Just out of view of the thousands who drive daily over Franklin Avenue bridge at Louisiana Street is an intriguing artefact of Houston’s early history. While now empty, the Donnellan crypt was the initial resting place of certain members of the Donnellan family starting in 1849, and continuing until at least 1867. The large red brick outer wall is still visible, as is the single entrance at the bottom right-hand corner of the vault.
Among those members of the Donnellan family buried in the crypt were two boys (sometimes reported to be brothers) who were killed, in 1866, exploring the wreckage of an 1863 Confederate shipwreck at the foot of Travis street. The boys were killed by a bomb that they found among the remains of the ship.
The remains were removed from the crypt in December 1901. Houston Daily Post articles list those whose remains were removed as Tim Donnellan (who died in 1849), his son Henry Donnellan (who died in the 1866 explosion), Emily Donnellan Dwyer (who died in 1867), and Charles Ritchey (who also died in the 1866 explosion – his relationship to the Donnellan family is unclear). They were reburied in a valut in Glenwood Cemetery. The Daily Post reported:
Old timers will remember the death of . . . Donnellan and Ritchey. The two young men met a tragic and sudden death being literally blown to fragments by the explosion ot an old bomb that they had picked up in the bayou. Not knowing what it contained, or whether it contained anything at all, they were anxious to ascertain and to this end they carried the bomb to their shop and began operations on it with a large hammer. An explosion followed and the two young men were killed. The news of the tragic death of the young men quickly spread and thousands visited the scene. There was nothing left of the bodies when exhumed but the skulls and principal heavy bones.
For more information:
Louis F. Aulbach, “The Downtown Crypt,” Buffalo Bayou – An Echo of Houston’s Wilderness Beginnings (2004)
Galveston Daily News, May 30, 1900, at 5 (referencing Donnellan request to remove remains, which may have been desecrated in building of bridge)