|October 10, 2021
The name Horatio Alger has been synonymous with rags-to-riches narratives since the late 1860s. I recall being assigned to read the author’s most famous novel, Ragged Dick, as a college freshman in 2012. It was nine years later that I stopped by his burial plot in my neighboring state of Massachusetts. His footstone sits in front of the Alger family monument, at center-right in this photograph.
Alger’s formulaic stories typically centered on a boy enduring a hardscrabble life, who was able to elevate his social and financial standing through good works, adherence to virtues, and luck — often in the form of a wealthy male benefactor. This type of narrative found widespread appeal in the late nineteenth century. The “Gilded Age” was marked by industrialization, immigration, and great economic disparity between laborers and business leaders. For poor Americans, tales of moral uplift written by Alger provided hope that they could improve their quality of living.
Religion had overtones in the author’s writings and was a critical component of the highs and lows of his personal life. Born in a parsonage in 1832, his father — who carried the same name — was a reverend. After college, Alger supplemented his education by enrolling in the Cambridge Theological School. He graduated in 1860. Subsequently, he served as an ordained minister at the First Parish Unitarian Church in Brewster, Massachusetts. In early 1866, less than a year and a half into his tenure with the church, a committee formed to investigate allegations made into his conduct with parish youths. Alger, then 34 years old, was accused of “the abominable and revolting crime of gross familiarity with boys.” Alger did not refute the allegations. He left the church permanently and settled in New York. The parish’s records remained out of public view until the 1970s, by which point Alger was already canonized as a seminal American author. More recently, analysts have used Alger’s alleged homosexuality and pedophilia as a new lens through which to look at his literature and his charitable endeavors toward young boys in Manhattan.
Arriving at the cemetery with my friends Angelo and Kelvis, I used the surroundings from a photo submitted to Alger’s Find a Grave memorial to pinpoint his burial site. I then uploaded its GPS coordinates to the database so that potential future visitors may find it more easily. As usual, I have also included a map to the grave further down on this webpage.
Born: January 13, 1832 in Chelsea, Massachusetts
Died: July 18, 1899 in Natick, Massachusetts
Cause of Death: Heart Disease
Interment: Glenwood Cemetery, Natick, Massachusetts
"I may say in conclusion that no period of my life has been one of such unmixed happiness as the four years which have been spent within college walls. Whatever may be the course of my life hereafter, I shall never cease to regard it with mingled feelings of pleasure and regret--pleasure which the recollection of past happiness never fails to excite--regret that it is gone forever."
- Horatio Alger
handwritten as a note in the 1852 Harvard Class Book
Sources Consulted and Further Reading
Associated Press. “Horatio Alger festival roiled by abuse claims.” September 27, 2006. https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna15036851.
Scalise, Charles J. “Phil, The Fiddler: How Horatio Alger’s Harvard Unitarianism Played Among Italian Americans.” Italian Americana 27, no. 2 (2009): 149-163. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41495497.