- Historic Sites
The Honest Man
In a day of rampant money-making, gentle Peter Cooper was not only a reformer but successful, widely loved, and rich.
February 1959 | Volume 10, Issue 2
But in the Gilded Age Cooper was a freak. His mind looked backward with approval to the days of Jackson; if he could have looked forward to the days of Franklin Roosevelt, he would have found as much to approve.
The old man went back to his Union. In truth, he had never been away, for his campaign had scarcely been an active one. His son was elected mayor of New York; before long, although old Cooper wouldn’t live to see it, his son-in-law would be elected to the same office. And there was another generation coming along; Cooper had a fine workshop built in his house just off Gramercy Park so that his grandchildren might learn to work with their hands. And two of these—Peter Cooper Hewitt and Edward Ringwood Hewitt—grew up to become distinguished inventors themselves. Cooper used to take them down to the Union with him, one or the other importantly carrying along the old man’s air cushion.
He drove to his Union for the last time on March 31, 1883. He caught a cold; it grew worse, and pneumonia developed. Early on April 4 he died.
All over the city flags were lowered to half-mast. The family wanted to bury him quietly and privately, but such was the love in which he was held by the city’s nameless thousands that this proved impossible. His coffin was brought to All Souls’ Church on April 7, and the mourners streamed past from nine in the morning till mid-afternoon. When the coffin was lifted into the hearse, a cortege formed spontaneously and followed for miles through streets in which the shops had been closed, while from one after another of scores of churches along the way the bells slowly tolled. Seldom before or since has a citizen of New York been mourned from such a full heart.
Over his coffin, the Reverend Dr. Robert Collyer spoke the funeral address. “Here lies a man,” said Collyer, “who never owned a dollar he could not take up to the Great White Throne.” It was a thought to give Cooper’s contemporaries pause.