Figure 1. Spencer monument. Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

The Henry Caleb Spencer monument (figure 1) boldly declares that he and his wife Sarah Andrews Spencer have “entered the life beyond.” He entered in 1891, she in 1909.

I therefore posit that she was responsible for the texts, and happily, all he gets is anagraphic data and this head-scratcher:

“The kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of uses.”

Which I’m sure it is, but for herself Sarah pulled out the stops: “author, educator, philanthropist.” So she got the last word, which the wives on these monuments rarely do.

Even when the men die first, their grandly formatted anagraphic data and laudations too often crowd the wife’s inscription into a comparatively small space underneath. Figure 2 gives a comically extreme example, where the wife’s claim to fame entails repetition of the name of the husband

CENTERED AND IN CAPITAL LETTERS.

Figure 2. Foster monument. Union Cemetery, Leesburg, VA. Photo: author.

The handsome monument in figure 1 betrays a heavy emotional investment in the rustic rock-face style, with nice crisp drafted margins setting the rustication off. But what makes the monument worthy of a second look is the wondrous little gate on the obelisk “beyond which,” presumably, they “entered life.” One imagines it is meant to be a literal representation of the gates of heaven. Here’s a closer view (figure 3):

Figure 3. Spencer monument. Detail: gates of heaven. Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

The gates have little hinges, and spherical finials on the posts—heaven apparently mirrors gilded-age American style. There are even wee little steps up to the gates. This is the sort of thing Rudolf Bultmann was at pains to eliminate with his Entmythologisierung project, which Sarah did not live to see (much less imbibe). I count this very much to our good fortune, since the mythology is three-fourths of the fun, and Glenwood without such a wee gate would be desolate.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Arlington, VA

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