Early last year, I wrote an article about one of our most noteworthy residents of Mount Olivet—Claire McCardell. Born in 1905, McCardell revolutionized the fashion industry in the field of casual women’s wear with her work and designs in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. A monument of this Frederick native was commissioned by the Frederick Art Club in 2019 with the intent of being placed along Carroll Creek in 2021.
Claire McCardell (Harris) was a New York City resident at the time of her death in 1958. She is fondly remembered by her alma maters, Frederick’s Hood College and the Parsons School of Design in New York City.
A very nice collection of her garments is located at the Museum of the City of New York. Apparently, Ms. McCardell was also a keen consultant of historic costume within this same museum’s collections. She often gained inspiration here for her own work, along with items found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.
Last February, I was contacted by a gentleman named William DeGregorio, a PhD Candidate of Bard Graduate Center in New York. Mr. DeGregorio was currently working on a dissertation involving the history of the Museum of the City of New York and sent me an email as part of his research quest. Interestingly, his query had nothing to do with Claire McCardell, but rather an interesting contemporary who was not a fellow designer, but like Claire, had distinct connections to Frederick, the fashion industry, and the NYC Museum. Best of all, both women are buried and memorialized here in Mount Olivet Cemetery. DeGregorio’s person of interest was a lady named V. Isabelle Miller.
It is highly likely that Miss Miller knew Claire McCardell, because of her profession—as Miller was the Museum of the City of New York’s first curator of costume. She worked for the museum essentially from its inception in 1925 until her retirement in 1963. The extra novelty in this fact is that like McCardell, V. Isabelle Miller was a pioneering woman in a field and position traditionally held by men at the time.
The museum was first founded in 1923 by Henry Collins Brown, a Scottish-born writer with a vision for a populist approach to telling New York City's rich story. The original home of the museum, and Ms. Miller's place of employment, was Gracie Mansion at 89th Street and East End Ave. The former estate is encompassed within Carl Schurz Park overlooking the East River. It would eventually become the future residence of the mayor of New York City, but at that time was a historic home owned by the Parks Department. The museum would move from this location in 1932, having outgrown its space.
Mr. DeGregorio was looking for anything he could on V. Isabelle Miller, but encountered “road blocks” immediately as little archival information exists on her at the NYC Museum, combined with the fact that she essentially disappears from any records shortly after her retirement. However, the PhD candidate stumbled upon a clue when conducting a routine Google search. He found a V. Isabelle Miller buried in Frederick, Maryland’s Mount Olivet Cemetery on the immensely popular Find a Grave website.
For those not familiar with this incredible internet offering and genealogical tool, Find a Grave is an American website that allows the public to search and add to an online database of cemetery records. It is owned by Ancestry.com. The site was created in 1995 by Salt Lake City resident Jim Tipton to support his hobby of visiting the burial sites of celebrities. He later added an online forum. Find a Grave was launched as a commercial entity in 1998, first as a trade name and then incorporated in 2000. The site later expanded to include graves of non-celebrities, in order to allow online visitors to pay respect to their deceased relatives or friends.
Find a Grave receives and uploads digital photographs of headstones from burial sites, taken by unpaid volunteers at cemeteries. These volunteers then post the photos on its website, and add vital information taken from the stones themselves or cemetery records. In some cases, photos and obituaries of the deceased are added, along with links to family members in either the same, or different, cemeteries. As of October 2017, Find a Grave contained over 165 million burial records and 75 million photos. If you want to check out what Mr. DeGregorio found on his search, click the link below to view Miss Miller’s Find a Grave page:
I was able to confirm Miller’s interment here and supplied William with a few other tidbits in our scant records on the decedent. She is buried on Area G/Lot 201, directly across from Confederate Row, a prime landmark within our cemetery of 40,000+ interments. William then aided me with what he had been able to ascertain on this virtually unknown resident of Mount Olivet and forgotten to the local history annals of Frederick as well. Here is a passage from our email correspondence last February:
“Chris, thank you for confirming that this is indeed our Miss Miller, who has so far eluded us. I am also grateful for the information on her family. My question now is how she ended up in NYC? She was briefly employed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the early 1920s before being hired at MCNY in 1926 to oversee costumes, silver, and toys. She published a seminal catalogue on New York silversmiths in 1937, which is still widely consulted, and remained with the museum until 1963. There are a few mentions of her in the papers in 1964 but between that point and her death I am not sure where she was.”
Her legacy at the museum can be seen in the incredible collection amassed today, something she began almost a century ago. Here is link to the costume collection alone on the museum’s website:
I painstakingly found two pictures of Ms. Miller. One featured her playing a piano and was within an old newspaper from the 1920s. The other was a passport photo from a document on Ancestry.com.
I was able to glean a few more things now that William had sparked my interest in this individual. In our cemetery records, it says that Miss Miller died at Westwood, NJ and her occupation was museum curator. Her vital dates were 6/28/1892-1/05/1980. V. Isabelle’s mother, Elizabeth (Bantz) Miller, is also buried here in the same lot at Mount Olivet, along with her grandfather, Algernon Sydney Bantz.
Elizabeth Miller died 9/12/1953 but we don't have a birth date on file. The record just says she died at age 90 in New York City. Our records say that Harvey P. Miller is buried in Westchester County, NY at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla. V. Isabelle's brother, Haydock Harvey Miller (1888-1976), is also buried at Kensico with his father.
I was interested to see that Algernon Sydney Bantz moved to Missouri, and that the Miller family was in St. Louis in the year 1900 according to the US census. This also told me that the "V" (V. Isabelle) stood for Violet, a fact that William DeGregorio did not have.
The Bantz's had deep roots in Frederick going back to our founding in the mid 1700s. Violet Isabelle's great-grandfather was Gideon Bantz, a tanyard operator and huge proponent for farming and our early agricultural society which put on the first county fairs and expositions. I saw that Gideon's son, Algernon Sydney, worked as a tanner at his father’s operation until moving to Missouri. He had married Isabella Porter here in Frederick in 1853.
The couple seemed to have left for the Midwest shortly after they wed, because their first child (Gideon) was born in 1854 in St. Louis, Missouri. Census records show Algernon Sydney holding the occupation of railroad contractor in 1860, and miner in 1870. He was actually in Sacramento, CA in 1868 for some reason, likely having to do with one of those two professions, I suppose.
As cemetery historian and preservation manager for Mount Olivet, I had written an earlier "Stories in Stone" piece a while back that touches on Algernon’s father, Gideon Bantz.
Gideon operated the Bantz Mill, which once stood on the north bank of Carroll Creek on the west side of Brewer’s Alley. This thoroughfare is known as Court Street today, and the former location in which Algernon Sydney worked as tanner is now the vicinity and home of the Citizens Truck Company, volunteer fire company. Heritage Frederick (former Historical Society of Frederick County) has a few photos of the early mill dating to the 1890’s at which time a fire had destroyed a warehouse.
To review, Violet Isabelle Miller was the daughter of Harvey [Henry] P. Miller of St. Louis and Elizabeth Bantz (1862-1953). They married on September 28th, 1886 in Frederick, likely at Evangelical Lutheran Church. Elizabeth was the daughter of Algernon Sidney Bantz (1824-1894), a Frederick native who moved to St. Louis with wife Isabella (both also buried in Mount Olivet).
I found the following mentions of V. Isabelle Miller in newspapers of the era.
Violet Isabella Miller never married. She retired in 1963 as mentioned earlier. She lived her final years in Westwood, NJ, located in Bergen County. She died in 1980 and was buried here in Mount Olivet with her mother and grandparents in Area G. Her great-grandfather’s obelisk towers above the family plot. Sadly, I haven’t located an obituary for this woman as yet, truly ironic because you think a museum curator would want to leave a record of herself.
Thanks again to Mr. DeGregorio, the PhD candidate who made me look differently at these family graves which I pass by each morning.