The man who landed the biggest economic development deal in Schenectady’s history has become, in death, a victim of theft.
Someone stripped away the foot-tall bronze letters spelling out Robert Furman’s name at his monument at Vale Cemetery this winter.
The thief also ripped away the letters on the other side of the monument, spelling out Van Guisling, the maiden name of Furman’s wife.
The cemetery has seen a dramatic decrease in vandalism since installing security cameras throughout the property. But no one saw the thief steal the letters. After the theft, the cemetery erected three more cameras on fiber-optic lines that allow workers to watch the live feed from the caretaker’s office.
“This was a professional job,” said Bernie McEvoy, vice president of the Vale board of trustees. “This wasn’t an amateur.”
He called every salvage yard in the region, all of whom know not to accept aged bronze. The metal never showed up, indicating that whoever took it knew that the local yards would be watching.
“They’ve probably been melted down in New Jersey,” McEvoy said heavily.
The Furman monument is the tallest and most well-known in the entire cemetery.
“Anytime anyone comes in [to look at monuments], they say this is the gold star of the place,” McEvoy said. “It’s the biggest. It’s the most impressive.”
And now it’s likely damaged beyond repair.
The priceless damage left screws exposed to the air and tiny holes in the base of the monument. The names can still be read, but only because the dark unweathered stone that was behind the bronze contrasts well with the weathered stone around it.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to replace it,” McEvoy said unhappily, adding that as far as he knows, the last of the family line died two years ago. If relatives were still alive, they could claim the damage on their homeowner’s insurance. But without that, he said, it will simply be too expensive to fix.
The thief did not get away with the beautiful copper design at the top of the monument, which could be reached only with a long ladder. But the letters were waist high.
The theft is an act of high ingratitude considering Furman’s role in Schenectady’s development.
In 1886, sales agents for Edison’s Machine Works — which is now General Electric — came to Schenectady searching for a new spot to build their headquarters.
They found Walter McQueen’s half-finished locomotive factory, which the Stanford family built for him when he argued with his bosses at Schenectady Locomotive Works. McQueen was the chief engineer, and walked off the job to start his own factory. But he went back to Schenectady Locomotive before his buildings were complete, abandoning them. Thomas Edison’s agents saw it as the perfect opportunity.
They offered the Stanford family $37,500 for the half-finished buildings and the land. The family insisted on $45,000. Edison’s agents refused to budge, and the deal looked like it was going to collapse.
“Furman could see the potential if GE were to come here,” McEvoy said. “So Furman went out and raised the money.”
He and other businessmen donated $7,500 to the Stanford family, and the family accepted the $37,500 from Edison. By the end of the year, Edison Machine Works was open in Schenectady.
“If it weren’t for Furman, Schenectady would be about the size of Gloversville,” McEvoy said.
Historian Frank Taormina, who has read the list of businessmen who donated to the effort, said Furman’s sales pitch was simple: a donation now would bring in more money later.
“He said we’ll have a lot of people working there who will do business in our stores,” Taormina said. Furman turned out to be right.
In the following 14 years, 40,000 people moved to Schenectady, more than doubling the population.
“The growth was just staggering. It was enormous,” Taormina said. “They prospered more than they expected to. They were talking hundreds of jobs, maybe a thousand. The electrical industry grew much more rapidly than they had anticipated.”
Furman was also responsible for bringing trolleys to Schenectady, according to the cemetery’s published history on its notable figures.
Later in life, he donated some of his own land to become Veterans Park.