Friday, 17 October 2014

Spending eternity alone - Colonel Alexander Gordon (1840-1910), Putney Vale Cemetery

“GORDON, COL. ALEXANDER. Born in Dublin, Ireland, Dec. 16, 1840; father was a Scotchman, who sent him to his birthplace, Aberdeen, to be educated; first emigrated to this country in 1848 ; mother died in New York state in 1849, and his father and children returned to the old country in 1850. Came back to the United States in 1859; learned the trade of machinist and mechanical engineer; worked on the construction of monitors for the government from 1862 to 1866, then connected himself with the Niles Tool Works Co., a concern that has attained a pre-eminent success in the manufacture of machine tools and is now the leading one in capacity and general character in the world. The Niles Tool Works Co. has been intrusted by the United States government to construct enormous machines to form the armor plates and make their great guns for war ships and coast defense. Col. Gordon is now and has been for years president of this great company. Col. Gordon served on Governor McKinley's staff from 1893 to 1896. He is prominently named to represent the Third district of Ohio in congress, but does not entertain political ambitions. He is an ardent Republican.”

Brief Biographical Sketches of the "Familiar Faces of Ohio":  A Souvenir Collection of Portraits and Sketches of Well-Known Men of the Buckeye State – compiled by C. S. Van Tassel, Publisher, Bowling Green, Ohio  

His life was an archetypal American success story, the poor immigrant transformed into a king of industry, but Colonel Gordon (like Colonel Sanders and Colonel Tom Parker, the military title is purely honorific) lies cold and lonely in his Putney Vale mausoleum. The choice of faux Egyptian betrays dynastic ambitions but his son, at whose house in Lytton Grove, Putney he died on 11 September 1910, chose to be buried (or cremated) elsewhere and Colonel Gordon has  spent the last hundred years or so on his own in the cemetery’s most magnificent mausoleum. Many of the personal details of the Colonels life are lost – he must have been married but his wife either predeceased him or they lived apart. He was proud of being a British subject - in an application to the US Patent Office for “certain new and useful Improvements in Radial Drilling-Machines” he announced himself as “ALEXANDER GORDON, a subject of the Queen of Great Britain, and a resident of Hamilton, Butler county, Ohio“ - and he was proud of working for President McKinley, it was the only fact about him mentioned in his death notice in the Wandsworth Borough News.  But in general what details of his life are available are dry accounts of business successes and machine tooling. He was interred on 15 September – “no flowers by request.” His mausoleum is big enough to house a dozen coffins but no one else has ever been interred with him.  


  1. Really interesting. Now I understand where the cover of the Judas Priest comes from. It is curious where things come from and at the same time, enjoy the culture. Thank you.