Here, ladies and gentlemen, is a mausoleum, in Glenwood Cemetery in Washington, D.C., designed by a spooney architect (figure 1).
Now before I go an inch further, let me concede that if you ignore the details and slip the image a little out of focus, you have a fairly banal basic plan. The mausoleum is not free standing but has a mound heaped over a central concrete vault; a false façade faces the world, and to each side a wing curves out, notionally enclosing the façade within an exhedra and serving as a sort of terrace wall for the mound. Very normal: figure 2 offers a photograph and drawings of a similar monument in Paxtang Cemetery in Paxtang, PA..
I will also concede that there are signs that this mausoleum was designed to fit within the sphere of Egyptian Revival architecture. The battered (inclined) walls of the sides of the façade are an obvious start as are the two obelisks standing sentry beside the door. The cavettos marking the roofline and the line of the arc over the door are also from this tradition, as are the modified astragals which are made to look like running bundles bound with cord. You can see both worked into the capital atop the end of the right-hand wing (figure 3):
I trust you notice the masterful misalignment of the capital over the block supporting it. You can see something of what the architect intended in the fine work above the door of the Tinius Olsen mausoleum in Bala Cynwyd (figure 4).
The Tinius Olsen cavetto is carved with stylized lotus flowers, ubiquitous in Egyptian revival architecture. I dare say that the curved verticals that run through the spooney mausoleum’s cavettos are echoing this kind of design in a very stylized, etiolated way. That they are grouped into bunches makes me think that Spooney was mentally envisioning triglyphs from Greek Doric design (figure 5).
OK, so Spooney was eclectic. The mausoleum was also designed to be built cheaply, concrete vaulting with a mound being a fraction of the cost of cut blocks throughout. But I ask you to find for me another mausoleum in the Egyptian revival style that exhibits those weird curves—let’s just call them friezes—over the door and at the roof line. Let’s take a closer look, shall we (figure 6)?
Thinking about the shape of the façade, and noting the very obvious ashlar construction, I suspect that it was meant to be viewed as a truncated obelisk, echoing (or echoed by) the sentry obelisks at the door. But those curving friezes are unique in my experience of the Egyptian revival. You can see how the arches were constructed: the one over the door is a true arch, whereas the one at the roofline is constructed of two blocks at the ends which are extensions of the rectilinear ashlar blocks below them, and the central three blocks are arched in shape but must extend back in a rectilinear shape that allows them to sit stably on the course below. Close observation will show you how the forces involved are slowly pushing the façade apart, most visibly in the daringly cantilevered edge blocks—you can see blue sky in the joint on the right. But maybe there is a certain method to Spooney’s madness.
You see the shape of the stylized lotus flowers in the grate of the door to the Foerderer mausoleum in Laurel Hill (figure 7)? And the lines that in a very minimal way indicate petals? This, I think, is the design source for the curve at the roofline of Spooney’s mausoleum. That is to say, not Foerderer’s mausoleum itself, which I’d bet is at a minimum some thirty years younger, but the basic pattern which the bronzeworks has cast into the Foerderer grating. And for that matter, have a look at a capital from the Foerderer mausoleum in perspective from ground level (figure 8).
This is a busy capital, with lotus flowers and palmettes, and maybe stylized acanthus leaves, and finally some mushroom-y things. But the characteristic shape (if not details) of this Egyptian revival capital, and the way the verticals on it diverge when seen in perspective from the ground, also seem like a possible model for Spooney’s work. It is defs cray-cray.
The interior (figure 9) is dreadful and looks like a wandering horde of Visigoths went through. The cheap iron fittings and bare concrete reveal the inadequate budget.
The lack of any identifying features on the exterior practically guarantees that this is, or was, the receiving vault for temporary storage of bodies in anticipation of burial. A little research reveals this surmise to be true. Here, for example, is the description (with which I do not fully agree) in Glenwood’s application for the National Historic Register (figure 10). A photograph of this structure, omitted here, accompanies the description.
This of course explains the cheap construction: the cemetery paid for it, and they did not lay out big bucks for a temporary shelter for bodies. Of course, this was expensive in absolute terms; just not designed, fitted out, and finished like the standard plutocrat’s mausoleum. Lest I seem uncharitable, I should freely admit that those unheard-of curved friezes are a noble attempt to achieve originality in the design.