A Trip to Henry Burr's Grave
“The Dean of Ballad Singers”
(January 15, 1882—April 6, 1941)
Canadian-born tenor Harry Haley McClaskey was probably the most prolific recording vocalist during the first quarter of the twentieth century, specializing in love songs, ballads, standards, and hymnals. Known professionally as "Henry Burr," he waxed thousands of solos and duets (particularly with Albert Campbell), and sang lead in the Peerless Quartet and the Sterling Trio. As a businessman and promoter, he founded (or co-founded) the Eight Popular Victor Artists, the Paroquette Record Mfg. Co., Henry Burr Music Corp., the Van Eps-Burr Corp., and Henry Burr, Inc. When his commercial recording career ended in 1929, he continued to work on radio, and sang many of his old hits on the WLS National Barn Dance program in Chicago, from 1935 to 1941.
Today, Burr rests peacefully at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, Westchester County, New York, with his wife Cecilia, and stepdaughter Marguerite Niles.
I was finally able to visit the king of phonograph records in October 2009. This was when the autumn colors were just finding their way into the beautiful rolling hills of Westchester County, giving a perfect backdrop for my visitation. His songs played in my head the entire time I was driving along the Taconic State Parkway. I couldn't wait to "meet" him.
Aware that his grave was unmarked, I stopped in the office requesting for any kind of lot or burial map so I could measure precisely where he was. The lady working there was kind enough let me have a copy of the interment card, considering that the person was "famous" and there were no immediate relatives who could object. (She actually knew who Henry Burr was!)
Since I agreed not to copy or reproduce the card, I will describe some of the more essential details. Henry Burr's wife, listed as "Cecilia W. McClaskey," purchased three graves on June 28, 1943, located at Seneca, Section 203, Lot 13051. Burr rests in Grave #1, documented on the card as "Harry H. McClaskey." Cecilia died in Chicago September 17, 1954, and her cremated ashes were buried in Grave #2 on November 6th. Henry Burr's stepdaughter Marguerite, who died January 18, 1923, lies in Grave #3.
Both Burr and Marguerite were buried on July 30, 1943. This was two years after Burr's death, and twenty years after Marguerite's. This suggests that they were originally buried elsewhere, but neither the card nor their obituaries specify where.
For the record, Henry and Cecilia were married on June 6, 1910, not long after she was widowed from her first husband, Dr. William Niles. Their daughter, Marguerite Niles (born in 1896), later married James H. Kaye and had a daughter a week before her death. Henry Burr was on tour with the Eight Popular Victor Artists in Galveston, Texas that day, and it's been said that when he learned of his stepdaughter's passing, he cancelled the rest of his tour and rushed back home.
Understanding where they were, it was time for me to drive up the narrow and winding Seneca Avenue that led to my hero's home:
If the interment card is correct, Henry Burr lies seven feet away from the edge of Seneca Avenue, and four feet to the left of Marguerite's stone (as illustrated more precisely in the photograph below). The slightly uneven grass spot may hint where he lies underneath:
Burr's stepdaughter, Marguerite Niles, is the only grave that is marked:
The Actor's Fund, where many actors and actresses of the stage and screen are buried (some of whom made recordings), is located only two sections away from Burr. Although he certainly does not qualify for inclusion, at least he is not far away from other notable personalities of yesteryear, some of which he may have known in real life.
There are many more notables and celebrities I could have visited at Kensico, but my time was limited with other plans I had for the day. Knowing that there were not many people who came to pay their respects to him (there were no pictures of his location on the Internet), my visit with Henry Burr seemed more worthwhile. So as we leave, let us be reminded by a "Thank You" note from Cecilia on how much she appreciated the sympathy letters she received from her husband's fans:
Library of Congress, Jim Walsh Collection.
Text and images by Ryan Barna
© 2011 Phonostalgia