Griffiths Headstone Unveiled



On 23 July the headstone for the grave of legendary naval architect John W. Griffiths (October 6, 1809–March 30, 1882), designer of steamships, war vessels, and the record-setting clippers Sea Witch and Rainbow, at Linden Hill United Methodist Cemetery in Ridgewood, Queens. The monument was designed by NMHS Advisory Committee Chair Melbourne Smith. Capt. Matt Carmel offered these remarks:

Welcome everyone. I am Captain Matt Carmel and was volunteered to give today’s weekly shipboard sermon from the quarterdeck, often known as “a few words from the holy book and get back to work.” I hope Rabbi Singer is watching from above because based on my expulsion from Hebrew school 45 years ago, he must be thinking nes gadol haya sham: “a great miracle happened there.”

No one likes a long speech, so I will keep it brief. But before I begin, I would like to say a few words.


No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

These famous lines are by John Donne, a metaphysical poet and cleric in the Church of England. The passage is taken from his 1624 Meditation 17, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions. Its meaning can be distilled to a common truth. Human beings necessarily depend on each other.

The idea for honoring John Willis Griffiths was born out of a “friendly” political difference between myself and Melbourne Smith, alternately of esteemed and dubious repute, depending on whether or not the “sun is below the yard”. And not “yard arm” as he often corrects the uninitiated.

So one day I hazarded a discussion on current political matters and affairs of state. One thing lead to another, it came to blows and we were knocked on our beam ends. But time heals all wounds.

As a gesture of reconciliation, I conspired with my sister, a fellow traveler, to take a gravestone rubbing of his adopted patron ship designer and mentor. My first task was to find where Griffiths was buried which was a task in and of itself. Undaunted, I ultimately came to this hallowed ground. And what to my surprise should I find? Melbourne’s patron had no headstone at all. Why this was so remains shrouded in mystery.

Not one to pass up an opportunity to make a nuisance of myself, I convinced several friends and new found acquaintances to join me in my quest to raise sufficient funds for erecting a proper headstone on Griffiths final resting place.

And succeed we did. by finding our real life patron Bruce Johnson, director of business development of the Brooklin Boat Yard, whose non-profit foundation footed the bulk of the cost. The fruits of his generosity, and others, will be unveiled here today.

In addition to Bruce, our indebtedness extends to fellow shipmates and hardy tars, in alphabetical order:

Adam Brodsky, Deputy Editorial Page Editor of the NY Post
Dr. Larrie Ferreiro, Adjunct Professor of System Engineering at Catholic University
Steve Gorelick, Executive Director of the NJ Motion Picture & Television Commission
Burchenal Green, President of the National Maritime Historical Society
Charles Lauber, Superintendent of the Linden Hill United Methodist Cemetery
Michael Lewis, President of the Lewis Monument Co.
Ron Oswald, Chairman of the National Maritime Historical Society
Charles Ricciardi, Operations & Creative Director of the NJ Motion Picture & Television Commission
Lewis Brett Smiler, research consultant to The Thomas Edison Papers
And lastly, Melbourne Smith, President of the International Historical Watercraft Society

Theologian John of Salisbury, wrote a Latin treatise on logic in 1159 called Metalogicon, in which he said:

“We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.”

So now we come to the brief part. To my fellow clods of earth who one day will be washed away by the sea, let’s cheer our codependency and America’s great maritime achievements. Huzzah!