During my recent visit to Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky, I came across the Hiatt Park Hepburn (1819-1864) monument (figure 1). It has a theme one does not too often see, especially for a nineteenth-century monument.

Figure 1. Hepburn monument. Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, KY. Photo: author.

A shoreline with palms and tropical weeds looks out at a passing schooner. The flora is anchored in rocks, and the monument as a whole has an imaginary base made of fitted stones.

Figure 2. Hepburn monument. Rear with inscription. Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, KY. Photo: author.

On the rear is the inscription (figure 2):

of San Francisco California.
Son of
Born in Northumberland County PA.
23d of February 1815.
1st of May 1864.

Preston’s wife, Susan Preston Hepburn (1819-1897), is buried here, too, though she gets no mention on the monument. Except, that is, for her monogram on the base, SPH. Hepburn was her second husband; her first was Howard Farrar Christy, 1814-1853). Susan was #Confederate, devoting herself in her later years to various confederate causes. Her brother, William Preston (1816-1887) served in Congress (for Kentucky) before the war, and during the war he returned from his position as ambassador to Spain to join the rebs. He rose to the rank of Major General, and served a stint in the state house of representatives about the time reconstruction started falling apart.

Figure 3. Hepburn monument. Carved lyre and books atop monument. Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, KY. Photo: author.

Atop the monument, carved in the marble, are several books, a lyre, and, under all and extending out over the framework of the tropical view, is what looks like a document. I couldn’t make out any of the titles, but it seems to me that the collection as a whole signifies that Hepburn was a studious, or at least bookish and cultivated, man.

So, our man was from Pennsylvania, lived long enough in San Francisco that he was said on his tombstone to have been “of” that city, and died in Louisville in May 1864. I don’t find much else about him, though there is a suggestive entry in the alumni list for 1836 at the Dickinson College website: “Hepburn, Hiatt P. (c1815-c1880) [LL. B.].” I note that as national distances go, even for the first half of the 19th century, Dickinson College, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, is but a stone’s throw from that state’s Northumberland County. Those books and lyre might be taken to point to a liberal education.

There’s no telling if the distant tropical shore had some biographical significance for Hepburn. Might the ship be meant to represent his trip to San Francisco via outlandish tropical places in those years before the transcontinental railroad made the trip comparatively easy? On the other hand, the image of a ship visiting a distant shore could have connotations of the afterlife; but while this may be the case, I’d expect such a conventional idea to be expressed, well, conventionally, and not in a one-off product of a reasonably good cutter. On the third hand, the symbols of culture atop the monument include a lyre, which is purely symbolic and clearly not rigorously biographical, so symbolic representation is clearly within this monument’s wheelhouse.

Nikon Z 7ii with Nikkor Z 24-200 mm f/4-6.3 lens.

Figure 1. 66 mm, f/8, ISO 200, 1/60 s.
Figure 2. 58 mm, f/8, ISO 200, 1/60 s.
Figure 3. 38 mm, f/8, ISO 200, 1/60 s.

Edited with Apple Photos.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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