Caldwell Sisters web.mp3
8:03PM Apr 4, 2019
Jonese Franklin (announcer)
mid 19th century
park neighborhood association
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Curious Louisville, because great questions make great stories.
History is full of untold stories. And today on Curious Louisville, we're telling one. It's about two sisters who had a lasting impact on Louisville, and whose graves are here, even though they never lived here. WFPL's Ashlie Stevens looks into the buried history of the Caldwell Sisters.
"Alright, so we are heading up to the Caldwell sister monument. I am getting in the car to follow Michael right now."
I'm following Michael Higgs, the manager of the Cave Hill Heritage Foundation through the grounds of the massive cemetery. We're passing the signs for the lake and the chapel. There's the the swan pond over to the left. Eventually we round up into section 13 of Cave Hill, past hundreds of white marble tombstones and several mausoleums.
"Fantastic. Yeah. Wow, this is beautiful."
We're standing at the base of an enormous sculpture crafted from marble. Two women in flowing Grecian style tunics are depicted holding hands. Michael says this is the grave of Louisville's Caldwell sisters.
So both Mary Elizabeth America Gwendolyn are entombed in the floor of the monument - it's mosoleaum and monument.
And Mary Elizabeth and Mary Gwendolyn, are the topic of our latest Curious Louisville question from Chuck Rogalinski, which wasn't so much a question but a suggestion. When he wrote into Curious Louisville, Chuck asked us to tell their story, which he's already pretty familiar with.
I'm the president of the Shelby Park neighborhood association.
He came across the Caldwell name initially when filing for the neighborhood's first historic marker
Which was on the Shelby Park neighborhood in the park and the old library. The names of the sisters were on the deed and Mayor Paul bars purchase the land from them.
Well, the Caldwell sisters, Mary Gwendolyn and Mary Elizabeth are actually Breckenridge descendants.
That's Jim Holmberg, the chief curator at the Filton Historical Society.
Their mother Mary Eliza Breckenridge was the daughter of James D. Breckenridge. And a good bit of St. Matthews used to belong to the family. Their father, who was William Shakespeare Caldwell was actually a Virginian by birth.
He and his father had made millions of dollars in the gasworks - putting gasworks in in the in the antebellum mid 19th century period.
And William Shakespeare Caldwell, before he joined the family business, was actually a failed actor.
According to Holmberg, the sisters, who were born in 1863 and 1865 in Cincinnati, were left orphaned, but wealthy, at a young age. They went to boarding school in New York, traveled abroad and eventually married into European aristocracy.
Well, this is I guess this is a good time period where you're, you're short on money. European royalty was looking for rich American heiresses. And of course both girls fit that mold and so Mary Gwendolyn married a French Marquis and Mary Elizabeth married a German Baron, Baron Von Zedlitz.
Both women maintained ties to Louisville. Thanks to their parents, the sisters inherited land across the city, including the land that eventually became Bowman Field. The Caldwell sisters dad relatively young, Mary Gwendolyn was 46 Mary Elizabeth was 45. One died on a yachting trip, the other in Switzerland. But as part of the last wishes both had their bodies transported back to Louisville so they could be buried together in Cave Hill Cemetery. Question asker Chuck Rogalinski is hoping to receive approval for a historic marker that talks about the Caldwell sisters in the Shelby Park neighborhood where they owned land. In the meantime, though, he says next time you're driving through the neighborhood, keep an eye out for Caldwell Street.
This curious will have a question was reported and produced by me, Ashlie Stevens. You can ask your own at curiouslouisville.org.
Thanks for listening to Curious Louisville. I'm Laura Ellis, one of the producers, with a quick note. You know that Curious Louisville relies on your questions to help us decide on which stories to tell. We like to say it's people powered. WFPL's people powered too. We rely on people like you, who like what we're doing and think it's important, to give us the financial support that lets us keep doing what we do. Our station is fundraising right now. To donate, check out the link in our show notes, or go to curiouslouisville.org and look in the upper left hand corner for a little button that says donate. At Curious Louisville, we pledge to keep letting your curiosity be our guide. And you pledge... however much you want! Thanks.