Figure 1. Harrington mausoleum. West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, PA. Photo: author.

The Harrington mausoleum in West Laurel Hill (figure 1) is quite a long way along the path from early 20th century neoclassicism towards modernism. Classical elements have been pared away and etiolated to the point that columns which might have framed the doorway are reduced to flat etched geometrical lines, the capitals now simple quadratic floral designs, the architrave a mere line marked by little cubes like dentils. Of course, the artist has buried Latin crosses in the art deco floral capitals—it’s almost impressionistic the way a column is evoked.

Figure 2. Harrington mausoleum. Detail: door and frame. West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, PA. Photo: author.

Figure 2 gives greater detail and reveals that the door, while it has little panels with florals or crosses, reads at any distance like an abstract geometric pattern of horizontals and verticals like a mesh with door frames around the mesh and rectangular panels at every crossing of a vertical and a horizontal. The architect has played in dividing the verticals and horizontals into striated bands of smaller lines, and the horizontals pick up the horizontal “flutes” of the notional columns framing the door. Again, the top panels, with their crosses, pick up and echo the panels forming the “capitals” of the columns.

Figure 3. Harrington mausoleum. Detail: partial interior with window and portrait. West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, PA. Photo: author.

And if you thought there was the least possibility that these design elements fell into place by chance, see how they have been systematically repeated in the stained glass window (figure 3), which I regret I was unable to photograph in its entirety. But in any event, the panels here mirror and echo those on the door.

Needless to say, my interest is focused on what seems to be the funerary portrait of a junior member of the Harrington family (figure 4).

Figure 4. Harrington mausoleum. Detail: funerary portrait. West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, PA. Photo: author.

Before getting to the portrait itself, I have to ask aloud, what on earth is going on with this girl’s papal tiara with the triple crown and lappets? This is the oddest portrait I’ve yet seen, I think. I suppose that cone atop could be a mass of coiled hair.

In any event, this female face is oval with a pointed chin. The shape of the face betrays no signs of age. The mouth has large lips in a gentle smile, the nose is straight and long; the eyes are gently closed. The head is cast down slightly and lightly averted to the right. Large chunky locks fall onto the forehead from the cone of hair above, with a broad fork over the nose. Locks hide almost all of both ears, and long locks fall, one on each side, to the shoulders in mannered curves that recall traditional depictions of ribbons notionally flapping in the breeze as a decorative element.

With the exception of the bangs and the two curving locks mentioned, the hair has been gathered into a thick mass and coiled above the head, held in place by a wide ribbon coming round the head just above the forehead. The end of the ribbon are the lappets I mentioned above.

The figure has a low neckline and wears a three-piece pendant on a (maybe) pearl necklace. The impression of youthfulness is supported by the cut of the dress and the undeveloped bust. There is a rose at the center of the neckline which may carry the idea of life cut short (the rose broken or cut from its stem is a cliché for this idea). The dress tightly wraps the torso below the bust, and the figure is trimmed in a V shape of diagonals that descend from just outside the shoulder down to about the bottom of the sternum.

Avery D. Harrington was born in 1858 took on several careers (including a 4-year stint as a public school principal in Delaware), before he became an attorney, and died in 1925. The death certificate at ancestry dot com says he was taken to West Laurel Hill. His wife, Emma, died in 1933. West Laurel Hill has a record stating that Avery Harrington was buried in 1937. Harrington had a public school in Philadelphia, at 53rd and Baltimore, named for him in 1928.

There was an Avery Draper Harrington, jr., who was born in 1899 and went to Swarthmore. There, as a junior in 1922, he was quoted saying, “a crank is a little thing that makes revolutions,” in The Halcyon, which was the junior year yearbook. I note with approval that he was in the Classical Club. He became a doctor and died in 1969. The latter’s son, Louis Draper Harrington, born 1939, was a judge. Louis’s wedding announcement in the Friends Journal for 01 August 1966 states that he and his parents were Quakers based at the Lansdowne, PA, Meeting. It seems he is still alive and living in Rockville, MD. Hi, Louis! What’s up with the portrait in the family mausoleum? He had several children. Nowhere do I find a likely, prematurely dead female member of the family listed.

My guess, based solely upon the dates, is that Avery Harrington, jr., caused the mausoleum in question to he built when his mother died, and when it was finished had his father, who had been buried at West Laurel Hill in 1925, exhumed and put in the mausoleum with her. Certainly the 1937 date fits with the etiolated Art Deco style. The style of the portrait bust seems to me to long antedate the building of the mausoleum; this comes as close as I can find to the scenario where a descendant removed an ancestral bust to the family crypt.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Arlington, VA

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: