In venerable cemeteries older mausolea tend to be built into the hillside, the whole then being covered with earth except for a façade and possibly an entry court. The Bayly mausoleum (figure 1) is one of these.
I post this image because it shows magnificent decay, and I love the reddish browns and greens. The Italians would rightly call this type of place suggestivo, a good word we lack, our ‘suggestive’ more-or-less limited to describe mildly erotic content of which someone disapproves. Suggestivo means something like ‘fascinating,’ ‘enchanting,’ or ‘inspiring.’
I also love how the curbs and other framing elements of the little forecourt are disappearing into the earth as it slumps down from above and builds up with organic detritus from below. I am a romantic at heart, and find this irresistible.
Major General John Frederick Hartranft (1830-1889), sometime governor of Pennsylvania, was buried in Norristown’s Montgomery Cemetery. His generous plot, in a remote corner of the cemetery, was embellished by a ponderous obelisk donated by the Pennsylvania National Guard. His obelisk and plot formed an attractive view on a hot summer day, and I offer that view to you here (figure 1).
iPhone XS with 58 mm Moment lens. Edited in Photos on mac. Boosted contrast, darkened shadows. Blues saturated a bit and their luminescense decreased. Definition according to the default setting, and sharpened.
And I’d have left it there but for looking at the obelisk to get the dates of his life. When I saw the medallion bas relief portrait (figure 2), I was dismayed to see that it had been used as a target by would-be sharpshooters with a .22 in the nearby neighborhood. See, they hit the granite surface around the medallion several times, and they also nicked the bead and reel molding above it a couple of times.
Loss and attendant grief are terrible things, and to combat them some survivors attempt to distract themselves by entering wholeheartedly into “a project” of commemoration. Sometimes the project is selfless. Sometimes, wittingly or not, it becomes a statement about the commemorator: self-regard is a powerful lodestone. Gnawing doubt that one is engaging in excessive amour propre can be rationalized away by asserting that the project serves the memory of the deceased. The result of such a project is an astonishing display of visual funerary culture: you can see pretty clearly that over and over the commemorator said, like Steve Jobs at an Apple keynote, “one more thing . . . .”
In Durham, North Carolina, there is the astounding commemorative program created by the plutocrat Julian S. Carr to honor his wife, Nannie. Carr’s project zigs and zags across the space of many regular plots in Maplewood Cemetery. In Luray, Virginia, Terry Carothers erected a splendid monument to her husband Patrick, a U.S. Marshal killed in service. She did not have Carr’s budget, so that her canvas was restricted to a single stone. But what a stone, packed with what the academics would call ‘signifiers.’
We may now banish Carr and Carothers from the stage and introduce a new heavyweight champion of funerary projects: the wife of Augustine F. Falcione. Her name never appears within the publicly accessible areas of the supermegagalactic complex she created about fifteen years ago in Riverside Cemetery in Norristown, Pennsylvania, an exurb of Philadelphia (figure 1). I hope it means she is still alive and well.
Her budget was large, though not bottomless, and she was quite shrewd about getting a maximum of visual effect for her dollar. It’s hard for an interloper like me to blunder in and determine what was created by Falcione’s wife, and what was willed into existence by her designers of mausoleum and landscape. I hesitate to use the title architect, at least with respect to the temple-shaped mausoleum, because it clumsily or negligently breaks stylistic rules an architect of any training would avoid. However, like a bishop who approves a work of writing for print, Mrs. Falcione was the one who delivered the ‘nihil obstat’ and ‘imprimatur.’ Maybe we should call it an ‘aedificetur,’ but the point is she gave final approvals and wrote the checks and bears ultimate responsibility.
As with all of these projects, it’s hard to know where to begin, because so much is happening at once. It’s like trying to figure out which conversation to follow in a room where everyone is shouting loudly for attention at once. Still, we must begin somewhere, and as good a place as any is with the designer’s control of the basic rules of the classical orders.
Speaking formally, the Falcione mausoleum could be called a peripteral hexastyle temple exhibiting frontality by sitting on a podium and being approached by front steps. There are fancy Greek terms such as pycnostyle and areostyle for the various possible column spacing solutions in the front of a temple like this; there’s no term for the unorthodox Falcione setup, but ‘coulrostyle’ might answer.
So, compare figures 2, 3, and 4. Figure 3 shows the 1902 Rouss mausoleum in Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Winchester, Virginia, one of the great monuments of American funerary architecture. It scrupulously follows the rules, which the architect had studied and mastered. The big exception is the wider spacing of the central columns to facilitate getting coffins in, which is standard mausoleum practice.
Figure 4 shows the entablature of the nice little Doric temple built for Stewart McShea in about 1922. It stands maybe 100 meters from the Falcione mausoleum, and serves as a control that Norristown is not such an outlandish place that it would be unreasonable to expect architectural coherence there.
Now, this is not the place to explain the rules of the Doric order: I’ve done that here. What I can say is that the Falcione designer has chosen the Doric order as shown by the use of triglyphs, the repeating pattern of three verticals, and metopes, the repeating pattern of squares with ‘bullseye’ circles in them (figure 2). I emphasize the word choice: it is optional to go Doric. Indeed, the Falcione designer has been pulled in several directions, as we’ll see, but it is the mark of an architect to show coherence and restraint. (I’ll overlook the work of Morris Lapidus, whose autobiography was titledToo Much Is Never Enough.)
If you do choose to adopt the Doric, you are obligated to make at least a half-hearted attempt to abide by its organic rules. Otherwise, why bring it in to begin with. One of those rules: a triglyph must be centered over each column. We’ll give the Falcioni architect a pass on the triglyphs over the end columns: not even the Greeks figured that one out satisfactorily, though they tended to follow the practice shown in figures 2 and 4, the Romans the practice in figure 3.
I’ve annotated images 2 and 4 and placed them in a gallery as new images 5 and 6. You can instantly see that the McShea columns have triglyphs over them (and so do the Rouss columns, if you go back and check, figure 3). The Falcione columns never line up with a triglyph, and looking ahead (figures 7, 9, 10), this is true for every column on the whole mausoleum. This would actually seem hard to manage, even if the placement were random. Further, the Falcione designer has brought in elements of the Corinthian order in the column capitals and the tooth-like projections (called dentils) under the raking roof lines of the pediment (figures 5-6 and 7-8).
At this point it is possible to say that architecturally the design is falling apart for lack of coherence and logic. Structurally it may be sound; I suspect it’s built on a steel frame. Mrs. Falcione was of course allowed to say, “I think the temple should have these things (triglyphs and metopes), but I think these columns (Corinthian) are prettier,” and so on. Still, it was her architect’s job to tell her that such choices were going to trash the solemnity she wanted to bring to Augustine’s commemoration.
Figures 7 and 8 illustrate some of the building techniques. I won’t go into detail here; see the annotations in figure 8.
As we move to the rear, we should note the landscaping that surrounds the structure (figures 1, 11, 14): cypresses, boxwood hedge, hastas, begonias, and in the rear a number of different plants I am unable to name. The goal is to create a little Mediterranean landscape in Norristown, which is fine, but will need rather more than the ‘perpetual care’ cemeteries offer to keep it tidy in the long run.
Figure 2 shows the front pediment, which has an inserted tympanum sculpted from (I suspect) Italian marble. Falcione’s initial is heraldically displayed on an oval shield supported in baroque fashion by two amorini. Swags, garlands, and ribbons abound in this busy composition, which takes us further away from the temples this mausoleum might have been modeled on.
The rear pediment (figure 10), constructed of the same grayish tan stone as the rest of the mausoleum, features a white marble dove rising in flight with a sprig of (I think) olive in its beak. It is affixed to a green marble background and surrounded by a wreath of laurel bound at the bottom by a ribbon (figure 11).
However, it is clear that the Falcione project initially involved another marble tympanum, similar to the front one, inserted in the rear. I say that with confidence because when plans to use it were abandoned in favor of the dove, someone insisted on exhibiting the pediment anyway, on a stand erected in the landscaping behind the mausoleum (figure 12)! I told you Mrs. F. was shrewd about getting visual bang for her buck!
In the rear of the mausoleum, in a position corresponding to the front door, is a leaded glass window. There was no way to see it in transmitted light, the front door being opaque, but its outlines can be made out in reflected light (figure 13). My photo is awful, and I’m sorry for that.
From what I can see, there is a winged figure, either an angel or the risen Falcione, sitting on rock below a sky. A ribbon winds its way around the figure, and to its left (in our view) is what I believe to be a stylized version of the duomo of Florence. Hidden by the real flower vase is a tablet bearing the monogram AFF, Augustine F. Falcione (figure 14). I’d not be surprised to find Falcione depicted as rising from his grave burst asunder, a conceit more common in Europe than here.
Returning to the front porch and the ‘piazza’ in front of it, we are once again beset by a multitude of voices shouting for attention (figure 15). Centered in a place of honor in the piazza is a replica of William Wetmore Story’s Angel of Grief. Behind her, still within the piazza, is a free-standing statue of a female figure. The door to the mausoleum proper is flanked by two symmetrical caryatids, and two stone lamps with eternal flames flank the top of the steps from the piazza to the porch. The piazza is paved with slate and is reached from the road in front by two shallow steps. Finally, there are two benches in the piazza, one a quarter-circle at the right-rear of the area, the other a half circle to the left of the Story sculpture.
All the female figures exhibit the conventional features of young women, but they contrast in a way reminiscent of the Madonna/whore dichotomy. The free-standing figure (figure 16) is densely and fully wrapped in an olde tyme gown or cloak that, together with her clasped arms, seems to indicate an inward direction. The cloak rises over the head to create a veil. The iconography is not quite the Virgin Mary, though it approximates it.
At a guess, I’d say it’s the grieving widow assimilating herself to the Madonna. The foot resting on the chopped wood recalls Mary’s foot on the snake. Statues often have marble stumps next to them to add support; but I suspect more is going on here with the stump and the lopped limbs under her feet. Stumps symbolize death, which is fitting here. What the corded wood under her left foot means I can’t quite figure out.
Having seen a Madonna figure, we turn to the mild ‘hot-cha-cha’ eroticism of the Caryatids with their exposed legs daintily posed one foot upon the other. Their dresses are not quite sheer, but are meant to be seen as such, since they fully reveal the feminine form and magically cling to the breasts. Their hair falls in a cascade over their shoulders to well past the cinch at the waist. Like the Doric appliqué in the entablature, this clothing makes no logical sense, except that here the clothing is meant to reveal.
The statues must be sold in sets of two symmetrical pieces by one of those garden sculpture houses; they make no sense architecturally in that they do not notionally support anything except pails pouring forth flowers. You can get a feel for these things over at Design Toscano.
The piece to resist is the quite good replica (figure 18) of William Wetmore Story’s Angel of Grief (figure 19). Story’s sculpture has been copied and adapted countless times in American funerary settings. Many examples have been collected over at Gravely Speaking, for example here and here. Improbably, there is even a version in white bronze seen in Kraft Graceland Memorial Park in New Albany, Indiana, and this implies mass production!
Replicas of Story’s Angel are certainly mass produced nowadays, and there was even at one point a double version in miniature as a cinerary urn, now discontinued (figure 18a).
Unlike the resin-cast things one sees elsewhere (the Falcione caryatids are an example), this replica was cut from real marble by the hands and tools of a real sculptor. You can see the modern predilection for (among other things) well-muscled female figures, but overall, the copyist hews well to the spirit of the original, which is in the Cimitero acattolico in Rome.
On the front of the altar upon which the angel of grief rests is Falcione’s anagraphic data (figure 20):
AUGUSTINE F. FALCIONE 1939 2003
The mausoleum proper took a couple of years to build; the cornerstone, by the foot of the madonna statue, reads 2005.
But on the right side of the steps leading up to the altar is a complicated inscription (figure 21):
Inspired by the work of the famous sculptor W. W. Story, I dedicate / this “Weeping Angel” statue to my beloved husband as a symbol of / my endless devotion, profound appreciation, and eternal love. I will forever celebrate / his great life and feel surrounded by his memory and love. / His adoring wife / A.D. 2006
Quite in keeping with this inscription is that on the semicircular bench (figure 22):
AUGUSTINE F. FALCIONE AMOR AETERNUM EST [Love is an eternal thing]
Surprisingly, it can’t be “Love is eternal” for reasons having to do with grammatical gender in Latin.
I did not write this post to encourage derision of Mrs. Falcione, though kindness itself would admit she has sedulously courted it. I would not be unhappy if this post served some as a cautionary tale. But if I deplore the failures of taste here, I also admire the energy that radiates from this project, and I am grateful to the universe that such things exist to bring interest and fascination into the world.
Stephen C. Arena November 18, 1928 August 12, 1991
A salvaged, keystone-shaped block with the visage of a terrible lion is framed by a Roman-inspired, etiolated temple façade with stylized columns and pediment. The designer achieved a pleasing contrast between the modern architectural frame and the olde-style lion (late 19th century?).
And of course the whole thing is a double-entendre for the concept ‘lions in the (Roman) arena.’
The baby on the half shell is a cliché of American funerary art for deceased babies and children. They are so weird and unexpected, and comparatively rare, however, that like many taphophiles, I collect them. There’s even an article on the topic.
Benjamin Latrobe, the architect of the U.S. Capitol, provided America’s sole contributions to (neo-)classical architecture in his corn-cob and tobacco-leaf capitals (figures 1, 2 respectively). That’s the cliché, and so I used to think.
But there is no reason at all why classical orders should not be updated, and Latrobe’s incorporating of indigenous flora into the architecture of a new nation is but one example. We can look all the way back to the emperor Theodosius in the fifth century, C.E., for an attempt to jazz up the classical Corinthian order with ‘wind-blown’ capitals (figure 3).
Latrobe’s tobacco-leaf numbers are fairly staid updates of the ‘Tower of the Winds’ variant of the Corinthian order, and his earnest attempt to use corn cobs do not astound so much as provoke a wry smile and prompt the question “can he do that?” They put one in mind of Benjamin Franklin’s ill-starred attempt to make the turkey the American national bird.
But much as the bald eagle was an improvement in everything but taste over the turkey, so too are Latrobe’s capitals superseded by the noble and elegant
OAK LEAF CAPITAL
The architect of the Warman mausoleum in Dunmore Cemetery in Scranton, Pennsylvania (figure 4) boldly featured oak-leaf capitals (figure 6) in his or her otherwise conventional work, which must date to the years around 1900.
The best parts of Dunmore Cemetery fall in that sweet spot of American memorial art between about 1890 and 1930, and so it contains many variants of the then-popular rustic stone look. In the case of the Warman mausoleum, the rusticity of the stone’s face is betrayed by its carefully manicured joints and drafted margins (see how the edges of the blocks are effectively beveled despite the rough surface effect).
As is also common in the style, a few smooth surfaces have been added to contrast with the rustic dressing, each serving as a foil to the other. In better, or at least visually more interesting examples, the polished bits appear to emerge as fragments of order from the chaos of the rough-hewn stone (figure 5). In the Warman mausoleum, this contrast is provided by the smooth steps, posts, lintel, and columns.
The architect who designed this capital (figure 6) felt the pull of the arts and crafts movement and its fetish for oak. See the acorns added here and there, e.g., on diagonals emerging from the tallest leaves in the lowest ring; and as accessories to the smaller leaves springing out diagonally below those large, principal leaves of the lowest ring just mentioned. The leaves wrinkle, bend, and curl naturalistically. One wishes they had been cut into a more expressive medium than granite.
The odds that in my limited wanderings I’ve come across the actual, real, original developer of the oak capital in the Warman architect are pretty slim. I imagine he or she worked for one of the great American houses of funerary architecture and picked up the design from a predecessor.
I’ve never seen an oak capital before, but there must be examples about in other cemeteries which might help us at least narrow down the source to one maker, and perhaps even, eventually, one architect. The Warman monument had no builder’s mark I could find, and the cemetery’s records office is closed for the duration of the pandemic. The hunt is on!
The world is infinitely interesting. Today, while roaming the neighborhood of Scranton, Pennsylvania, my wife and I spotted one of those small rural cemeteries that dot the U.S. Not expecting a Saint Gaudens sculpture or a provocative inscription, I was nevertheless genuinely astonished when I closely observed the pylons that bracket the entrance to the cemetery.
That’s not an artifact of my editing of the photos: the northern pylon (figure 2) genuinely, really, actually reverses the name “ST. STANISLAUS” to “SUALSINATS .TS.” This is just wonderful, the heraldic principle of symmetry trumping common sense and taste. Why not reverse “R.C. Cemetery,” too? Of course not! That would be crazy.
As you see, they are old, and, I think, were not done easily, with a computer-guided cutter. Rather, they appear to me to have been laid out by hand. Hats off to the cutter: I’d have screwed it up.
The Rotunda at Scranton’s Marywood University, the handsomest building on campus, owes something to the Pantheon in Rome and reflects civic and religious virtues as they were conceived in 1924.
Let’s get the whole Pantheon thing out of the way first. The Rotunda (figure 1) and the Pantheon (figure 2) both hide their rotundas from the common street view; it’s only after you enter that you see the building has a circular plan. The Pantheon has within a 142-foot dome, and Marywood’s Rotunda has a 72-foot dome: close enough to being exactly half that I suspect the architect planned it as a sort of “citation” of the Pantheon, just so we get it.
Setting aside the rotunda itself and focusing on the public face of the building, we mustn’t expect a photorealistic copy. The emperor Hadrian had all the resources of the empire at his disposal! The Marywood Rotunda is competent and handsome, but it’s not in the same league.
The Marywood website makes a perhaps inevitable comparison to the US Capitol Dome, which comes in at 80 feet. But I think the Capitol and the Rotunda are distant great-great grandchildren of the Pantheon rather than mother and daughter.
The Pantheon has an octostyle temple façade mated to the rotunda by an ‘intermediate block’ that effects the transition from squared-off temple front to curved rotunda wall. The Marywood Rotunda architect eschewed the temple façade (too pagan?), choosing instead to apply the façade directly to the structure which is analogous to the Pantheon’s intermediate block.
But you see the architect has slyly kept the eight columns across by insetting four columns in a loggia and having two pilasters on each side (figure 1): eight columns on a budget! Perhaps the stepped silhouette over the attic, too, is a gesture toward the Pantheon’s triangular tympanum.
The columns are a variant of Corinthian with tall thin smooth spearpoint-shaped leaves rising above a short ring of crinkly acanthus. This is called the “Tower of the Winds” Corinthian after a striking Roman-era building in ancient Athens that used them.
I think it would be spurious to find the design source for the Marywood capitals in Latrobe’s tobacco-leaf capitals from (again) the U.S. Capitol (figure 3). The latter’s palpably wavy tobacco leaves are mannered versions of the ‘Tower of the Winds’ type, whereas the Marywood capitals are dead-standard examples of the type.
The piece to resist on the Rotunda’s façade is a series of five panels inscribed in Latin and bracketed by two heraldic reliefs. It’s worth devoting some attention to them, because their creators expended a lot of thought on them.
Reading from left to right, we do a cross-fade from the spiritual world of the church, signified by the papal stemma (of Pius XI), to the citizen’s world of the state, signified by the Great Seal of the United States. The central position of honor and specificity is reserved for Marywood University, and in fact, one could also read the panels outward from this central point.
Each inscribed panel names a religious or social grouping followed by one or two mots appropriate to each. The lapidary brevity and lack of punctuation may give the reader a moment of difficulty:
Roman Catholic Church [relief of Papal stemma of Pius XI]
DIOECESIS ATTENDE TIBI ET DOCTRINAE EGO SUM PASTOR BONUS
Diocese. Look after yourself and your teaching. I am the good shepherd.
CONGREGATIO IMMACULATI CORDIS MARIAE CARITAS BENIGNA EST
Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Charity is kind.
MARIAE SILVA SANITAS SCIENTIA SANCTITAS EGO SUM LUX MUNDI
Marywood. Health – Knowledge – Holiness. I am the Light of the World.
SCRANTONA CIVIUM CONCORDIA FRATERNITATEM DILIGITE
Scranton. Agreement of citizens. Esteem brotherhood.
PENNSYLVANIA VIRTUS ET LIBERTAS POTESTATIBUS SUBDITI ESTOTE
Pennsylvania. Excellence and freedom. Be subject to powers.
United States [relief of Great Seal of the U.S.]
Some notes on the inscriptions:
See the wonderful typography in DIOECESIS; MARIAE SILVA, Mary’s wood, a coinage for the school; SANITAS SCIENTIA SANCTITAS, admirable asyndeton; SCRANTONA, a surely-never-otherwise-used Latin coinage for (wait for it) Scranton; ESTOTE, a nifty second person plural future imperative of sum. Happily for the composer, Pennsylvania is already Latin.
attende tibi et doctrinae: 1 Tim 4:16. The diocese is reminded of a directive from one of the pastoral epistles on how to run a church. The result is a good diocese which acts like a good shepherd to its flock. The phrase is taken from John 10:11, which is followed by prescriptions for how such a good shepherd acts.
caritas benigna est: cf. 1 Corinthians 13:4, ‘caritas patiens est, benigna est.’ As befits a teaching order (founded in 1845), their charism is kindness in instruction.
sanitas scientia sanctitas. The school now uses the mottosanctitas, scientia et sanitas, putting holiness first (and adding an unneeded ‘and’). It’s reasonable to think that the ordinator of the inscription juggled the word order for a more attractive word arrangement. I will note that the Latin on the building, with its widely separated hard ‘c’ sounds, is more euphonic.
ego sum lux mundi. John 8:12. As the quotation goes on, those who follow Jesus will not walk in the shadows. Light commonly symbolizes knowledge or education, fitting for the panel specifically tying us to Marywood.
civium concordia. The idea, from Roman writers in antiquity on down, is that harmonious agreement among citizens is the strongest wall of defense.
fraternitatem diligite. 1 Peter 2:17. As with the other snippets, it is shorthand for the rest of the verse: omnes honorate: fraternitatem diligite: Deum timete: regem honorificate, ‘honor all; esteem the brotherhood; fear God; honor the king. Here, brotherhood is the fraternity of citizens, and the implied ‘king’ stands for the government.
virtus et libertas. Cf. the state motto of Pennsylvania (figure 5): “virtue liberty and independence.” So once again the person who wrote the inscriptions let part of a longer idea speak for the whole.
potestatibus subditi estote. Romans 13:1: ‘Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.’
I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine And twinkle on the milky way, They stretched in never-ending line Along the margin of a bay: Ten thousand saw I at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: A poet could not but be gay, In such a jocund company: I gazed—and gazed—but little thought What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.