Charles Ladislaus Council Rogers Bass monument, 1880. Detail: inscription. Oak Hill Cemetery, Georgetown. Photo: author.

DIED MARCH 13 1879.

Eugenia Patience Bate (1826-1906), who was from Tennessee and later Mississippi, had two husbands. The first, Council Rogers Bass (1810-1855) gave her four children and a plantation to support her when he died obligingly early. She removed herself from Mississippi to Washington, D.C. because she was no fool. There she came to the notice of the Italian ambassador, Conte Giuseppe Bertinatti, a minor Italian aristocrat. She then married him and removed to Italy because she was no fool.

Eugenia’s story is interesting and has been written far better than I could by a writer with the handle On the Borderland at the blog After Dark in the Playing Fields. But the upshot, for our purposes, is that Charles, a.k.a. “Council,” was her last surviving child when he died in his 30th year in Mississippi in 1879. She had been burying her children in Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown, and ended up there herself (in an unmarked grave, no less), so it is little wonder that Council was exhumed and reburied in Oak Hill.

More to the point here, Eugenia had his monument embellished with a low-relief portrait of him.

Charles Ladislaus Council Rogers Bass monument, Oak Hill Cemetery, Georgetown. Detail: portrait, oblique view showing insertion into monument. Photo: author.
Charles Ladislaus Council Rogers Bass monument, Oak Hill Cemetery, Georgetown. Detail: portrait of defunct. Photo: author.

I have offered two images because while the frontal one is what I’ll focus on, the oblique image shows that the shell with portrait is a unit carved separately that has been inserted and mortared into a slot made for it in a larger monument. The oblique view is also fun for the illusion that the face looks directly out of the shell.

As to the frontal view, I must admit to you that I find it not fun but funny because of the upcast eyes that look like a tv-show zombie or like Bass has fallen backwards and passed out. I presume that the eyes are actually meant to be interpreted as looking heavenward in expectation of salvation. It was a bad aesthetic choice.

The face is rounded with adipose, though the skull is rectangular. The forehead is high and smooth. The eyebrows are lightly sketched in over deep brow ridges. A large mustache, parted at the center and waxed at its tips, cascades down on either side of the mouth. We can see the lower lip. The nose is straight; the ears prominent. The jowls and chin are ponderous. Long fluffy sideburns fall to a level well below the earlobe on the side we can see. They do not meet the mustache. There is a soul patch in the middle of his chin. If the mustache were sprightlier we could call the ensemble a Van Dyke. The hair is reasonably short and parted on the left, high above the temple. A longer forelock has been combed over from the part to the right, forming a wave.

The overall look triangulates between Chester Alan Arthur, Captain Kangaroo (both lacking the soul patch), and Cardinal Mazarin:

But not as overboard as Dr. Arliss Loveless in this publicity still from Wild Wild West (1999).

The sculptor did not expend very much effort on the clothing which, though meant to appear rich, is stiff and lifeless. The strange button on the overcoat is out of place, or is meant to be read as a boutonnière (a Garfield-Arthur election badge, perhaps). The lapel and gorget haven’t been undercut, making the cloth look heavier still. The shell that frames the bust is run of the mill work.

Annette Stott has written an article on these shell portraits. Mostly they commemorate dead babies, and date from about 1870 until World War I. It was a fad that swept the U.S., ubiquitous to the point that the motif is widely known as the “Baby in the Half Shell.” She explains possible derivations and reasons for its popularity, and you can read her work here. It’s worth the time.

A shorter, less technical read is in the Gravely Speaking blog, which among many examples of the genre also shows a 1906 Sears catalog offering mass produced Baby on the Half Shell monuments.

Of course, not all shells held babies, and it’s easy to find impeccable classical models for the shell portrait; here’s one in the Villa Borghese Museum in Rome:

Monument of Petronia Musa, Villa Borghese Museum, Rome. Photo: author.

Another blog, Engraved: The Meanings behind Nineteenth-Century Tombstone Symbols, provides interesting examples outside of the half-shell type and the 1870-1920 range. Examples include 2 closed-up clams perched atop the finials of “white bronze” (zinc) headstones in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Newark, NJ (both undated); a half shell with a little lamb inside for a person dead in 1856 in the Old Brick Reformed Church Cemetery in Freehold, NJ; and empty-shell monuments to two children lost by the same family a year apart in 1862 and 1863 in Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV.

Eugenia thus inserted a made-to-order shell portrait into the monument for her son. The effect, against the background popularity for babies’ graves is infantilizing.

The takeaway here is that the portrait was clearly made from a photograph after the subject’s death specifically for funerary purposes. I would liken it to those lockets Victorians carried about with snips of a deceased loved one’s hair and a photograph within.

Appendix. The name “Ladiolans.”

There follows a tiresome scholarly discussion in which I abandon any pretense of trying to amuse you with classical funerary monuments or photographs of Captain Kangaroo. I recommend you skip it. You’ve been warned.

The inscription in the monument clearly gives the name as CHARLES LADIOLANS COUNCIL ROGERS BASS. The census records in 1850 and 1860 merely offer CR Bass, just like the father. The kid was called Council all his life. In fact, despite the efforts of many amateur genealogers to muddy the waters, there is little to support the name Charles, and nothing at all to support the name Ladiolans.

In fact, a search for the name Ladiolans at ancestry dot com yields only our man, and a Google search for the exact string “ladiolans” only brings up references to our man and two examples—on the same page—in an old printed journal of agricultural society records from Transylvania.

I’m going to make a wild conjecture which I’m sure is correct: both Council Bass in his monument and the Transylvanians were named Ladislaus, a common slavic name in the Austrian empire. Recalling that the inscription will have been transmitted by Eugenia in cursive to the cutter, you can quickly see how a rounded cursive ‘s’ could be taken as an ‘o’, and the difference between ‘n’ and ‘u’ is even closer in cursive than it is in the font here, where it is merely inverted. I presume that the sender of the transmitted minutes of the agricultural society wrote in opaque cursive as well, and I take the Transylvanian case pretty much as a demonstration that the name Ladiolans exists only as the fruit of an error. You’ll be familiar with these common errors if you read the Cake Wrecks web site.

Otherwise, ask yourself how come there are no others in the whole world of the interwebs? The people who ridiculously invent the name LaDiolans (on no authority whatsoever—Google it) show how some folks, relying too much on their unaided powers, propagate garbage into these online family trees. I think it’s Magnum Force where Dirty Harry says, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

You might argue that the ancestry dot com records (and everything else) make no mention of the name Ladislaus in the family. Yet this is true also of Ladiolans, and the latter just doesn’t exist, to boot.

Further, it is no argument against my theory that the 1850 census records the father as “CR Bass” and the son as “CR Bass jr.” Census takers were notoriously sloppy. In 1870 the census taker managed to get 2 out of 6 names of family members of mine wrong. We cannot definitively use the censuses to exclude the names “Charles Ladislaus” (or Ladiolans, if you prefer) in front of “Council Rogers Bass.” If the family called him Council at home, that’s what the census taker will have been told. Therefore the amateur genealogists who write that our man was Council Rogers Bass(, jr.) have only weak evidence to support the tacit argument that the names Charles Ladislaus didn’t exist.

And yet. And yet. None of the other children, except Eugenia’s daughter after she married a nobleman of her own, had a fancy string of names. They’re all plain, like Marie Ella Ann, Eugenia Elizabeth, and Anna Lela, according the the ancestry dot com people and records. Council was evidently called Council all his life. No records that haven’t been contaminated by the Oak Hill monument’s text give the names Charles Ladislaus. The universal misspelling “Ladiolans” is the control proving that the monument is the contaminant and not “real” records from the “real world.”

Eugenia, the “disconsolate mother,” dressed her dead baby up in his finest duds for a shell portrait on a monument she bought, designed, and had set up for him in 1880 in classy Oak Hill in the capital. She’d been interring her children there as they died one by one. She exhumed Council from backwater Mississippi where he’d died in 1879 and been buried, and brought him to the capital even as she had abandoned her Mississippi plantation to her overseers to come to the capital when her husband had died. Why not add some finery—like the sculpted clothes—in the form of some grand names no one then could prove Council had not borne since birth?

I therefore propose to emend our inscription as follows:

DIED MARCH 13, 1879.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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