Episcopal Cemetery in Elizabeth City, N.C. (est. 1828), offers a study in mid-nineteenth century cast-iron precinct rails for cemetery plots. Figure 1 shows the Grandy plot, which is very old-school and conservative.
The rail is economical in its use of iron, and the spear points are thoughtfully guarded by ornamental loops. You can see the gate in the background on the right. You may not have noticed the footnote to the inscription to the oddly named Lesceles Grandy (figure 2). She died in the terrible Windsor Hotel fire in NYC of 17 March 1899. From the Washington Evening Times casualty list:
“Miss LESCELES GRANDY, thirty-five years old, of Washington, D. C., died at the East Fifty-first Street police station.”“Sixteen surely dead and many missing,” Evening Times, 18 March 1899.
What the Washington, D.C. Evening Times saw fit to print about her life can be read in an excerpt at the bottom of this post.
Bumping complexity up a notch is the Knox precinct, whose rail has posts in the image of stripped tree trunks, a common symbol of death borrowed from the rustic sphere (figure 3).
The corners are rather larger stumps which were assembled out of more than one piece: the tops fit into the hollow casting of the lower part, as in the rear right post in figure 3.
See, too, how all of the lesser posts are identical and have been affixed to the iron bars of the rail in an identical orientation, highlighting the artifice. Second, you can see the rail of the precinct behind the Knox one which had a delicate repeating lyre pattern in the iron with a sort of fleur-de-lis above each. And lastly, you can see how in this hurricane plagued low country little concrete vaults or heavy ledger stones are very common to keep water from surfacing coffins.
This headstone, to an unfortunate child who died at only 3 months, offers me the tentative name Knox for this precinct and its tentative mid-nineteenth century date. There’s a much later Appleby monument in the precinct, but that will have nothing to do with the rail. Three things to admire about little William’s monument: the variety of fonts, in best mid-nineteenth century style; the cutter’s hand; and the fine constellation of willow, broken rose, and table tomb in the lunette atop.
The precinct rail is now in dire condition, but a good faith effort was made at some point to repair it with rebar (figure 5). It’s also possible to see the top of the end post snuggled into the lower portion about a hand’s width above the top rebar rail. I offer two more views so you can get a feel for the structure, and what remains of it (figures 6, 7).
The Saunders family likewise erected a precinct rail constructed out of prefabricated identical elements with a natural theme. In fact, it’s meant to be a hedge or perhaps more likely, vines on a short trellis (figure 8).
The main posts are meant to be stakes holding the hedge up (figure 9):
If you look closely at the top of one of the posts in figure 9, you can see that it’s been cast in the form of a wooden post that’s been lopped short with axe strokes. In figures 10 and 11 you can see the post with adjacent vine panels, and the hollow inside portion of the cast panels, respectively.
You know me well enough by now that you’re expecting the best for last, and you’re right: the astonishing Lawrence precinct (figure 12).
Those are tassles (in iron, of course) hanging from cruciform plates cast with the ‘all-seeing eye’ on them (figure 13). It is nothing short of astounding to me to see the famous Victorian taste for rich, overstuffed, velveted interiors brought in this way to the outdoors. It’s just great. And the all-seeing eye is a fabulous touch. I also admit that the chains hang in a pleasingly symmetrical way with nice catenaries between the tassles.
The most legible monument in this be-tassled precinct is a ledger stone to two family daughters, Sarah (1835-1844) and Ann (1838-1848), who died at ages nine and ten, respectively. This happened in the 1840s, and I tentatively date the precinct border to this period.
A final image (figure 15) shows a portion of the chain with two tassles that has fallen to the ground and lies in magnificent decay among the dying late-November grass and fallen leaves.
Here is the potted biography of Lesceles Grandy from the Evening Times of 18 March, 1899.
Miss Lesceles Grandy, who died in New York last night as a result of injuries sustained in the Windsor Hotel fire, was well known in the social circles of Washington, having for the past twelve years made her home in this city. She was a daughter of Judge Grandy, a prominent jurist of North Carolina, and was a sister of Harrison Grandy, who recently graduated from the Columbian University Law School. Miss Grandy was born In Elizabeth City, N. C., about thirty-two years ago, where she made her home until the death of her father. She was educated in the best schools of this country and a [illegible word] completed her education in Paris. At the death of her father. Miss Grandy came into possession of a large fortune, which she invested in Washington real estate. Her home was at 1023 Connecticut Avenue, and was for years known as one of the most hospitable homes in Washington. Miss Grandy was devoted to travel and spent almost every summer in Europe. Her home was filled with old world curiosities and her collection of bric-a-brac is considered one of the finest in this city. Although not a society woman Miss Grandy numbered among her friends some of the best known residents of the District and was prominently identified with several women’s clubs. Her afternoon teas were famous as the rendezvous of women conspicuous in literary, artistic and social circles. When a Times reporter visited the late home of the deceased today, it was found to be in charge of servants who had not heard of her sad death. One of her friends stated that Miss Grandy left Washington for New York Saturday purely on a pleasure trip and had intended to return next Wednesday. “Miss Grandy was an utterly charming woman,” said she, “and her death is a great shock to her large circle of friends in this city.” Her mother had only recently returned to North Carolina after having been with her daughter in this city during the winter season. Harrison Grandy, a brother of the deceased, had lived with his sister until a few weeks ago, when he left for his home in Elizabeth City to engage in the practice of law. No detailed information has been received by any of Miss Grandy’s friends in Washington regarding her sad death, and It is not yet known what disposition will be made of the body.The Evening Times, page 1. 18 March 1899. (Washington, D.C.)