The Rose Keeling Hutchins funerary portrait

Here’s the Egyptian revival mausoleum of the Hutchins-Keeling distended family in Rock Creek Cemetery.

Hutchins-Keeling mausoleum. Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

“Distended” because we seem to have a case of a well-heeled man, Stilson Hutchins (1838-1912) who married a new wife, Rose Keeling (1867-1926), in 1890. It was a May-December thing, by the looks of it, with her being about 23 at the time, he 52. But love, as they say, is blind, deaf, and dumb, so who are we to ask questions. Well maybe less blind than deaf or dumb. Keeling’s obituary in the NYT (15 March 1926, p. 21) reports that she “was regarded as one of the most beautiful women in the capital.”

In 1866 Stilson founded the Saint Louis Times newspaper, and then in 1877 a little one in D.C. called the Washington Post, and didn’t stop there. He lived at 1603 Scott Circle, where the Australian Embassy is now. So on that basis we know what the tomb also tells us: he was a good catch.

Stilson Hutchins between 1865 and 1880. Library of Congress. Public domain. Wikimedia Commons.

If you poke around online about this family you’ll find two things of greater than average interest. Number one, the new wife and the two children of the first wife, Theresa Ellis Hutchins, fell into acrimonious legal dispute over the estate. Theresa herself only died in 1915, so I suppose we should envision an acrimonious divorce, too.

The other is that the data associated with these people on the standard genealogical websites is dreadfully wrong in such a thorough way that it seems systematic. There are a few touchstones in government documents such as censuses, but you’d be surprised, I think, to find people claiming Rose (born 1867) was the mother of Stilson’s sons Walter Stilson Hutchins (1860-1946) and Lee Hutchins (1862-1924). The Pedia of Wiki steers discretely clear of this morass.

Robert Lee Keeling, between about 1910 and 1915. Library of Congress. No known restrictions on publication.

Fortunately, I don’t have to thread this needle here. What I can tell you is that the mausoleum, grandly titled Hutchins-Keeling, does not include space for the first wife or her children. Well, OK. But it does have a space for the quite interesting Robert Lee Keeling (1863-1941), Rose’s brother, who was a much sought after painter of miniatures and sometime actor in the silent era. In other words, he was a bohemian type, and he traveled to Europe a lot. His parents must have favored the Confederacy, don’t you think?

Oh, did I mention, he lived, at his sister’s insistence, with her and Stilson. There’s a People Magazine-like puff piece about him in volume five of The International (“An illustrated monthly magazine of travel and literature,” 1898, pages 250-252). Besides letting it be known that Keeling was the great-grandson of Rembrandt Peale, the International author, Emily Kilvert, noted that he was a “picturesque figure,” and so on. (And on and on: have a look.) You can see examples of his work here and here.

Robert Lee Keeling grave. Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, DC. Photo: author.

To return to my main thread, Stilson, Rose, and Robert Lee are all buried in the mausoleum in question. It’s one of those mausolea where you have to infiltrate the lens of your camera into the tiniest gap in the bronze door and contort to see anything. As always, my pictures leave a lot to be desired.

It may seem that I’ve put up pictures of everyone but Rose. I can’t find one online, but it turns out there’s no need, for she has placed one in the tomb for us:

Rose Keeling Hutchins portrait. Hutchins-Keeling mausoleum, Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, DC. Photo: author.

This is one of the more interesting female portraits I’ve seen. It lacks that sort of generic classicizing oval face and instead has a one-off “from life” quality. Stilson, who had a penchant for sculpture (the Franklin in front of the Old Post Office Building is his commission, 1889), appears to have had a bust of his trophy wife made to commemorate his catch.

She is depicted in the full bloom of youth, signaled to us by her holding a flower, which is, of course, a rose. Her jaw and face are slightly square, and exhibit the tone of youth, though not first youth, perhaps. There are no folds or creases around the lips, chin, or eyes. The pupils are drilled and in my photograph they have a wide-eyed ingenuous look, supported by the high, arched brows. The gaze is frank and forward, and it does something to diffuse the bust’s erotic charge. The hair is long but pulled up over the head in a visually interesting whirlwind of locks that is only half an inch away from one of those Gibson girl ‘dos.

Charles Dana Gibson. The Weaker Sex II, 1903. Public domain. Wikimedia Commons.

The neck retains its youthful tone and firmness, and the upper chest, uncovered by a deep neckline, is also smooth, with well defined clavicles. The bust terminates well below the sternum to emphasize her, well, bust. This is achieved both through the cut of the rich gown she is wearing and the hourglass figure implied by the lowest part of the bust.

The material of her gown has been gathered at the shoulders and its richness has been strikingly signaled by incised patterns meant to emulate brocading. Her bare arms, not carved, would have emerged from the shoulders.

The foot of the bust is a classic Roman round type. The column of breccia supporting it has been beveled and cut to match the foot of the bust (or it was carefully selected to). It’s hard to imagine they weren’t together in the Hutchins house before Stilson died.

Here is a pretty clear example of a bust in stone from a domestic setting which has been repurposed as funerary in the mausoleum. It seems hard to me to think that Rose herself would have had such a bust cut in anticipation of her own burial, and if it was cut before Stilson’s, Occam’s razor pretty much demands we imagine he had it cut for his own (i.e., domestic) purposes. You don’t have a bust like this made to hide it in a mausoleum. You put it out and you try to make your male peers envious of you by showing your possession of something they do not—or can no longer—have.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Arlington, VA

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