home provided a little, white, glass-covered casket, with silver handles and nameplate. Instead of discarded newspapers, the undertaker’s wife sewed a tiny white satin burial dress. Two men offered to loan large cars to carry the mourners to graveside, and Stephen O’Hagan of Black Taxi Company loaned a hearse to lead the procession. Neighborhood women collected donations for sprays of flowers, and the plot where the baby girl rests today was purchased at Graceland Cemetery. The superintendent of Graceland provided the plot in a far corner of its infant's section. A volunteer subscription was started to raise money for the tiny headstone in this picture, which carries the name Parcella Post – her namesake given by either Dr. Bellin or the coroner (news accounts conflict here) since the way she was sent to the undertaker was the only clue to her origins… and the only clue there would ever be.
On Monday, November 27, 1922 – just a few days before Thanksgiving – three carloads of mourners went to the graveside to say a final goodbye to Parcella, whose gravesite was overrun with beautiful scores of cut-flower blossoms. It was indeed quite a different funeral than had been anticipated by the person who placed the little dead girl in the mail with $5 for burial expenses! At the grave, city detectives hovered in the background, keeping close watch on all visitors with the hope that some small act would provide more information as to the mother’s identity, but the watch proved futile. Soon after, the little girl was left to rest in peace, and no superintendent or groundskeeper moving forward indicated that anyone ever visited the grave.
So that was the lore until 1960, when a single pink flower was left on Parcella’s stone sometime around Memorial Day. This was huge news even 38 years after her death. It was an artificial blossom, designed to last a long time in outdoor weather, and the Knickerbocker News felt that “it seemed to give warmth with its glow.” This week in September 2018 – approaching 100 years since Parcella’s journey into eternal mystery – a pink flower still adorns the stone.

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