A Pickelhaube is a type of helmet worn since the nineteenth century by soldiers, police, and many others. It was most famously used by the Prussian (and later German imperial) army—it is the ‘pointy-top helmet’, which is just about what Pickelhaube means in German. If you’re about my age, you may remember it from the closing credits of Hogan’s Heroes (figure 1).
The Pickel, or spike, is meant to hold a horsehair or feather crest on the top of the helmet in dress uniform, not to kill your enemies by butting them in the stomach.
All of the foregoing is a prelude to one of the strangest funerary monuments I’ve ever seen, that of George Louis Everbach (1888-1892), son of George L. (1842-1929) and Katie M. (1869-1921) Everbach, in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky. George senior was born in Baden-Württemberg, a modern state of Germany that includes historically Prussian territory (Hohenzollern). This information we owe to Find-a-Grave, as well as the fact that George junior died of diphtheria.
Georgie is the subject of a full-length freestanding funerary portrait (figure 2) in full Prussian military uniform of approximately Franco-Prussian War vintage (1870). Online, a Pinterest pin shows uniforms similar to Georgie’s. Several illustrations show soldiers with their blankets worn across their chests like bandoliers; Georgie has an alternate style where the blanket is rolled up tightly and strapped to the top of the backpack.
The carved uniform has been carried through with remarkable consistency. A rifle stands at rest in the right hand, a saber dangles by the left. The Prussian eagle can barely be seen on the worn front of the marble helmet, and the Pickel still stands up (figure 3).
The saber’s scabbard hangs from a belt which also holds a cartridge box suspended by two straps. The backpack straps crisscross the front of the torso, where buttons and collar stand out, as does the belt buckle (figure 4).
The pant legs are tucked into what look like knee-high boots (see, e.g., figure 5). It’s just possible that the pants end at the knee and his bare legs are exposed between socks and shorts.
Still, the face, despite severe weathering, is that of a child (figure 3), and a child’s long hair falls out from under the rear of the helmet. Finally, a sawn-off tree trunk serves as a prop for the statue.
I take an image of a four-year-old child in the U.S. state of Kentucky in full Prussian army garb to be a one-off funerary portrait, as opposed to a generic child-figure of the sort one sees in cemeteries all around the United States. The nearest thing I’ve ever seen is the statue raised to Clarence Mackenzie (1849-1861) in Green-Wood Cemetery in New York City (figure 3).
Mackenzie died in 1861, at the age of 12; he was a drummer boy in the Union Army early in the Civil War. His monument is in crisp cast zinc, which, did we not know it was erected in 1886, would tell us that it was in any event erected long after his death, for these ‘white bronze’ monuments came in during the 1870s. The portrait is looks generic, and it is not lifelike: zinc is not as expressive a material as Georgie’s marble.
But still, Mackenzie was, if young, an actual soldier who died in war. His uniform is a serious, if anecdotal detail from his role in life: he was a soldier. Georgie, at age four, was hardly a soldier even in those long ago days of child labor.
My pet theory is that the military uniform was a gift from George senior that the child loved and in which he was subsequently depicted on his monument. If the pants are in fact shorts and those are not boots on Georgie’s lower legs, I’d say this is a sure thing.
If the uniform is not meant in this playful, childish way, then what? Was George senior so wrapped up in Prussia, or in some role he played in his twenties in the Franco-Prussian War that he had his son improbably depicted—on his tomb, on American soil—as a Prussian soldier? Was this Everbach’s way of competing with the Americans who, at the intervals marking significant anniversaries of the Civil War, were erecting statues and other monuments commemorating their own part in what they viewed as the most important struggle of their time?
The anagraphic and other inscriptions:
ONLY CHILD OF
GEORGE L. AND KATIE M.
MAY 9, 1888
Jan. 14, 1892.
Budded on earth
To bloom in heaven.
The Lord . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
B . . . . a . . o . . . . . do . . g
[not sure about any of this!]
Banner image: “Kaiserliche Zeit,” photo by selbst. Public domain. Wikimedia Commons.