Time to look at some nautical tombstones with an astounding treat at the end.

The “Commodore” (love the scare quotes on your own monument) owned a commercial fleet and celebrates here a ship named for a member of his family (figures 1, 2). If you’ve seen one of these before, it’s likeliest to have been this one, which is a pretty hoary chestnut as these things go. The ship is a barque, I believe.

Another barque for Captain R.A. Wamack in Hollywood Cemetery. His square sails at the top are not quite fully open, so stiff is the breeze. But the sheets are nice and crisp on this stone even though it’s weathered, and the pennants are drawn rightly with the breeze, which is coming at us. It’s not clear to me that the Thornton flags aren’t shown trailing the mast. The treatment of the water is very suggestive here.

Figure 4. Nikolaos Charokopos monument. Oakwood Cemetery, Falls Church, VA. Photo: author.

Nikolaos Charokopos either owned or worked on a cargo freighter. I flattened my photo to B&W to minimize my dumb reflection on it.

Lieutenant Commander James Marthon never forgot his touchdown pass in the big game. He was in the rigging of the Hartford, Admiral Farragut’s flagship in the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864 (figures 5, 6, 7). As in, “damn the torpedoes.’ I suppose the guy who takes pot shots at the enemy with a swivel cannon in the crow’s nest is as important as anyone on the ship, but Marthon was not about to let anyone forget it. One can imagine his table talk.

Very interesting is the lengthy, lengthy naval service record on the north face of the plinth. Most interesting of all is the broken column in the form of THAT VERY MAST atop which Marthon was once perched.

But I’ve saved the best for last, Captain Nathan Sargent’s wondrous foundering ship monument with the angel of death blowing the trumpet over it (figures 8-15).

Figure 8. Sargent monument. Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA. Photo: author.

I cannot get enough of this monument. The bow of the foundering ship, in sandstone, is in the last seconds of being overcome by heavy seas (figures 8, 9), and the angel of death sounds a grim blast over it.

The tan sandstone forms a nice contrast with the base in grey granite and the patinated statue. Unfortunately, the sandstone is beginning to spall here and there, though it is otherwise still pretty crisp.

The angel of death does double duty, standing in also as the conventional grieving figure that scatters flowers (or here, laurels, figure 14) at the grave. So, if you see it, in one guise the conceit is that the angel is present at the shipwreck sounding the trumpet, and in the other is present mourning alongside us at the grave. It’s a nice, multivalent conceit.

One should add that there is a metaphorical layer beneath the surface. The foundering ship is the dying (or dead) mortal—in this case Sargent—overcome not by the inexorable sea but by equally implacable death. In fact, Sargent did not go down with his, or anyone else’s ship but died a natural death on land, proving that the entire conceit must be read primarily on this metaphorical level.

The statue is signed by the talented and ubiquitous Hans Schuler, whose work can be seen in profusion in Baltimore cemeteries. He signs the statue 1911, 4 years after Sargent’s death, and accordingly we must give credit, I think, to his excellent wife Isabel Hill Sargent for commissioning this splendid and astounding monument.

Appendix I. The Grewe monument, Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown, N.Y.

Figure 16. Grewe monument, 1969. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Tarrytown, N.Y. Photo: author.

Grewe lasted into the age of jets, so the ship is purely metaphorical, bound for a distant shore.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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