The fanciest shrine to a baby I’ve yet seen stands in Renaissance-style glory in Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (figure 1). Mine is a double-edged pun title, for not only is this tower a shrine to a baby, but it turns the Babel of King James back into the Babyl of Babylon.

Figure 1. Harris monument. Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA. Photo: author

The monument serves the Harris family, commemorated in the many marble tickets inserted into the base. I fear I don’t know who the baby is: there was a couple necking on the other side and I didn’t want to disturb them.

Figure 2. Harris monument. Detail of altar with baby atop. Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA. Photo: author

Figures 2 and 5 show the baby, who reclines in heroic sleep, in better detail. The ivy symbolizes faithfulness and/or immortality. The form of the plinth on which the baby’s little mattress with pillow sits is an altar. The baldacchino above is in high renaissance style—it looks like it’s out of a Raphael painting with its finicky geometry.

As I see it, the commissioner(s) of this monument wanted us to look upon this monument and despair: it’s a project for sure, an oversized expression of grief fueled by self-regard and family wealth. Still, I can’t quite figure out what the overall narrative here is. Is it an artistic apotheosis of the child? Is the child an offering? Is it just putting the child on a pedestal, as people say when someone has outsized or off-key regard for someone else?

Bables him(her?)self is not bespoke. I have seen another replica in Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland, as a part of the monument of Laurie and Willie Bartlett (1872-1874: figures 3-4).

The Green Mount baby’s date will be approximately correct for the Woodlands baby, both on stylistic grounds and from the context of latter nineteenth-century burials in this section of the Philadelphia cemetery.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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