Sybil’s Cave, a recreational destination for 19th-century leisure seekers, achieved its fame, or rather infamy, as the site of an unsolved 19th-century murder.
Sybil’s Cave was created in 1832 by the Stevens family as a folly. The man-made cave around a natural spring was adorned with an elaborate Gothic-style entrance and served as a cafe where visitors could enjoy a glass of spring water “slightly impregnated with magnesia.” Sybil’s Cave was a stop on the River Walk promenade, a walk along Hudson riverfront – one of the most frequented pleasure grounds in the country.
But it was not mineral water that brought the surge of visitors in 1841… it was murder. A mutilated female body washed up on the shore right by the cave. The murdered woman was identified as Mary Rogers and her story became a national sensation.
Mary Rogers was known for her beauty and pursued by many men. She worked at Anderson’s Tobacco Emporium, one of the most popular cigar stores in New York, where she was the subject of the owner’s relentless attentions. Many distinguished men, including writers Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper, came to Anderson’s tobacco shop not just in pursuit of tobacco products but to gaze at Mary’s fair features. Beautiful Mary Rogers lived in the boarding house that was run by her mother and was without a doubt the greatest advertisement for this establishment as well.
Mary Rogers had disappeared in 1838, leaving behind a suicide note. The story of the disappearance of the notorious beauty was all over the papers, leading to a surge in business at Anderson’s tobacco shop when she showed up unharmed just a few days later. Thus, Mary’s disappearance in 1838 was most likely a hoax orchestrated by Mr. Anderson himself. But not so in 1841. After informing her fiancé Daniel Payne that she would be visiting her aunt, Mary left and never came back. Three days later, her body was found floating in the Hudson River near Sybil’s Cave. Many of Mary’s suitors were charged, questioned, and eventually let go. Soon afterward the public was shocked once more when her fiancé committed suicide by poisoning himself on the very spot Mary’s body was found.
While the murder case of “the Beautiful Cigar Girl” had never been solved, there are reasons to believe that Mary died having an abortion. Local Hoboken hotel owner, Frederica Loss, came forward with the story that the young lady came to her hotel for the procedure which went wrong, after which her body was dumped into the Hudson. But this story didn’t stick while the popular theory persisted that Rogers was a victim of gang violence.
The story of the unsolved murder of “the Beautiful Cigar Girl” was fictionalized by Edgar Allan Poe as “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt”. Mary’s story was transported to Paris and was presented as a sequel to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” – the first modern detective story.
Sybil’s Cave, neglected and forgotten in the second half of the 20th century, was rediscovered and restored in 2007 by the City of Hoboken. Alas, there is no more mineral water, and one can only see the Cave through the fence.