Figure 1. Decker mausoleum. Floral Park Cemetery, Binghamton, N.Y. Photo: author.

There are a number of interesting cemeteries in Binghamton, pride of place going to Spring Forest. But on a recent visit to Floral Park we were treated to a number of arresting mausolea and monuments. The Decker mausoleum (figure 1), for example, is a streamlined Doric temple, a Romanized version of the Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi (figure 2, ignore the red rectangles).

I’ve written about Doric temple architecture more than once at Syngrammata; the Decker mausoleum allows me to come at the topic again, from a slightly different perspective. If you know nothing about the Doric, you might want to read one or the other of the essays linked above before proceeding with this one.

Figure 2. Athenian Treasury. Delphi, Greece. Photo: Dennis A. Jarvis. CC-BY-SA 2.0. Wikimedia Commons.

To begin with, the Treasury is an adaptation of the Doric temple; American funerary architecture amply proves that you can build a pretty nice fully-fledged marble Doric temple at the scale the Athenians chose to build their treasury. But the point of Doric temples as an object of civic expenditure was to impress, so they tended to be large. The treasury was needed for a different purpose and for a different sort of space, on the Sacred Way in Delphi. So the architect adapted the Doric temple.

Figure 3. Ziegler mausoleum. Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx, N.Y. Photo: author.

Now, the Ziegler mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery (figure 3), like the Parthenon in Athens, is peripteral, that is, it has columns around all 4 sides. The treasury architect kept expensive columns to a minimum, and cheaper ashlar (squared-off) blocks have been used wherever possible. Creativity often flourishes within constraints, and the small treasury, while harking back to Doric temples, admirably served its purpose as a little treasury of objects dedicated to Apollo. Still, the remnants of comparatively costly external decoration can be seen in the entablature above the columns: three-element triglyphs and the square metopes between them, and some real money was spent on reliefs, still partly visible, in the center of the metopes.

Just as the Treasury of the Athenians compressed the Doric to a modest scale, the Decker mausoleum has squashed and streamlined the basic Treasury design to make it even easier and cheaper to build. See for example the blank registers (and DECKER) that replace the entablature. The slate wall enclosing the plot is a curious deviation from the feel of Greco-Roman style, and may have been added later, to judge by the curb below it, visible on the left.

This general form, as adapted from the Athenian treasury, is small enough to be comparatively inexpensive while still being grand enough to serve as an impressive mausoleum in an average cemetery. In fact, the basic form is so well suited to mortuary practice that it has regularly been altered to render it into styles quite different from classical, and handsomely, at that, as in the Sansbury mausoleum in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C. (figure 4).

Figure 4. Sansbury mausoleum. Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

It has also been adapted to the ultra streamlined style favored by the recent cheap-but-not-inexpensive school of mausoleum building (figure 5).

Figure 5. Shield mausoleum. Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, VA. Photo: author.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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