Below, and click to enlarge, are images of two astonishing and wonderful mausolea in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Both present mysteries. Let’s dive in.
On the left, both in life and in the gallery above, is the Miller mausoleum (figure 1); on the right, the Frank mausoleum. Where do we start? With the mystery!
The Frank mausoleum does what I would expect in placing the family name atop with that prominent tag, if one must have such a tag. The Miller mausoleum has, by contrast, been rebranded to SALLY’S. This seems to me aggressive, as though Sally had divorced Mr. Miller, gotten the tomb in the settlement, and with some flair taken full possession of it, with her given name atop in the genitive (and again in the nominative below), with ‘Miller’ relegated to the shadows.
Sally appears to be one of those people who prided herself on her profession. That would be palmist-fortune teller, hence the crystal ball and the palm with prominent lines centering her name atop.
The image of Sally (figure 3) is nicely posed with a rose in her left hand, right hand to chest. The cow print coat is extraordinary. She floats in a general misty background, with three lobes of more opaque mist on each side by her legs. She casts no shadow on these clouds of heaven. The light mist-like stripe on her shins is a reflection of my silver car.
As I read the door, there is a bronze panel of three approximately equal-sized vertical registers set into a frame which has been given a handle to make it appear to be part of a larger door. There’s actually space between the inset panel and the frame which wouldn’t be possible if it were one solid door. Theory: the inner panel opens and coffins can be loaded into exposed shelves foot first, one atop another. There’s no little room inside.
The overall architectural style defies description. Extremely etiolated Greek temple?
The Franks’ mausoleum is much more staid (figure 4). Their formally dressed images are clearly taken from photos that have been transposed to a colorized treatment on the granite. He wears an old-school three-piece suit with fedora, she a lovely blue dress with pearls and a rose boutonniere. They are depicted in the fullness of age. They both cast shadows on the clouds of mist that surround them. The polished black granite background with white lithic inclusions is just terrific in that it gives the impression of star spangles in the firmament.
Theory: this unusual depiction of an epiphany of the dead indicates the deep cultural influence of the 1982 movie Poltergeist, namely the part where the dead in their burial finest parade down the Freelings’ living room staircase.
The two Frank mysteries: Jack has a pocket square in his suit coat pocket. It’s on the wrong side; coats do not have breast pockets on the right (figure 5). My answer to that mystery is that Jack’s photo was digitally reversed left to right so that he appears to face toward Bessie. They could have put his image on the right side, but maybe protocol got in the way?
The other mystery is the door. I did not inspect it directly, but it looks very much like it, too, has been created by coloring the marble. The clouds cover its lower quarter, for example, it does not reach down all the way to the porch floor, and the elements of the door look painted on. But the question is: why do we see a seam corresponding to the edge of the door on the lower left as we look at it and at the bottom. Is it possible that the door is slightly inset, i.e., carved a quarter-inch deeper than the surface of the façade? Or is there a “door” that is really more of a removable panel in the center?
There is in fact a third mystery: why these two nearly identical mausolea are nearly adjacent in the same cemetery. I’ve never seen anything quite like them anywhere else, even in trade magazines. It seems reasonable to guess that “influence” is at play. Given the dates, might the Franks, or their children (“World’s greatest dad”), have seen Sally’s ™ tomb and wanted another just like it?