Two poems in Rock Creek Cemetery

The attractive Thompson-Simms monument features on its face (figure 1) some marvelous carved roses, including the one flower, snapped off and fallen, symbolizing life cut off. The sincere sentiment with which Helen Ceasar Thompson-Simms was bidden adieu is suggested by the subscript:

We will love and miss you forever

But in a classic proof that one must always ‘double-tap’ and look at the rear of a monument, we find a long, almost certainly original, poetic composition there (figure 2). I mark stresses.







It’s iambic, by and large, with cadences familiar from greeting cards. I do not say that to disparage; rather, it is to me interesting to see a commemorator draw upon skills unconsciously learned from the environment and applying those rules in a forgivably undisciplined way.

The poet mostly sticks to three beats per verse. Here and there an extra unstressed syllable begins or ends one (vv. 1 and 13, for example). However, the poet has also refused to divide words even when the transition from one verse to the next occurs at mid-word. That’s daring and may tempt the unwary reader to think the poet less skilled than they in fact were. So, for example, in the second stanza, the metrics work like this, I think:


See also WÓB- /B LY STÉPS in the third stanza. It could be, however, that the poet consciously wanted, perhaps as a desperate measure (so to speak), to intersperse a tetrameter as needed, i.e., in lines 6, 7, 10, 12, and 13). It almost looks as though the poet was seeking to maintain an iambic rhythm without being too concerned about where verses might begin or end. Alternatively, I wonder whether the ordinator was not thinking poetically but in accordance with convenient placement on the stone. To my ear, if we take the tetrameters to be deliberate, the rhythm is made hard to follow by the beats suddenly appearing at the head of the verse/line.

The epigraph is maybe prose, like the first line, but it works as the last three feet of a hexameter, and so I’ve marked it.

The fourth stanza breaks down, of course. Perhaps the poet wanted to have the sentiments in the final line to conclude the poem and the fourth stanza. It cannot be adapted to do so as written (internal logic requires a line rhyming with ‘say’), so it was kept apart at the end. Still, one can think of nice ways to end the fourth stanza in keeping with the poet’s sentiment:



We could alternatively break down the poem into units marked by terminal rhymes and anaphora in ‘first’:





Even taken thus—and it solves a number of problems—there is the wobbly verse 3 which seems to demand BÉFORE, and the weak rhythm of verse 7, especially leading with the unstressed monosyllable EYES which really takes so long to pronounce that it is effectively stressed.

Still, this poet had an intuitive feel for anaphora, and verse 8 is a respectable tricolon crescendo.

Figure 3. Diamantstein monument. Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

Diamantstein, possessor of an enviably interesting name, gets credit for having verses of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses on his monument (figure 3). His story is not much discernable from the interwebs—at least those parts of it not behind paywalls—except that he was successfully pursuing a degree at UNC in 1980. Ben seems to be a middle name here, not a filiation like Benjamin or Ben Gurion. It does seem to me a gesture toward Jewishness, which is seconded by the star of David on the stone. We can only guess at the reason for the cross, which does provoke interest in juxtaposition with the star.

The tree is known by its fruit.

“For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. For every tree is known by his own fruit.”
—Luke 6: 43-44.

In an evening ramble through Rock Creek last night my friend Brien, who has a keen eye, spotted the Tree monument (figures 1, 2) with its onomastic play. The inscription on the front (figure 1):

BORN OCT. 14 1799 DIED DEC. 19 1881
BORN JULY 4 1804 DIED JULY 3 1860

The Latin at top is a paraphrase of Luke 6:44, “A tree is known by its fruit.” I think it was felt by Tree to be more “Tree is known by his fruit.”

One imagines Tree’s good works were at least part of his fruits. But looking at the rear face, his more literal fruits are tallied up (figure 2):

BORN JULY 15 1845. DIED DEC 4 1881.
BORN MAY 28 1839. DIED JUNE 6 1908.

Either being a son, or being a doctor, or being the first to die of the two children listed here led to Charles Tree being above his older sister on the rear face of the monument. I don’t know when the monument was erected, but see that Lambert and Charles died days apart in 1881, which would have provided a good occasion to erect the monument, leaving a blank area for Ellen when the time came. The serifed font for the name Tree seems right for the 1880s. The different punctuation habits between the front and rear face might argue for different hands, different times of carving, or both.

The Kates monument in Laurel Hill

The inherently interesting Kates monument in Laurel Hill sheds light on the “Interesting and malleable monument type” about which I published a post here on 26 October 2019.

There’s no need to repeat the detailed description of the monument type I gave last October. I’ll assume you’ve read that post in what follows, and I do assure you it’s a heartbreaking work of staggering genius.

Basically, we have a tall rectangular slab monument snuggling within four tuscan columns. Above the columns is a canopy and below a multi-tiered base. It’s useful to compare the Kates monument to the Joh and Watts monuments in Baltimore (cf. figures 1, 4, 5).

The Joh monument (figure 2) is closest in scale and feel, even though the Kates monument (figure 1) lacks a human figure. The Laurel Hill monument is simplest of the three and the same can still be said if we enlarge the group of comparanda to include the Shipley (Green Mount, Baltimore, 1904) and Painter (Druid Ridge, Pikesville, 1906) monuments, not illustrated here.

The Kates monument (figure 1) lacks the Joh monument’s (figure 4) swag atop the slab and the dentils in the attic although it does have tuscan column capitals rather than the Joh monument’s ionic ones which cap the latter’s polished columns of darker granite. Similar tuscan capitals feature in the Watts monument (figure 5), and the two also share a Greek fret pattern with a central patera-shaped flower as the top border of the slab (figure 6).

Of the three monuments illustrated here, the Watts monument represents what I consider the be the most fully developed form of the type, differing in its highly wrought ornamentation and in the adjustment of the base to accommodate a sitting human figure. One also notes that three of the four Baltimore-area monuments have a bit of funerary doggerel on them (only the Shipley monument lacks it), while the Kates monument has two separate epitaphs on it, one for each of the main commemorated figures (figure 6).

Figure 6. Kates monument. Detail: anagraphic slab. Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA. Photo: author.

Still, it seems to me obvious that these monuments—and perhaps a few more I could mention—emerged from the same atelier. The Shipley monument was erected by William A. Gault & Son, a then-prominent local firm which let contracts to quarriers for major jobs. It is possible that the great similarity of the monuments under consideration here betokens the unifying thread of Gault & Son moving variants of a successful product among the burghers of Baltimore. Yet the presence of a quite similar monument in Laurel Hill seems to confirm that the basic design was owed to the quarry from which the monuments came—the single atelier I mentioned above.

I would not have known of the Gault & Son connection without an explicit attribution in an article on recent work in The Monumental News of 1908. But the Monumental News article also states that the monument in question (the Shipley monument in Green Mount) is made of Westerly granite, sourced in Westerly R.I. This is a very distinctive stone that tends to run from gray to buff to slightly dirty pinkish. On a bad day, and dirty, it can look greenish; on a great day, clean and in good light, it is buff or even bluish. By my reckoning, on the basis of having seen all of the monuments under discussion, all are out of the Westerly quarries. That is why the Kates monument is so wonderful: the contractor allowed the quarry to place its mark upon the foundation of the monument. That was the Smith Granite Co. of Westerly R.I. (figure 7).

Figure 7. Kates monument. Detail: maker’s mark, Smith Granite Co. Westerly, R.I. Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA. Photo: author.

Smith, according to the Pedia of Wiki, was in operation from the 1850s and was incorporated from 1887. They contracted out to produce monuments to local firms all over the northeast and had a number of subcontractors who worked for them. You can see the finished Borden monument in Fall River’s Oak Grove Cemetery and the really interesting order from Smith’s ledgers for it in Shelley Dziedzic’s post here on the Friends of Oak Grove web site. Figure 8 shows a Smith ad for just this kind of work in the 1904 Monumental News, p. 745.

Figure 8. Smith Granite Co. advertisement. The Monumental News 1904: 745. Public domain.

This brings me to the point where I think I can tentatively try to identify the cutter of at least two, and probably three of the figures (Shipley, Watts, Joh) in Westerly granite under consideration here and in my “Interesting and malleable monument type” post. I’ll title that post “The baby-fat sculptor,” because a bit of attractive adipose marks his work in the statues I’ve seen.

Slifer my God to thee

The Titanic reference refers to how the handsome Slifer monument in Union Cemetery in Flourtown, PA (a hair north of Philly) is sinking into the earth. You know me well enough to surmise that at first I hoped it would turn out to be a seated portrait, but it turns out to be a conventional figure of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, very much in keeping with this kleinbürgerlich cemetery.

Figure 1. Slifer monument. Union Cemetery, Flourtown, PA. Photo: author.

There is no curb around the complex showing the property lines, but there is a more than normally weighty threshold to the plot. The actual step into the plot is beveled with the name Slifer in high-ish relief.

If you look closely you’ll see that the serifed letters, in caps, are not square like the name on the base of the monument proper. My photo only shows half of the letters, but they are more of a curvy art nouveau font. Different again is the font of the giant ‘S’s that mark the two front sides of the threshold stone; not as squiggly as the nearby Slifer, they are not as square as those on the monument.

The carved caps on the edges of the threshold stone have what look like lobes of some sort exuding from a prismiform top. The lobe-y form is seen here and there, as in examples from Hollywood, West Laurel Hill, and Forest Lawn Cemeteries (figures 2, 3, 4): its organic form seems to stem from Art Nouveau.

Turning to the monument proper, it consists of a die with a modestly complicated cap and an interesting series of indented lines in the curved molding below. From the sides of the die, and adding visual weight to it, extend wings consisting of three torus moldings that have been worked into a rustic texture and a beveled cap atop them. The base and foundation support wings and die (which are monolithic).

Anagraphic data is pared down on the die, where the font is a simple, easily legible sans-serif font, though the letters do grow a little fatter in their extremities. This contrasts strongly with the chunky nineteenth-century font for the surname on the base, and again with the monogram ‘S’ on the cap below the statue. The latter has an organic quality.

The headstones are made of the same stone (I think it’s Westerly granite), but that’s about where any coherency ends. I suppose the small central extension in front of the lower molding below the scroll in some way might be taken to mirror the way the die of the monument stands out from the wings, but it’s a reach to think that intentional, I believe. In any event, the notion is that scrolls on the beveled face of the headstones bear the names of the deceased, and atop those have been laid flower offerings. The font is again different from any of the others in this ensemble.

Figure 7. Slifer monument. Detail: die and statue. Union Cemetery, Flourtown, PA. Photo: author.

As for the statue (figure 7), it is a classic ‘Good Shepherd’, although there is a little anecdotal story surrounding it, I think. The Christ figure has been reading—teaching, one supposes—from the book propped on his right leg. He’s just grabbed it to keep it from falling off, or has let it fall from his left hand. Seen from the side, the figure is somewhat hunched over, and this appears to be because he has just taken up the needy little lamb from the flock symbolized by the one sheep at his feet. So we catch the figure in mid-motion, in a nurturing gesture. The flock would stand for Christians, and I suppose the needy little lamb is the newly dead Slifer, taken up for just reward. So It’s not just conventional, as I said above, except that it is a bourgeois religious sentiment; but in fact the artist has taken the trouble to tell a little story. It’s clearly the product of a good company.

Two final observations. The monument, if reduced to its abstract geometry, is a stepped pyramid. And lastly, what of the six quite different fonts here? It’s hard to know when the various parts of the ensemble were put together, but the lack of control in the fonts suggests that the creation was piecemeal. Still, there are three different fonts on the die alone, and I don’t suppose they were carved at different times. I guess that Eliza, who went first, was the reason for the erection of the central monument with statue, and she was envisioned by Charles as the lamb, gone to Jesus. This also explains the lack of anagraphic details such as birth and death dates on the die: he couldn’t put his on yet, and so he left such details to the headstones.

I suppose the ‘S’ could have merited a “heraldic” font, its organic forms reminding us of a family tree. The name on the base is in big chunky nineteenth-century broadside font which shouts at us. The font on the die proper is, with its sort of organically swelling tips of the letters, maybe sort of closer to the Art Nouveau spirit we find elsewhere.

But why on earth not have the surname on the plot threshold in the same font as the one on the base of the monument? And why have initials ‘S’ on the sides of the threshold which don’t match the one on the die? And why not reuse any of the fonts on the headstones?

Guessing again, I suppose when Slifer died, his commemorators might have organized the plot (perhaps by Slifer’s wishes), but they just told the monument company to do something suitable, and no one was interested enough in quality control to insist that there be uniformity anywhere.

In any event, the Slifer monument with its plot is by far the most complex and grand in this little cemetery, and it just goes to show you that even in small, not too well-off gilded age communities we see posturings among the better-off citizens.

A bit of the old ultra-rustic

There was a time in the last third of the nineteenth century—i.e., in the late romantic era—when rustic cemetery monuments reigned supreme. Stone cairns and vast withered tree trunks were commissioned everywhere. Some examples are better than others; the Hunter monument in Laurel Hill Cemetery (figures 1, 2), at about 10 feet tall, is a noble, landmark example of the rustic stone look; I think it dates to about 1895. A few comparative examples will show how outstanding it is.

Monuments carved to resemble a pile of stones —I’ll just call them ‘cairn monuments’ are quite common. In marble, the stones tend to look just a little too neat (figure 3), though sometimes, as in the Barranger monument (figures 4, 4a) one finds labored diagonal patterns meant to give visual interest and boost the feel of rusticity.

I suppose the difference is one between a cairn imagined made from manicured blocks as opposed to one made on the spot in nature. The artist’s skill and temperament, tools used, and type of rock imagined will all have their part to play, as well. The Barranger monument carries the rustic look through with admirable consistency by adding a cross made of a lopped trunk. The cupid is just a bonus.

The Hunter cairn is carved almost to evoke the feel of living rock. It’s clearly a heap of granite boulders, their roughness notionally keeping them together despite the strong diagonals in stacking favored by the artist. You can see a more modest granite cairn here and reproduced in figure 5. Sometimes the rustic look finds expression in a single massive boulder as in the Bertolette monument in Arlington National Cemetery and the clever Bates boulder in Druid Ridge in Pikesville, MD.

The Hunter cairn’s laughably vast polished scroll with anagraphic data, tall as a grown human, forms here, as in several other examples I’ve cited, a neat contrast with the matte roughness of the cairn itself. The artist has achieved a sort of ‘crunchy’ effect with the surname, which stands out in polished rectilinear font against a rougher, matte register behind it and the rustic boulders immediately behind that.

Still, the big payoff in the Hunter cairn is its towering excess, comparable, I think, to the deep investment of the Lloyd family in the rustic tree style in their family plot in Hollywood Cemetery. Anything done to such excess is inherently interesting, and the Hunter monument goes so far beyond the norm that I think it falls into the category of unintentional camp.

Trompe l'oeil in Laurel Hill

Figure 1. Fitler monument and plot curbing. Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA. Photo: author.

In Laurel Hill Cemetery yesterday I revisited an old favorite, the Conarroe plot. As one passes along the street of most gilded-age cemeteries one sees any number of landscaping solutions designed to tidy up (or assert) plot boundaries such as we see in the Fitler plot (figure 1), likewise in Laurel Hill. The Fitler obelisk is arguably the grandest of the million billion trillion obelisks in that great boneyard, and the staircase/threshold is quite grand, as well. The plot sits alone in an area privileged by being circumscribed by a path.

The Fitler curbing and threshold is typical, however, in that it has subsided and is all tilty. Still, you can see that the name of the principal deceased is carved on a bevel of the threshold, and this threshold was axially aligned with the center of the principal monument, the name of the deceased being echoed directly above that on the threshold as you look from the street. It is more normal to have only the surname on the threshold.

Figure 2. Conarroe plot threshold. Orthogonal view from street. Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA. Photo: author.

The Conarroe threshold, which is the subject of this post, comes upon the viewer suddenly, as one rises on the road leading from the bridge that comes over from the main area of the cemetery (figure 2). At first glance it looks all tilty, but after about a second one sees that it is a trapezoid. The view in figure 2 looks directly along an axis perpendicular to the edge of the road and also to the long sides of the threshold. The letters and edges of the bevel in which they are carved are deliberately tilted at an angle which respects the angles of the trapezoid.

Figure 3. Conarroe plot. Axial view from threshold to monument. Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA. Photo: author.

A threshold implies a plot, and a quick survey will turn up the Conarroe monument proper, half hidden behind a bush. The monument (with its plot) appears to date to around 1905. The overgrown bush was once part of a symmetrical landscaping solution, but the bush on the right died and went to tree heaven (figure 3). You see, of course, that the angle of the trapezoid was chosen to have the short sides of the threshold establish an axis that perpendicularly bisects the monument. Still, the letters look obviously tilted.

Figure 4. Conarroe threshold. Optimal view. Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA. Photo: author.

The trompe l’oeil effect falls into place when you find and stand in (and take a photograph from) a privileged point established by the architect (figure 4). In this case, that spot is in the road rising from the entrance to this part of the cemetery—the privileged direction of approach. This is to the left of the threshold as you look at it from the street. See how the threshold looks as though it is rectilinear with respect to the road, and the carved letters have snapped into an apparent conformity with that rectilinearity (figure 4).

See that the two pieces of curbing framing the steps are of uneven width (figure 3); the one on the right is wider. But from the privileged point of observation the wider one is the further one, and that corrects the imbalance.

Unfortunately, the overgrown bush hides the monument from the optimal viewpoint, something that was clearly not intended by the landscape architect. You’re meant to see the threshold and the axial path to the monument which is diagonal across the plot—and therefore designedly longer than the approach could have been made had it been on axis with the plot. See in figure 3 how the left hand boundary stone points right to the bush that survives. The latter is squeezed into the left-rear of the plot. The other boundary stone can be seen to the right of the threshold in figure 4, and you can see how the plot goes in directly from the street whereas the threshold-monument axis is on a diagonal.

The stone to the immediate right of the threshold is not a boundary stone but protects it from errant drivers or snow plows. You can see how the threshold has been clipped on the uphill side—the side on which a driver obeying the right-side rule would approach (figures 2, 3, and 4).

Figure 5. Conarroe threshold. ‘Reverse’ optimal view. Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA. Photo: author.

I also show how the angle opposite the optimal one, i.e., to the uphill side of the plot, gives a more or less coherent perspectival view (figure 5). It doesn’t work quite as well as the view from downslope, but it works well enough that the the image, were it to be taken at face value, would look orthogonal to the street. I sidled back and forth a number of times, but the view never quite crystalized like the optimal view does.

The unknown landscape architect had a lot of fun here, though I presume he or she presented it as a practical solution to maximize the axis between threshold and monument to the buyer. But props to the buyer, too, for seeing that the proposed solution was interesting and worth investing in!

The Darians, the Eloi, and the Golgafrinchans

I just rewatched the Space: 1999 episode Mission of the Darians for the first time in about 40 years. As a boy I certainly missed what was interesting about it when it aired in the U.S. about a year after it first aired in the U.K. on 30 October 1975. Though made on a shoestring budget and further cheapened by taking many time-saving narrative shortcuts, the episode is one of the series’ best and on the whole stacks up well against a Joan Collins Star Trek episode. So what is so interesting about it? I would point to three things: 1) its sources are interesting and prominently signaled in several cases; 2) it has a grand scope even beyond the norm for a space-opry-esque series; and 3) it is remarkably adult in its writing.


Moonbase Alpha encounters a vast spaceship twenty miles long and five miles wide broadcasting a distress signal. A visit to render aid goes awry as one of three teams gets captured by troglodytes, one gets lost, and one encounters the elfin masters of the ship, the Darians. It transpires that the ship is a multi-generation ark carrying the remnants of the incredibly ancient Darian race to a new world for the usual reasons. Alas, the ark ship has suffered a calamity, in that its nuclear reactors, or all but one, exploded nine hundred years before. Still, the ship seems to be on course for a landing in a hundred years.

The majority of the ship is wrecked, contaminated, and gone wild. It is now inhabited by the troglodytes I mentioned above. These are the survivors of the nuclear accidents, and are called ‘survivors’ by themselves and by the Darians. In reality, they are, of course, the distant descendants of the original survivors and have fallen deeply into barbarism. Everyone on the ship is a Darian, but I’ll conventionally keep the names used in the script.

The story has three plots that come together at the climax. Koenig and Bergman encounter the Darians and over time learn the truth about the situation on the ship. Russell and a red shirt named Bill Lowry are the ones captured by the troglodytes. Finally, Morrow and Carter wander through abandoned sections of the ship.

Koenig and Bergman meet Kara and Neman, the latter the captain of the ship.

Figure 2. Space: 1999, Mission of the Darians. Neman, Kara, and Koenig examine the Darian gene bank.

The Darians, who number but 14, have been working to repair the ship; Kara, played by Joan Collins with her legs on exploitative display, is in charge of this. Neman is captain and also the figurehead of a religion the Darians have implanted among the survivors to help mitigate their barbarism. Koenig is welcomed and asked if perhaps the Alphans would want to join the Darians, their resources ensuring them a stake in the new world to which the ark is traveling. Bergman starts an analysis with readouts of the ark’s resources and discovers that the ship’s stores have not had nearly enough to supply the Darians on a day-to-day basis, much less over a 900-year span.

Russell and Lowry fare poorly amongst the troglodytes who apparently inspect everyone they run across for mutations (nuclear disaster, remember) and euthanize them immediately if they are found to be such. ‘Clears’, as they call them, can presumably either stay or get sacrificed to the god Neman, whose picture appears on the door from which suited helmeted figures emerge to collect the sacrifices. The high priest is played by the great Aubrey Morris. In any event, Russell is designated for sacrifice.

Morrow and Carter meanwhile have been wandering the ship giving us a chance to see its ruined great spaces (thanks to matte paintings). They discover the troglodytes just as Russell is being spirited away by the suited figures; in the melee, Morrow gets into the inner sanctum following the suited man carrying Russell, whereas Carter, taken prisoner by the survivors, manages to turn the tables by showing that the other suited man is not an angel but merely a man. Carter raises up the equivalent of a torchlight mob of survivors angry at having been duped and they all enter the sanctum.

Koenig meanwhile has had a number of ugly surprises. He has discovered that there are survivors besides the Darians; that Neman seeded a religion among them to keep them in line and instill some knowledge and science in them; then that the Darians have been cannibalizing the survivors in the absence of other resources; and finally, in the rescue of Russell from a vivisection lab, that the Darians have been harvesting organs to keep themselves alive because they are sterile (nuclear accident, don’t y’ know). The one thing keeping them going is their sense of mission in transporting the collected gene bank of their race to the new world (figure 2). So Neman is the original captain of the ship from the time of the accident, 900 years old. Even with transplants he looks pretty good, Joan Collins even more so.

At about this point the torchlight mob crashes in and in the fight Neman’s head is crushed along with his hopes by being driven by a survivor through the physical structure of the gene bank.

Figure 3. Space: 1999, Mission of the Darians. Kara and Koenig look on at the dead Neman and the destroyed gene bank. They should have kept it in a closet.

There is a tableau at the end: Kara declares they’re all as good as dead now, and Koenig basically tells her to put on her big-boy pants and make common cause with the survivors, who were always their resource. She eyes the leader of the trog mob thoughtfully, and just before cutting to the final scene the trog leader casts an appraising glance at her.

On the eagle heading back to Alpha, those in the cabin contemplate the empty seat of Lowry, while in the cockpit Kano asks Carter what happened and Carter, in no mood to revisit the unhappy past several hours, tells him to remind him to tell him some time. Then Carter asks Koenig what he would have done if he were in command in a situation like the Darians’. Koenig thoughtfully gives Carter the same answer Carter had given Kano.

MISSION OF THE DARIANS: the story sources.

Figure 4. The Starlost. Title screen with Ark ship.

When Bergman hears that the spaceship Daria is an ark ship, Neman adds, having scanned the Earthers’ minds, that he believes Earth, too, had an similar ship. Bergman smiles and notes that yes, it is like Earth’s Ark spaceship. This is a nodding reference to the Canadian SF series The Starlost, of 1973. There, to make a long story short, the spaceship Ark (figure 4) transports different cultures from the dead planet Earth to a new home but a disastrous accident has crippled the ship, killed most of the crew, and left the various cultures in segregated domes retaining no knowledge that they are aboard a ship. There is of course an antecedent in the Star Trek episode For the World is Hollow and I have Touched the Sky, too, but the Star Trek episide, while obviously a source, is not a direct one.

At three points that I recall, we are shown matte paintings exhibiting the vast size of the Daria. At one point or another we see a vast machine room.

Do you see it? The composite image (figure 7) of human actors walking within the framework of matte painting? Does it remind you as much as it reminds me of the analogous scene in Forbidden Planet of Morbius and the men of the C-57D in the Krell machine?

Not convinced about this passing reference? Consider that at the beginning of the Mission of the Darians Bergman comments on the Daria as the Eagle approaches: “Twenty miles long by five miles wide,” and Koenig replies, “One hundred square miles of space ship.” The specification is, in my opinion, another passing reference to Forbidden Planet, when Morbius notes the dimensions of the Krell machine (I condense): “Twenty miles.” “Twenty Miles.” “A cube twenty miles on each side.” “… a minor alteration was performed throughout the entire 8000 cubic miles of its own fabric.” I argue no more than that the writer of the Space: 1999 episode (Johnny Byrne) was familiar with Forbidden Planet and planted these Easter eggs to give the pleasure of spotting them.

The elephant in the room is Wells’ Time Machine. If you look at figures 2 and 4 you’ll see that the Darians are costumed as elves or maybe as Greek gods. This analogizes them to the Eloi in the Time Machine, the race of elven people evolved (thanks to rigid class barriers) from the upper classes of England. The survivors bear similarities to the Morlocks, evolved from the brutalized lower classes. Byrne of course knew better than to borrow beat for beat, and in fact subverted expectations by reversing the situation in the Time Machine to good effect. There, the Morlocks prey on the Eloi for food, that being the price for the Eloi’s otherwise untroubled existence. Wells also displayed his sense of black humor in having the traditionally exploited class now exploiting the exploiters. The Eloi seem aware of the facts of life, but refuse to talk about or face the unpleasantness. Here, it is the Darians who have used religion to manipulate the survivors into ceding to them bodies untainted by radiation poisoning. These, of course, provide organs and the leftover bits food.


Mission of the Darians is a morality play like Wells’ Time Machine. But where Wells made pointed commentary on the class system, Byrne focuses on how far an overpowering sense of mission and how desperate but also self-serving choices can make a hell of existence. The Darians clearly see themselves as something like the Greeks of the galaxy, their high culture being worth preserving and their race, via the poorly protected gene bank, self-evidently worth saving and propagating. It’s interesting to note across roughly contemporary science fiction that the objects of this overwhelming desire to preserve end up being destroyed, often along with their would-be preservers. In Forbidden Planet, the Krell data bank is destroyed by Morbius as being too dangerous to live. In Star Trek the preservers tended to be computers which lacked the humanity of their programmers and went astray with a cockeyed view of their own mission (The Return of the Archons, The Changeling, etc. etc.). I also recall Dominic Flandry‘s arch nemesis Aycharaych in Poul Anderson‘s Terran Empire series of stories, who indeed pled to Flandry in the 1974 Knight of Ghosts and Shadows not to destroy his home world because, though he was the last surviving Chereionite, his planet was a testament and shrine to the ‘Greeks of the galaxy.” (See the text surrounding a search for ‘Greeks’ here.) The general theme appears to be “at what cost do we preserve this treasure.”

One might think that the Darians are manufactured to be two-dimensional baddies. Cannibalism, amiright? Vivisection! Yet Byrne (and the director, Ray Austin) play a more sophisticated game. Just as the Eloi don’t want to admit to themselves what their situation really is, so, too, the Darians are more or less in denial. We are invited to put ourselves into the shoes of the Darians in the wake of the disaster, guided by the purpose of preserving and propagating the gene bank, yet sterile and unable to repair the badly damaged multi-generation ark ship. With dwindling resources, and always guided by the purpose of survival so as to accomplish their mission, they made one decision after another, each shaving away some of the distance between the good done in their eyes by preserving their race and the evils they wreak keeping themselves, and their dream, alive. And of course, it’s self-serving that carrying out their mission at any cost meant keeping themselves alive at any cost.

But you can see how reluctant the Darians are to reveal the truth, and how Koenig or events pry layer after layer of the ugly truth—false religion, euthanizing of mutants, cannibalism, vivisection—out of them. They are embarrassed and quick to offer justifications. And they are mortified by being seen through the eyes of others for what they’ve done and become. The episode uses some strategic (and modest) nudity in the vivisection room to bring home the horror of the body processing factory. Yet the euthanization appears to be consciously humane (the bodies’ brains are evidently switched off), and Neman claims that they have given religion to the survivors not just to facilitate the cleansing of the mutants away and the supplying of ‘resources’, but to distribute some knowledge. In a word, Byrne and Austin work overtime to make us sympathize with the Darians, and not just see them as two-dimensional opportunists who saved themselves to everyone else’s cost. To be sure, the story sees their actions as deeply immoral, and there is a plot point that they had invited the Alphans to join them for the sake of “resources.” They have fallen deep into moral corruption.

Yet when Carter asks Koenig what he would have done were he in the Darian captain’s position, he evades answering in the same way that Carter had signaled his pained unwillingness to relate the story to Kano back in main mission. As I read it, Koenig does wonder what morally unacceptable things he might do in the face of an overwhelming moral imperative (like thinking a gene bank must be saved and delivered) and a failure of resources. Or, put another way, he is a leader and knows humans well enough to know it could happen to anyone.

The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy—I mean the tv show, which is close enough to the book—parodied the ark ship theme with the Golgafrinchan segment in its sixth and last episode. There, Adams envisioned a planet in which the thinkers and the doers of the population concoct a ridiculous story of a giant space goat coming to devour the planet in order to con the useless middlemen, not smart enough or lacking enough common sense to see through the sham, to voluntarily board an ark spaceship for a new world (figure 10).

Figure 10. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Explanation of the Golgafrinchan Ark.

The joke is that the Golgafrinchan Ark crashes on Earth and becomes the nucleus of the human race. It punctures the ark subgenre in about three ways, and it shows its cards by having Aubrey Morris, erstwhile high priest of the Darian ark survivors, as the rather merry captain of the Golgafrinchan Ark who spends all his time in a bath tub on the bridge.

Figure 11. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Aubrey Morris as the Golgafrinchan captain.

Morris’s presence—any actor could have played the captain—seems to me hardly a coincidence. He was chosen to show us that, like Byrne, the makers of the HHGTG episode were up on their ark ship subgenre history.

A note on the images. These images, taken from screen captures published here and there on the interwebs, are the copyrighted property of the makers of the relevant tv shows and movies. Here I have limited myself to images necessary to illustrate this critical discussion and rely on a fair use justification for their presence.

Another outdoor portrait bust

Figure 1. Liomin monument. Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

In a recent visit to Oak Hill, I spotted the bust of Eugene Liomin (figure 1) sitting atop his monument, exposed to the elements. The bust is askew, as someone has spun it so that it faces not toward the front of the monument and the little path by which it is approached but toward the larger path that runs by this section of the cemetery.

Figure 2. Eugene Liomin portrait bust. Frontal view. Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

This portrait bust (figures 2, 3, 4) is remarkable for the fact that, like the Raine bust in Baltimore’s Green Mount Cemetery, it is outdoors and has not been stolen. It appears to have been vandalized to the extent of having the tip of its nose bonked off, but I saw no evidence that it had been toppled at any point.

The bust was once a typical product of its age, presumably not long after Liomin’s death in 1862. Its surface has been badly weathered, so that an exact description is not possible. I did not notice an artist’s signature on the exposed parts of the bust.

A corpulent, rectangular face framed by a high starched collar looks out at us; the head is averted slightly to the left. The eyes are deep-set under heavy brows. Weathering makes it look like there are shaggy eyebrows, but in fact no trace of any original eyebrow system remains. The plane of the face is flat (figure 3), and the only signs of age to have survived the weathering are a slightly receding hairline, naso-labial folds, and lines dropping from the corner of the mouth down around the chin.

The ears are set back and not prominent, though they may have been more so before weathering took its toll. The hair is thick where it is not receding. There is a wave from left to right over the forehead, and some evidence of a largely lost system of locks over the temples. If there was ever any detailed system of locks on the rear of the head, they have long since disappeared. Unless I am deceived by the lighting, there is a lightly concerned look on the face caused by a contraction of the brow.

The collar of the shirt has been circled several times with a bow tie that has been tied in a smallish bow. A thick vest with a lapel sits above a shirt, and above that an even thicker coat with thin gorgets in the wide lapel. The seams marking the joining of the sleeves to the body of the coat are emphatic; here and there the cloth of the coat is lightly folded.

Figure 5. Liomin monument. Inscription. Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

The inscription is anagraphic but not uninteresting. We learn that Liomin was born in France. The inscription calls that place Herimoucourt, in the department of Daubs (which is on the border with Switzerland). Nowadays, at least, the folks call it Hérimoncourt. We learn, too, that he was an adjuster of U.S. standard weights and measures. To me, among the most interesting elements is the giving of the place of his death as “Washington City, D.C.” The date, in 1862, meant that he lived to see at least part of the Civil War era in Washington. It was his wife who commissioned the monument.

The monument’s flat top is adapted to displaying the bust; yet the monument might have had an architectural cap and been indistinguishable from countless others. Put another way, it’s not really possible on the basis of the evidence at hand to tell whether the bust was relocated from a domestic setting to the monument, or whether it was specially created for the monument as a part of the overall commemorative project.

Gone! Gone.

Figure 1. Caton monument. Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

Charles Dixon Caton (1863-1893) lived a short life, and among other things was distinguished for being born in a place that was not yet a state (West Virginia, seceding from Virginia, was admitted to the Union on 20 June 1863), and dying in another that was not a state. Yah, yah, he was technically born in Virginia, but get with the spirit of things. The anagraphic inscription:

Charles Dixon Caton
Son of
J.O. and M.E. Caton.
Born at Piedmont
Mineral Co. West Va.
Feb. 2, 1863
Died in Washington D.C.
Sept. 29, 1893.

The Oak Hill monument is an unremarkable 1890s kerbobble-form obelisk bedecked with gew-gaws in rich Victorian taste. The cross atop was evidently affixed with an iron rod, for it has been spun in place a few degrees. The cap over the obelisk-like die has laurel branches and a heraldic crown with crossed swords, the tips of which go through the end-links of the usual Odd-Fellows’ three-link chain. The cross seems to me to sit atop a little mansard roof.

You can bet I’ve not brought you here to see something so nondescript! In fact there is an epigram below the anagraphic data, which is none too easy to read, both for lack of contrast and because it is pretty bad.

Figure 2. Caton monument. Detail: inscription. Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

1 Góne! Góne. So míssed though / présent stíll in lóve;
2 Yet óh, what téars and síghing / ánguish hére.
3 But hárk: sound ángels’ sóngs / from héaven abóve,
4 And ráinbows glów in évery / fálling téar.
5 Here yéstermórn, brave són; / but béckoned ón,
6 Forth róse to crówn and blíss / from wárfare hénce;
7 Though thús from hóme, lodge, / chúrch, friends, kíndred góne,
8 As práyed “we’ll méet mid héaven’s / magníficénce.”

I’ve tried to punctuate as the stone has it, though I’m not sure about the colon following ‘hark’ in verse 3. I would punctuate differently were I trying to create an edition. The poem is in 8 regular iambic pentameters with a few interesting bits. The splitting of the verses came at the convenience of the stonecutter; they are irregular, varying from 5/5 syllables to 7/3 in no discernable pattern.

Verse one clearly has a stress on the first syllable, as shown by the exclamation point. The second ‘gone’ gets a stress, too, though it seems to me unemphatic because its imagined speaker is bummed out. See that ‘heaven’ is a monosyllable both times (‘heav’n’, it might have been written, vv. 3, 8), and ‘every’ a disyllable (‘ev’ry’, v. 4). The ostinato of the list of things from which Dixon has been excluded in verse 7 really doesn’t seem to me to vary in stress, though I’ve marked it above as regular iambs. If you prefer to see a spondaic line, I’d be OK with that.

Even for Victorian grave poetry “yestermorn, brave son” is overwrought, and “rainbows glow in every falling tear” is desperate to put a good face on things. I don’t make fun of the poet, or the grief; I merely note the swooping variations in tone.

One might think that ‘brave’ (v. 5) and ‘warfare’ (v. 6) betoken a death in military service. I find no evidence of this on the interwebs. Rather, ‘brave’ is common enough, especially poetically, as a word of approbation, like bravo in Italian. ‘Warfare’ seems to me a synecdoche for ‘bad things in general’, a way for our poet to signify that Dixon has now gone to a better place. There seems in any event not to have been any significant warfare in which the U.S. was involved in 1893.

I don’t know who the poet was. But the poem is written as though the parents, or a parent, were speaking (fittingly, for a man dead at age 30), or so I interpret ‘brave son.’ And the Odd Fellows chain on the monument is echoed in the ‘lodge’ (v. 7) from which Dixon has been separated. The crown in verse 6, symbolic of victory in living a Christian life, may echo the crown depicted on the monument’s cap.

Lastly, I think this poet has avoided one of my pet peeves, saying ‘from whence.’ For those wondering, ‘whence’ already contains the ‘from’ in it. My reading is that ‘from’ governs ‘warfare’, and ‘hence’ is in apposition to ‘from warfare’. ‘Hence’ here means ‘from the world’, and as I said above, I take ‘warfare’ to be a synecdoche for ‘the world’, or at least the bad parts of it. It’d be easier had the poet placed a comma after ‘warfare’.

And then suddenly, last summer

The Smith monument, in rustic-face stone, was not too promising when I first spotted it (figure 1).

Figure 1. Smith monument. Mount Olivet Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

Yet obeying the principle of always circling around to double check the rear, it turns out I had approached it from the wrong side, the way people approach the Parthenon in Athens. The front of the Smith monument is much more interesting!

Figure 2. Smith monument front. Mount Olivet Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

It’s always potentially grim when you come across an anchor on a monument. It may well be that the deceased was in the navy or the merchant marine, but there’s always the possibility that Arthur went down with his ship. See how the anchor’s cable is fouled around a (rustic wood!) cross.

Find a grave opines that Arthur’s wife, Mary (1880-1967) went on to remarry after Arthur died. She is not here with her first family.

Rather, we have Arthur, his mother Annie, and his daughter Eleanor, again following the anonymous Find a grave user who consulted Eleanor’s obituary. Two sons of his are also not here in Mt. Olivet.

The anonymous user quotes and paraphrases the obituary: Annie and Eleanor were killed SUDDENLY in an automobile crash while returning from their cottage on the shore at Beverly Beach. Actually, Eleanor lingered a couple of days in the hospital in Annapolis and died on 25 March.

Now the only mystery is how Arthur earned his “SUDDENLY.” Unfortunately, Arthur seems to have gone out of the world unremarked in any official capacity beyond his tantalizing tombstone.