Figure 1. Levi Franklin and Catharine Drinkhouse Smith monument. Detail: sides 1 and 2. Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA. Photo: author.

My eye was caught as I was departing Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia by this unorthodox ‘white bronze’ monument (figure 1). It turns out to be an astounding and unexpected form of self-representation by two people in love with life and, more prominently, themselves.

Figure 1a. Fictional Adrian Balboa grave from the film Creed. Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA. Photo: author.

The monument has five tall sides arranged in an uneven pentagonal cross section. The two larger faces are pointed at the road which passes close by to the main gate, right by the fictional gravestone of Adrian Balboa from Creed (figure 1a). I have numbered the faces in the order I think they were meant to be read; you will be the judge of whether I am right. The monument as a whole is effectively a slightly tapering pedestal on top of which is draped a tassled cloth, and atop that sits a book. Normally this position and iconography would tacitly say “this is a Bible; these people were Christians.” That ain’t what this book says, however, but let’s wait on that to the end.

Side one contains the anagraphic inscription to Levi F. Smith, side two that of Catharine D. Smith (and so much more: figure 1). He died in 1901 and she in 1893, so I assume he was responsible for the monument’s arrangement and texts. I recommend you read these in the inner voice of Criswell, or maybe some breathy-portentious 1930’s movie narrator voice.

SIDE 1 (figure 1, left):
PROFESSOR LEVI
FRANKLIN SMITH
WAS BORN
AT MILTOWN, NORTH
STONINGTON, CONNECTICUT
ON WEDNESDAY,
THE 31ST DAY OF MARCH, 1824
AT
10 MINUTES PAST 12 O’CLOCK
IN THE MORNING,
AND PASSED TO SPIRIT LIFE
OCTOBER 24TH, 1901,
FROM
HIS RESIDENCE,
2430 THOMPSON STREET,
PHILADELPHIA,
PENNSYLVANIA.
——
PROFESSOR SMITH
WAS A PHILOSOPHER
AND INVENTOR, AND
CONSISTENT AND DEVOTED
SPIRITUALIST, AND PASSED
TO SPIRIT LIFE WITH
A FULL KNOWLEDGE
OF THIS BEAUTIFUL
PHILOSOPHY.

Figure 2. Levi Franklin and Catharine Drinkhouse Smith monument. Detail: part of side 2. Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA. Photo: author. Nice pictures break up ugly blocks of text.

SIDE 2 (figure 1, right):
MRS. CATHARINE
DRINKHOUSE SMITH
WAS BORN
AT READING BERKS COUNTY,
STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA,
ON THURSDAY,
THE 5TH DAY OF AUGUST, 1824,
AT
15 MINUTES PAST 5 O’CLOCK
IN THE MORNING,
AND PASSED TO SPIRIT LIFE
15 MINUTES BEFORE
12 O’CLOCK
THE 27TH DAY OF MARCH, 1893,
FROM
THE RESIDENCE OF HER
HUSBAND,
PROFESSOR LEVI FRANKLIN
SMITH,
2430 THOMPSON STREET,
PHILADELPHIA,
PENNSYLVANIA.
——
MRS. SMITH WAS A
DEVOTED SPIRITUALIST,
AND ONE OF THE BEST
MEDIUMS OF HER TIME
AND ACCOMPLISHED GREAT
GOOD, IN SPREADING
THIS BEAUTIFUL TRUTH
AND IN DEMONSTRATING
A CONTINUITY OF LIFE.

Their beliefs are largely lost, aside from what can be gleaned from the cold zinc. I note the “scientific” precision (and self-love) in the absurdly carefully recorded places and times of birth and death; this must have played into their act in contacting the dead. By calling theirs an “act,” I do not assert they were insincere. Even sincere belief systems, however, are clothed in theater or ritual. In any event, these are pretty conventional Christian beliefs transposed into the spiritualist realm: “accomplished great good;” “a continuity of life.”

On the other hand, the Smiths continually make grand claims for themselves. “Philosopher and Inventor,” “full knowledge,” “one of the best mediums of her time,” and so on. Giving their house address as though compelled by the unseen rules of spiritualism is a masterstroke. I know what you’re thinking: here’s the address today, an empty lot and modern apartment building, on (I believe) 2430 West Thompson St. in Philly (figures 3, 4):

Sides three (figure 5) and four (figure 6) offer some commonplace observations on life dressed up (occasionally) in highfalutin’ terms.

Figure 5. Levi Franklin and Catharine Drinkhouse Smith monument. Detail: side 3. Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA. Photo: author.

SIDE 3 (figure 5):
ALL EVIL DONE TO
OTHERS, AFTER IT SERVES
ITS PURPOSES, REFLECTS
BACK CURSES UPON ITS
AUTHORS
——
THE ULTIMATE OF THE
NATURAL LAW OR THE
DIVINE LAW, OR THE LAW
OF GOD, IS ABSOLUTE
JUSTICE IN THIS LIFE
AND THE NEXT.
——
BE TRUTHFUL, BE
TEMPERATE IN ALL
THINGS, BE CHARITABLE,
BE MERCIFUL, BE JUST
AND HONEST, TO GOD, TO
YOURSELF AND TO ALL
MANKIND.
——
THE INDIVIDUAL WHO
WILL NOT REASON IS
A BIGOT, WHO DARE NOT
IS A SLAVE, WHO CAN
NOT IS A FOOL.



Figure 6. Levi Franklin and Catharine Drinkhouse Smith monument. Detail: side 4. Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA. Photo: author.

SIDE 4 (Figure 6):
GOD IS THE OLDEST
OF ALL THINGS, HAS
ALWAYS EXISTED, AND
THE WORLD IS THE
MOST BEAUTIFUL AND
PERFECT OF ALL THINGS
BECAUSE IT IS THE WORK
OF GOD.
HOPE IS THE MOST
CONSTANT OF ALL THINGS,
BECAUSE IT REMAINS WITH
MEN AFTER EVERYTHING
IS LOST, AND VIRTUE
IS THE BEST OF ALL
THINGS AS WITHOUT IT
THERE IS NOT ANYTHING
GOOD.
NECESSITY IS THE
STRONGEST OF ALL THINGS,
BECAUSE IT MAKES MEN
FACE ALL THE DANGERS
OF LIFE.
IT IS NOT WHAT PERSONS
THINK, BUT WHAT THEY
SAY AND DO, THAT MAKES
THEM GOOD OR BAD
PERSONS IN THE
COMMUNITY.
LIFE IS ETERNAL;
DEATH IS MERELY
A CHANGE OF CONDITIONS.

Figure 7. Levi Franklin and Catharine Drinkhouse Smith monument. Detail: side 5. Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA. Photo: author.

SIDE 5 (Figure 7):
[Masonic G with compass and square]
HANDS ‘ROUND, YE FAITHFUL
BROTHERHOOD, THE
BRIGHT FRATERNAL CHAIN;
WE PART UPON THE
SQUARE BELOW, TO
MEET IN HEAVEN AGAIN;
WHAT WORDS OF SACRED
MEANING, THESE WORDS
MASONIC ARE.
WE MEET UPON THE
LEVEL, AND WE PART
UPON THE SQUARE.
——
REVISED BY
BRO. LEVI F. SMITH.

The veiled language of Freemasonry “revised by brother Smith,” whatever that means, is not so interesting here as the pabula offered on sides 3 and 4. I imagine someone, say a 1901 Christian American from Philadelphia, reading these assertions and statements and giving a knowing nod of assent, because there is nothing here inconsonant with the blandest promises of religion: there is nothing revolutionary going on here.

If spiritualism, rigorously construed, is unchristian, why it turns out nevertheless that these spiritualists have “discovered” that the “real” spiritual world conforms to and confirms unquestioned religious tenets. Yet the Smiths’ pose allows them to make statements which they characterize as revealed truths. In other words, they are incorporating standard religious elements into their theater. The book atop the monument shows this clearly (Figure 8):

Figure 8. Levi Franklin and Catharine Drinkhouse Smith monument. Detail: book of revelation. Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA. Photo: author.

BOOK OF REVELATION ATOP THE MONUMENT (figure 8):
NEW REV- ELATIONS
FROM THE
SPIRIT WORLD
TO THE CHILDREN
OF MEN, THROUGH
THE ME- DIUMSHIP
OF MR. AND MRS.
LEVI F. SMITH.

That book builds upon nearly a century of funerary imagery of Bibles atop monuments (figures 9-11). Books can carry additional meanings, too, but I take the first words on the Smith’s book, “new revelations,” to point straight to the Bible. But for the Smiths, or rather Levi F., this Biblical imagery camouflages and sanitizes their “contributions.” I was left with the impression that they were charlatans at best, and certainly self-aggrandizing. But very American, like a more outwardly respectable Duke and Dauphin.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Arlington, VA

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