Elisabeth Riis (1853-1905) Summit 118
Elisabeth Riis was born in Denmark and came from an aristocratic family. She met Jacob Riis when they were both very young.
When young carpenter Jacob asked for her hand in marriage, he was denied because of his social standing. Broken hearted, Jacob came empty handed to America and held his love for Elisabeth in the core of his heart. He became one of the first photojournalists and brought to light the horrific conditions of living in the tenements of lower Manhattan with a book called. "How the Other Half Lives." As an urban reformer and with his friendship with Theodore Roosevelt, he was able to put into effect housing laws, as well as playgrounds for children and parks for recreation. He was also responsible for Christmas seals, Christmas caroling and Christmas tree lighting.
Elisabeth meanwhile became engaged to a much older soldier who met with approval to her parents. When a fatal illness befell this soldier, her parents forbid her to marry him. Defying her parents, she moved out of their home to care for him until he died. In America, Jacob, now with a name for himself, hearing of the news about Elisabeth's fiance's death, returned to Denmark and proposed a second time to Elisabeth. They were married in Denmark in 1876. Elisabeth was finally his.
Elisabeth and Jacob had many children and they had a beautiful life together in Richmond Hill. She died in 1905 at the age of 52 and Jacob was devastated.
Her grave stone at Maple Grove is very modest, with a reclining lamb on the top of it. Jacob called Elisabeth his "Little Lamb." This theme followed over to the stain glass windows he donated in her honor at the Church of the Resurrection in the "Good Shepherd " theme. The gravesite also has the remains of their stillborn and young children. He planted at the foot of the grave two small beech trees he brought from his yard which now tower over the grave site.
Replaced plantings of azaleas flank the stone. Recently Maple Grove and The Richmond Hill Historical Society restored the grave site and had a special re-dedication ceremony. In 2005, a 100th year ceremony took place with a special dedication with representatives from the Danish Consulate. A mass at the Church of the Resurrection preceded the ceremony.
A quote from Jacob's 1905 diaries reads:
"I have been up to see mother’s grave just now. We have planted two little beeches and an azaelea from our garden. We have put up a granite headstone with mother’s name and years of birth and death, and on top, a little lamb lying down and looking very sweet."