Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York is one of those sprawling, rural cemeteries with winding roads, bucolic hills, lakes, and impressive vaults, not dissimilar to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn or Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland. Many notable people are buried in Kensico Cemetery, including Lou Gehrig, actress Anne Bancroft, the parents of Robert De Niro, and more. On our recent visit however, we were focused on locating one very unique grave site, modeled after the Trylon and Perisphere at the 1939 World’s Fair.
1939 World’s Fair. Photo from New York Public Library’s World’s Fair 1939 and 1940 Incorporated Records Archive.1939 World’s Fair.
The grave belongs to Reverend Dr. M. Moran Weston II from Harlem, noted for being a “banker-priest” in his New York Times obituary in 2002. He was one of the first black graduates of Columbia University and went on to obtain a doctorate from the university, along with other degrees at the Union Theological Seminary. He was a civil rights activist, the founder Carver Federal Savings Bank, a minister, a real estate developer, and more — all for the purpose of serving the Harlem community and providing African Americans with the opportunities afforded to whites like home ownership, affordable housing, and equal education.
Dr. Weston was the child of two Episcopal priests, and his humility was noted in his obituary, “Dr. Weston’s leadership style was persistent and low key; his sermons intellectual in tone. He preferred to be a catalyst in the background.” He himself said that “Like the setting of a worship service, life itself should have beauty, order and dignity. I become concerned if the neighborhood is ugly, run down, dirty and unattractive.”
Dr. Weston’s grave is located at the top of a hill just off a roundabout, near the grave of actress Billie Burke who played Glinda the Good Witch in the Wizard of Oz and was married to theater impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. It is not known exactly why the World’s Fair buildings adorn Dr. Weston’s grave, but in the book Stories in Stone New York, Douglas Keister writes, “Perhaps he was inspired by the motto ‘Building the World of Tomorrow.'”
Learn more about the World’s Fairs in our next tour of the Remnants of the World’s Fairs this Sunday!