I thought perhaps it was time to return to some of the places in Aurora I had not visited in a while. It is hard to believe that almost seven years passed by since my last visit to the Aurora Cemetery. It was that many years ago I was tipped off about the location in the cemetery of an Empire State Building scaled-down memorial stone dedicated to the late John W. Bowser. Since then John W. Bowser’s name was no longer mystifying and I continue to hear and read more stories about Bowser. Also, coincidentally I got to know a Northern Lights PS crossing guard from Newmarket whose wife was related to Bowser.
Recently, I did a bit more research on John W. Bowser who was apparently a project construction superintendent at the Empire State Building site. I could not imagine that he was exclusively leading the construction project of the entire Empire State Building in New York City by himself, considering the magnitude of the project and thousands of people involved. However, when it comes to local history, nevertheless, Aurora will always have a man associated with what was constructed as the world’s tallest building at that time. It is also worth noting that John W. Bowser died knowing that the Empire State Building was still the tallest building in the world, until later in 1972 when it was surpassed by the original World Trade Centre Twin Towers. However, after the collapse of the Twin Towers in the attacks of September 11th, 2001, at that time the Empire State Building regained the title of tallest building in New York, but no longer the tallest in the world or even the U.S..
Perhaps the most authentic story, I encourage you to read, written about John W. Bowser is in Mike Filey’s book, Toronto Sketches “The Way We Were”, The Canadian Who Helped to Build the Empire State Building. He dedicates one chapter to John William Bowser (1892-1956), a man from Whitchurch Township, present-day Town of Aurora. In the concluding remarks about Bowser, the author states, “Incidentally, a recent call to the Empire State Building’s public relations representatives revealed that they knew nothing about this talented Canadian’s involvement with one of the world’s landmark structures. Typical!”
However, in an another book by Allison Lassieur, Building the Empire State Building: An Interactive Engineering Adventure, Working in the Sky, the author writes a fictional story interestingly enough incorporating Mr. Bowser (presumably John W. Bowser) as one of the characters, a tough supervisor on site in charge of distributing work load among workers or even hiring for the job. The construction of the building was taking place during the Great Depression so one can only imagine how many people were desperately looking for any type of work. And then, “When it was first finished, the Empire State Building sat empty. The Great Depression hit the country hard. Thousands of companies closed down and millions of people were out of work. No company wanted the office space. People started calling it the Empty State Building.“
Bowser’s Empire State Building memorial stone still stands nice and tall, as per our last visit to the cemetery a few weeks ago. The very much aged original gravestone plaque with inscription of his name, date of birth and date of death, perhaps being the actual grave marker, is located just a few feet away from the 10′ tall, fully solid granite, memorial stone. I didn’t see the gravestone plaque on the ground this time. The flat stone was lying under a white thick blanket of snow. When leaving, I wondered, who decided to erect what is likely the tallest memorial structure at the Aurora Cemetery. Was it John W. Bowser himself? Will we ever know? Is John W. Bowser’s memorial stone the only known replica of the Empire State Building in the world? I am not sure. I searched. I found nothing.
In the latest book by Kelly Matthews, Eaton Hall: Pride of King Township, the author dedicates a fair amount of researched information in her book to John W. Bowser who fulfilled the role of the construction engineer building Eaton Hall, now a building that is part of Seneca College Campus in King Township. In the newspaper article, Empire State Building brought prominence to Bowser, Chris Simon writes briefly a few interesting facts about Bowser as well. Lastly, Elizabeth Hearn Milner in her book Aurora 1945-1965, An Ontario Town at a Time of Great Change also shares her researched material from the local papers. Bowser being vividly involved in local construction projects kept local newspapers busy. They often wrote about Bowers’s local projects and achievements; and unfortunately about a tragedy that deeply touched his personal life.
The Aurora Era
Serving Aurora and District
Aurora, Ontario, Thursday, December 20th, 1945
Newmarket Era and Express
Serving Newmarket, Aurora and the Rural Districts of North York; Newmarket, Ontario, Thursday, July 14th, 1949
Newmarket Era and Express
Serving Newmarket, Aurora and the Rural Districts of North York; Newmarket, Ontario, Thursday, September 9th, 1948
Newmarket Era and Express
Serving Newmarket, Aurora and the Rural Districts of North York
Newmarket, Ontario, Thursday, January 20th, 1949
Anna Lozyk Romeo