J. Henley Smith Mausoleum, Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

This is the J[ames]. Henley Smith Mausoleum in Rock Creek Cemetery. It was designed by Worthington and Ahrens, built by Leland and Hall about 1910. The sum budgeted for it was $20,000, with $2000 more made over to the trustees of the cemetery for perpetual care.

I would like the trustees to know that the mausoleum is full of mosquitoes. Smith’s will stated that the mausoleum was to be built in a “handsome, substantial manner, similar to a loggia.” It is certainly substantial (look at all that rusticated granite!) and it is a loggia. Alert fans of Doric architecture will see that the architects devised a simple solution to the corner problem.

Here are the inscriptions on the two free-standing sarcophagi within:

As you can see, the mausoleum has an open front, and although the photo makes it look dark, there is a ton of light reflected in, diminishing contrast. That’s a problem because there is a bas-relief bust of J. Henley Smith over his sarcophagus embedded into the rear wall, and the low relief, plus almost uniform light makes it hard to make out details of the bust.

Bas-relief portrait bust of J. Henley Smith. Smith mausoleum, Rock Creek Cemetery. Photo: author.
The Baltimore Sun, 07 June 1907. Details of will of J. Henley Smith. Scanned by EBuckland and released for free use.

The figure, in profile, gazes directly ahead (to our right). The nose is prominent, and the face exhibits some traces of age in the slackness of the skin under the eyes and the fatty tissue under the jaw. The ears are tall, but how prominent in life can only be guessed. The boss of the chin is prominent, while the brow is smooth and the eyebrows are lightly “sketched” in.

The hair is short all over except for two groupings of locks over the forehead and right temple. The hair has been combed from an invisible part on the left and forms a wave over the right eye; and there is a second lock combed back over the right temple. The hair recedes slightly at the right edge of the forehead. There is a bushy mustache, but no other facial hair.

The neck descends into a collar. The type of collar (pointed or rounded) can’t be told because a suit coat buttoned or pulled together well above the sternum hides it. The soft cloth of the coat is emphasized by gentle folds and wrinkles where the arm meets the shoulder. Pick-stitching can be made out at the hems of the lapel. The gorget sits high.

J. Henley Smith signature. US Passport application, 27 April 1903. Public domain. Provided by NARA through ancestry dot com.

His signature from the application:

Reality check: on ancestry dot com one can find Smith’s April 1903 US passport application. His features at age 60:
Stature: 5′ 9″
Forehead: high
Eyes: blue
Nose: straight
Mouth: with mustache
Chin: oval
Hair: grey
Complexion: light
Face: oval

What on earth is this thing? The portrait is on an irregularly edged slab which has been inset into an appropriately cut slot in the granite rear wall of the mausoleum interior, behind Smith’s sarcophagus. It is possible that the irregular border is a conceit, perhaps along the lines of those broken off column or tree monuments you see. Or maybe the border reflects the portrait having been cut from a larger monumental portrait. Was this piece forcibly removed from a dwelling somewhere and mounted here by Mary Smith?

Note to self: there is sufficient marble around the bust for a good cutter to have formed a rectangle or an oval (like a cameo) around it. I think that the rough-hewn border is a deliberate conceit. Alas, there is no portrait of Mary Smith, so we have nothing to compare to it.

Smith was very well connected in primeval Washington society and left to the Library of Congress a substantial collection of correspondence and other historical documents still named for him today.

Fun J. Henley Smith fact: He was at Princeton when the Civil War broke out and when he finished he joined Mosby’s raiders (the 43rd VA Cavalry) “winning a reputation for bravery.” His family had ties to Baltimore (his wife was from there, his father had worked there), and one wonders if some Maryland “iffy” loyalty rubbed off on him.

Col. John Singleton Mosby and some members of Mosby’s Rangers, 43rd Virginia Cavalry Battalion. Library of Congress. Public domain. Wikimedia Commons.

My understanding is that the third figure on Mosby’s (proper) left, standing with glove to stomach and feather in cap is J. Henley Smith.

In any event, he would have been in the class of 1863, and there are, according to the Princeton website, still five scholarships endowed by him.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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  1. Very nice piece. Smith intrigues me! I learned about the scholarships at Princeton about a year ago and would love to know how the school is now handling the fact that a man who fought for the Confederacy is responsible for establishing them. Eric Buckland


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