The corner problem

The handsome Rouss mausoleum in Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Winchester, VA, is a fine, attentively designed version of a Greek Doric temple (figures 1, 2). Built after Rouss died in 1902, it varies in a dozen ways from the most refined examples of the 5th century, BCE, yet it feels right in a dozen more. Its squat proportions feel right; the view along the side colonnade feels right; the carrying through of the architrave, roof, and steps also feels about right. Yet it exhibits an inherent defect that even the best architects of the great age of Greece could not rigorously eliminate.

As I understand it, among the rules that govern Doric architecture there are two that evolved to contradict one another. They are sometimes explained through an appeal to the wooden forerunners that preceded the great stone examples of the classical age (roughly the 5th century, BCE: see, e.g., figures 3, 4). It proceeds from the notion that the triglyphs—the grouped sets of three verticals in the band above the columns—represent what were once in olde tymes the ends of beams made of bundled boards that supported the roof trusses. So rule number one, to make sure there was proper weight distribution, was that a triglyph had to be centered over a column center. Achieving this was no problem, because since in that remote time the triglyph had been the head of the wooden beam, centering it over the column automatically centered the weight over the column.

By the time we reach the stone architecture of the classical period this business had become a memory at best, but the rule was conservatively kept in this religious environment. So the triglyph pattern remained, now merely carved bosses on the blocks running along the architrave. Since in a practical sense they were merely decorative, there was no problem in having a triglyph fall right between two columns: the point was to maintain aesthetics, so we want the triglyphs to be evenly spaced, and if you’ve done everything right, the spaces between the triglyphs (metopes) should be square.

But stone required the architrave blocks to be rather wider than the triglyph: they’ll split and fall if they’re too thin or the space they have to span between columns is too long (see the discussion below around figure 9). This means that when you look at the corner, if a triglyph in stone were centered over the column, the block running down the temple away from you would be sitting with its center of mass slightly inward from the corner. This causes a momentum arm and there is a force trying to topple the block.

Figure 5. Diagram illustrating solutions to the Doric corner problem. Creator: CC-BY-SA 3.0; CC-BY-2.0; GFDL. Wikimedia Commons.

Aesthetics rather than some residual sense of how wooden forebears were constructed gave rise to the second of these two rules: a triglyph must fall right at each corner of the building. The Rouss mausoleum (figures 1, 2) favors rule one over rule two. You of course see that since the mausoleum is so small the architect has widened the intercolumniation at the front door to get coffins (and living people) in; that’s immaterial to this discussion.

Figure 6. Doric corner solution. Dublin, IE. Photo: author.

Figure 5 offers a diagram created by, a contributor to Wikimedia Commons from Germany. The diagram does a good job of showing the ideal situation with wooden beams (I); the problem resulting when the triglyph is slid to the corner, leaving a big last elongated metope (II); another early solution in which the final triglyph is comically enlarged to give at least the impression that it is centered over the column (III); the classical solution, which again plays with visual impressions, in which the outermost column is slightly closer to the penultimate one than all the rest are to one another, thus reducing the scale, and thus too the scale of the disharmony at the corner (IV); and the Roman solution which was just ‘what the hell leave half a metope at the end’ (V).

The Mt. Hebron architect has adopted the Roman solution (figures 1, 2). So has the Dublin architect in figure 6, whereas William Playfair, architect of the Royal Scottish Academy building in Edinburgh, has pushed the triglyph out to the corner (figure 7).

Figure 7. William Henry Playfair, Royal Scottish Academy, 1822-26. Detail: corner problem solution. Edinburgh, UK. Photo: author.

Playfair has followed the second rule over the first, preferring the closure offered by the end triglyph, but not (to my eye) adjusting visually to disguise the problem. The same solution, but with weirdly proportioned metopes, was adopted by the architect of the Ulrich mausoleum in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. (figure 8).

Figure 8. Ulrich mausoleum, 1842. Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

Likewise the architect of the (in many respects fine) Brademas mausoleum (c. 2016), also in Congressional Cemetery (figure 9).

Figure 9. Brademas mausoleum, c. 2016. Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

This last offers a nice opportunity, because unlike the Greeks, the Brademas architect has allowed us to see the width of the triglyph compared to the width of the block it’s on, which is at the root of the Greeks’ corner problem. Don’t be fooled by the fact that the block appears not to be centered over its column: in this particular case, the porphyritic granite is strong enough to make irrelevant the practicalities the Greeks had to respect.

Figure 10. Van Ness mausoleum, 1833. Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

Of course, even a dog can solve the corner problem for a tholos like the Van Ness mausoleum in Oak Hill in Georgetown (figure 10). Canine wile would have sufficed for the following (figures 11-15) which render the problem moot by progressively emptying the form of its content. In figure 11 the architect is trying to do other things that are genuinely interesting.

Figures 14 and 15 show etiolated forms in which cost-saving streamlining has progressed far into the void. I am genuinely unable to be sure whether the Tom mausoleum (figure 15) is meant to be Doric or Ionic. It’s dreadful either way, and I have reprehended its architect here under the assumption it was meant to be Ionic.

Here, as a palette cleanser after the Tom mausoleum, is the Doric temple of 1899 built by William Ziegler, a baking soda magnate, in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx (figure 16). It is comparably grand to the Rouss mausoleum in figure 1: a little wider, I think, but one column less deep.

Figure 16. Ziegler Mausoleum c. 1899. Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx, NY. Photo: uncredited on Pinterest, linking to the Museum Planet website.

Figure 16 is from Museum Planet, and I found it on Pinterest. I have no right to it, but I think I may use it here for the purpose of commentary under the ‘fair use’ doctrine. There is no credit given on the Museum Planet website for me to cite.

Major General Alexander Macomb

“Died at Washington, the seat of government, 25 June 1841,” reads part of his epitaph. I should think that even in 1841 one wouldn’t have needed to specify that Washington was the “seat of government.” But otiose overdetermination is not why I look at this obelisk (figure 1).

Figure 1. Alexander Macomb monument. Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

Macomb (1782-1841: figure 2) had a distinguished career. Fêted as the “Hero of Plattsburg” for a lopsided victory in the War of 1812, he was named head of the Army, a post he held until he died and was succeeded by Winfield Scott.

Figure 2. Thomas Sully, portrait of Alexander Macomb. West Point Museum, U.S. Military Academy. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.

The obelisk immediately stands out for its riffs on the Greek revival, the Roman models favored by the early republic, and other symbolism on the stone. Unfortunately, the inscription on the marble, in particular, has been practically effaced by time. However, it seems bronze plaques have been affixed preserving the inscriptions on the various faces of the plinth. The rest of the decoration must have been much more striking when it was crisp.

The obelisk, then. It is supported by a molded tray-like base which itself is supported by (are you ready for this) lion’s paws, four of them, practically touching one another because they are so close. Lions’ paws are common as dirt as legs to support objects, and go back to antiquity, but I’ve never seen any as closely spaced as here—it seems daringly out of proportion.

Figure 3. Alexander Macomb monument. Detail: obelisk. Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

As we rise, we see a stylized image of a Roman gladius, or perhaps a fancier version of the U.S. model 1832 Artillery sword (figure 4) then in use by the U.S. army. The sword is stylized to show the federal eagle’s head on the pommel.

Figure 4. U.S. model 1832 Artillery sword. Photo: Daderot. CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.

You can see the scaling of the pommel of the real sword reproduced notionally in the feathers of the sculpted sword. However, I believe that the sword is a piece of military symbolism being put to double duty as a sort of disguised symbolic cross. Attached to the sword by a fillet is a branch of oak, the symbol of Jovian accomplishment. The sword hangs by its belt from the top of the obelisk.

Above the belt is a U.S. flag which has been draped over the tip of the obelisk and hangs down approximately a quarter of its length. One can see the stars on the right side of figure 3. Above that is the most astonishing part of the entire monument, a riff on a Greek ‘Corinthian’ helmet of the classical age (figure 5).

The ensemble: flag, helm, short sword, eagle, laurel and oak is repeated on the 1898 Coat of Arms of the U.S. Military Academy (figure 6). It’s not clear to me whether Macomb’s monument is an original pulling together of these elements which got picked up later, or the sculptor received a ready ensemble. In the coat of arms, as on the obelisk, the helmet has a crest puffing above it. Fittingly carrying through the republican imagery on the monument, an eagle bears the crest.

On the front of the plinth is a laurel crown fashioned from two laurel twigs joined by a fillet, a symbol of victory (figure 7).

Figure 7. Alexander Macomb monument. Detail: laurel wreath. Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

The monument thus combines classical symbols appropriate to the democracy of the American republic, and does so within a military context. But there is one final treat on the plinth, on the north-facing side (figure 8). I said that I thought that the sword on the front of the obelisk was a veiled cross. On the north face of the plinth are two symbols, the common enough butterfly, symbolizing new life, and the ouroboros, a decidedly pre-Christian symbol, the snake that eats its tail, symbolizing the cycle of death to life. The idea is infinity.

Figure 8. Alexander Macomb monument. Detail: ouroboros encircling butterfly. Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

Both symbols are unsurprisingly being put to Christian use here but it is interesting to find someone learned enough and confident enough to use an ouroboros. What I mean is that, for example, not infrequently one will find people who go whole hog for a non-Christian-themed monument but then sort of spoil it by “taking the curse off” it: placing obvert Christian imagery on it lest we misapprenend them as (say) crypto-Egyptian polytheists.

Figure 9. Creighton Family monument. Holy Sepulcher Cemetery, Omaha, NE. Photo: author.

Figure 9 offers an excellent example of what I have in mind: the Egyptian Revival column of the founders of Creighton University in Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Omaha, NE. There is some busy-ness with a bespangled, anchor-bearing angel up on top (she’s nicely rendered, if a commonplace), but see how they’ve nervously carved a cross into the shaft of the column—just in case.

Ware ye the steamers!

While not jolly reading, it’s nevertheless interesting—and fairly rare—to hear on a monument of an unusual form of death. In Prospect Hill Cemetery (in D.C.), there is a tombstone of Marion Hays Colerider who was “shot and killed” at the age of 17 on 7 December 1900 (figure 1).

Figure 1. Marion Hays Colerider monument. Prospect Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

But here I am interested in an unexpectedly rich vein of ‘steamer deaths’ I’ve come across. We live in an age when mass transportation is so safe that it comes as a shock, actually, to have found three in what I would realistically submit is a limited survey of cemeteries.

Of course, we know about famous steamboat disasters like the catastrophic explosion and burning of the Sultana, loaded to the gills with freed Union POWs, on the Mississippi in late April 1865. But it must have been distressingly common for me to be able to tick off three monuments I’ve come across by chance in my random search through cemeteries.

Figure 2. John Fowle monument. Presbyterian Cemetery, Alexandria, VA. Photo: author.

BORN NOV. 3, 1789,
APRIL 25, 1838.

Figure 3. John Brown monument. Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Boston, MA. Photo: author.


Figure 4. Evening Sun Newsboys Band monument. Loudon Park Cemetery, Baltimore, MD. Photo: author.
Figure 5. Evening Sun Newsboys Band monument. Loudon Park Cemetery, Baltimore, MD. Detail: Inscription. Photo: author.

– – – –
– – – – –

— — — Bonus! — — —

Just today (31 August 2019) I found another in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. (figures 6, 7).

Figure 6. Latrobe monument for George Kinnard, 1836. Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.


Figure 7. Latrobe monument for George Kinnard, 1836. Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Detail: Secondary inscription recording cause of death. Photo: author.

His death was
occasioned by the
explosion of a boiler
of a Steam Boat
on his Journey
to his Seat in

John Alexander Joyce Monument

“Poet, Soldier, Philosopher” declares the monument of John A. Joyce in Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C. I figured that this promise, plus the bronze portrait of the man, made his monument worth a second or even a third look.

Figure 1. John A. Joyce monument, Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

There’s a lot going on here. Let’s start with the life-sized, freestanding portrait bust in bronze by Jerome Connor (figure 2).

Figure 2. John A. Joyce monument, Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Detail: portrait. Photo: author.

A shrewd gaze marks Joyce’s features. Through the patina and bits of bronze disease one sees a rectangular face with deep set eyes. The nose is straight but for a bulb at the tip. The face is prominently marked by signs of age: laugh lines on a broad forehead, crows’ feet, pouches under the eyes, prominent naso-labial folds, sagging cheeks, heavy jowls, a double chin. The hair recedes at the temples, though it rises in great shocks above the forehead. The signs of age are exacerbated by the markers of corpulence. The ears do not protrude. The chin boss is rounded and prominent. The mouth is mostly hidden by a bushy mustache.

The bust terminates at the breastbone, and the upper torso wears a shirt with a bow tie in the nineteenth-century fashion and a coat with heavy cloth with a prominent roll at the lapels. I do not detect sculpted signs of a vest. The peak lapels suggest a double-breasted coat (which would be well suited to a fat man), and in the buttonhole of the lapel is a boutonniere. Compare it to this photograph taken in about 1910 from the District of Columbia Public Library Commons:

Figure 3. John Alexander Joyce, Photograph c. 1910. Collection of the DC Public Library Commons. No known copyright restrictions.

The overall effect of the bust portrait is of a man scrutinizing something up with which he will not put. The bottom of the portrait is molded into a sort of little plinth which has an inscription—more on that in a moment.

Someone attempted to frame the head of the bust against a dark granite slab behind it (figures 1, 2). It showed foresight to see that the dark stone would set off the patinated bronze well, since the bust was probably a very dark color when installed. Unfortunately, the bust stands on a molded plinth of pink granite, a reverse cavetto over a torus followed by a rectilinear taenia. Somehow, the measures are such that under normal viewing conditions the top of the portrait breaks the frame and gets lost in the background shrubbery. The upper arms of the bust also break the frame.

Speaking of the frame, it somewhat cryptically features four incised words: on the left, truth and nature, on the right , justice and science.

Under the pink granite plinth and the black granite slab of the frame sits a large dado in darkish-gray granite which bears long inscriptions and served as a base for the portrait. below that is a rough-hewn foundation stone. The slightly souped-up anagraphic inscription:

BORN JULY 4, 1842
DIED JAN. 18, 1915

Very basic research turns up that he was born in Ireland, and after arriving in the USA grew up in West Virginia and Kentucky. He had a storied career in the Union Army in the Civil War, rising to the rank of Colonel. I say “storied” because he wrote a book (one of several) about it, Jewels of Memory (1896, figure 4). He moved to Washington after the war and earned a law degree. He worked for the IRS, which may not be a commendation in everyone’s book. His house was at 3238 R St. NW, in Georgetown, a stone’s throw from the Cemetery. The DC Writers’ Homes website, which I am shamelessly cribbing, says the house was also inhabited at one point by U.S. Grant.

Figure 4. Frontispiece and title page of Jewels of Memory, second edition, by John A. Joyce (1896). Internet archive, open library.

In figures 3 and 4 it becomes plain that we probably ought to envision Joyce in a vest under his coat; the artist’s choice to have the coat buttoned higher even that in figure 4 explains why it can’t be made out in the bust. In any event, the claim to soldier can be accepted on the basis of his record. As for philosopher, who can say? Might the term be loosely used for an observer of life? Certainly he was a good raconteur, or at least I am persuaded so by downloading his book and reading the first chapter. But poet? Only if we take “poet” to have been asserted as loosely as “philosopher.”

The plinth which holds the anagraphic inscription also has a quotation of his poetry:

Laugh and the world laughs with you;
Weep and you weep alone.

Joyce monument, Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C.
Figure 5. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, date unknown. Public domain. Wikimedia Commons.

As anyone who has driven the back roads north of Madison Wisconsin knows, this, despite the confidence of putting it on a funerary monument, is not Joyce’s work. It is in fact from the poem Solitude, by the Wisconsin poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox.

This is not auspicious for Joyce. The motto is repeated at the foot of the bronze portrait bust, too. He must have repeated it a lot. But did he pass it off as his own? Or did some well wisher who erected this monument hear it from him so often that he or she made the inference that it was his? In any event, Wheeler was actually kind of a kook, if you think expecting to be contacted by your dead husband, embracing positive thinking, and adopting theosophical views is kooky. If not, then not. The Pedia of Wiki asserts that she is a type of the bad poet, citing Sinclair Lewis’s judgment in Babbitt. I love the poppies embroidered onto her dress in figure 5.

Well, what about the other sides of the monument? Well, on the back, there is the verse, “There is no pocket in a shroud.” I didn’t photograph that. But on the left side (as you look at Joyce’s face), there is a specimen of his product (figure 6).

Figure 6. John A. Joyce monument, Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Detail: poem on left face of base. Photo: author.

My flag, my country and my God
I loved while living on this sod
And through the rolling rushing hours
I cherished truth and fragrant flowers.

No one claims credit for this on the interwebs, and that God-sod couplet would scare me away, even of I could get money from it. What of the right side?

Figure 7. John A. Joyce monument, Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Detail: poem on left face of base. Photo: author.

The Prince and the Peasant
The Preacher and Slave
Are equal at last
In the dust of the grave.

Well, the interwebs doesn’t return anything for this poem other than this monument. Still, it is pretty hoary, if re-dressed for a Christian age, going back at least as far as the Roman poet Horace:

Pallida mors aequo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas
regumque turris

Death’s foot knocks without prejudice at the poor man’s shanty and the king’s tower.

Horace, Odes 1.4.13-14

An anonymous contributor to Find-a-Grave dot com gives the following poem which pretends to be Joyce’s last will and testament:

To my daughters, Libby and Florence
In equal proportions to share
I give all cash and property
When my spirit is soaring in the air.
And appoint Mr. James J. Lampton
To execute this my last will
When I rest ‘neath the bloomy flowers
In lot 444 in Oak Hill.

I cannot find a source for this testamentary poetry on the interwebs, but it is certainly of a piece with the work on his monument. Se non è vero, è ben trovato, as they say.

So, certainly a lively picture of this man emerges from even this brief look at his monument. I get the impression of a man intensely alive, a “character,” half filled with blarney, and uncontrollably observing the world around him in doggerel verse. Somehow I also envision a squirting boutonniere, if they had those things in the Gilded Age.

There once was a man named Joyce,
Whose poem was no Rolls Royce.
When he’d lived through the war
He became quite a bore
And gave vent on his tomb to his vice.

Hmmm. Maybe I’d best not look in the mirror too closely.

Laurel Glen Mausoleum

Anyone wishing to understand portraits in American mausolea must attentively study Laurel Glen mausoleum, the 1881 tomb of John P. Bowman (1816-1891), in Cuttingsville, VT. In this complex are five funerary portraits, all of which appear to have been commissioned by Bowman and put into place before his death.

Below is a general image of the interior (figure 1), the use of which I owe to the great courtesy of J.W. Ocker, who has offered a good, brief description of the complex in his recommended “Odd Things I’ve Seen” blog.

Figure 1. Interior of the Laurel Glen mausoleum, Cuttingsville, VT. Photo: J.W. Ocker, with permission.

I am not interested in the tomb per se here, only the portraits. Still, I can offer you this statement of the extended site’s significance and I can also offer you the article published in the 1902 Monumental News, p. 23 (figure 2):

Figure 2. The Monumental News, 1902 p. 23. Digitized by Google, Internet archive.

An obstructing granite door seen on the right in the Monumental News interior photograph and several mirrors, while they lighten the interior, make it harder to parse. Since the two largest mirrors face one another, they also have an effect of multiplying apparent space in the mausoleum into galleries of portrait busts. This undated stereograph from the architect, G. B. Croff, shows the interior with the obstructing granite door imagined away (figure 3):

Figure 3. Laurel Glen Mausoleum interior perspective, G.B. Croff. Photo: New York Public Library. Free to use without restriction.

The mausoleum’s design is much easier to read this way. It was a rectangular room deeper than wide. Two columns in antis, so to speak, divide an outer half of the room which forms a sort of porch for over half the year when the granite door is open from the penetralia in the rear. The porch holds a bust of Bowman; three family sculptures and the actual crypts are in the rear space: a full-length infant near the center rear, and two mature female portrait busts facing one another and backed by the large mirrors mentioned above, in a formal arrangement on built-in pedestals emerging from each rear sidewall.

The interior has not deviated much from the architect’s original design. The bust of Bowman has been moved to the wall on our left (as we look in) to make it visible when the granite door is open, and the statue of the baby has been shoved to the left out of the way of Bowman’s inscription.

In fact, the infant statue must inferably have been shifted twice: once when Bowman’s death date was incised and he was immured (1891, you’ll recall, in a mausoleum finished in 1881), and once between the time when the Monumental News photo was taken (about 1902) and when all of the modern photos we see on the interwebs were taken. Perhaps on one of those occasions the workers snapped several fingers and a toe off of the hands of the infant portrait while they were muscling it aside.

Figure 4. Portrait of Addie L. Bowman, Laurel Glen Mausoleum, Cuttingsville, VT. Photo: J.W. Ocker, with permission.

Taking the portraits in order of death, the first is Addie, who died a little over three months old (figure 4). All of the portraits were carved by Giovanni Turini of New York City in “Italian” marble. It looks like Carrara marble to me.

The portrait, in the round, is of an infant aged far more than three-ish months. It is able to sit up and alertly reaches out to be picked up. The face is swathed in baby fat and has the snub nose of a small child. the hair seems rather more developed than that of a three-month-old. It wears a child’s clothing, and the strap of the gown has fallen from the right shoulder as though she were a Venus figure.

The child sits on a cushion from which, in real life, she would instantly have tumbled. The cushion is carved with check-patterned cloth and made to look soft. Given the age discrepancy, this image is either generic, that is, out of a pattern book, or was summoned from the artist’s imagination, perhaps with the aid of a model. Hereinafter I will refer to it as a “portrait,” since it is meant to serve as one.

We turn now to the portrait on the left rear of the mausoleum as we look in (figures 5, 6). This is Ella (1856-1879), the dead elder daughter, as two lines of evidence suggest. First, the features, while none too visible in either of the details of the photo Mr. Ocker provided, appear youthful, with no obvious folds in the flesh around the nose mouth, or eyes. The hair is worn long, which might also signify youth. Secondly, there is a website, Vermont Deadline, which interests itself in ghostly manifestations. On a page devoted to Laurel Glen the author publishes photos of Ella, Jennie, and Bowman himself.

If you look at the Vermont Deadline photograph of Ella, you will see that it is none other than the photograph from which the portrait was (posthumously) carved. Besides the similarity of the facial features, there is the unmistakeable octopus of curls emerging from her forehead, the row of buttons down the right lapel of her coat, and the riffle of (I guess) lace at her neck. In figure 6 you can see some of Addie’s “portrait” and Ella’s portrait bust, both reversed because they are reflected in a mirror.

Comparing the photograph with the bust, you can also see that the sculptor Turini reproduced in marble the brocaded texture of Ella’s dress. He’s signed the cut under her right shoulder, but it’s not legible in any photograph I’ve seen.

Figure 7 offers a closer view of Ella’s bust, revealing another bust visible in the mirror behind her (see figure 7): the oblique reflection of the portrait bust of Bowman’s wife, Jennie (1824-1880).

Figure 7. Jennie E. Bowman portrait in mirror behind Ella Bowman portrait, Laurel Glen mausoleum, Cuttingsville, VT. Photo: JW Ocker, with permission.

The bust is notable for its crimped collar (see the row of short verticals running down the front). We are lucky that Croff published an entire set of stereographs of the tomb to publicize his work, for among them is a direct view of Jennie’s bust (figure 8). I am indebted to Historic New England for permission to use this photo.

The view has been cunningly staged so that the mirrors reveal all three of the adult portraits (the hideous baby being mercifully covered up). So important was it to the photographer to show all three in the play of mirrors that he’s been forced to show his hand by revealing his camera in reflection. He has directed light into the mausoleum and its reflection in the mirrors diffuses it: you can see it directly hitting Ella’s bust in the large mirror and the side of Bowman’s bust; a stray sliver of light is reflected onto the marble base under Jennie’s bust, too.

Figure 8. Illusion Gallery of Statuary. Interior of Laurel Glen Mausoleum. A magnificent private family Tomb, built at Cuttingsville, Vermont, by John P. Bowman, ESQ. “Memoria in Aeterna” Of a sainted wife and daughters. G. B. Croff, Architect. Courtesy of Historic New England. [Jenny Bowman portrait in center.]

Figure 8 therefore gives an excellent feel for the effect intended by the architect, as was clearly the point. Unfortunately, the Historic New England view is either overexposed or has faded with time; I cannot make out any features of the face too well, but I do see the crimped collar of her coat and the short, close hairdo with curls extending out from a central part. This, too, is seen in the photograph of her published in Vermont Deadline from which the portrait was carved.

Bowman’s two portraits, one the portrait bust we saw in the photographs above (figures 9, 10), the other a full-length and life-sized (figure 11), are fittingly similar to one another in their features. The interior portrait, like such portraits in general, is carved without any great animating emotion. We can infer something about the carving of the two women from the fine treatment of his bust, again by Turini.

His hair is swept forward from the back of his head. Hair from his temples is combed back so that that it meets the hair coming forward from the rear over his ear in a tangle of textured riffles. There is a puff of hair over the forehead in center. The bushy mustache terminates in like riffles. The adipose of the face disguises signs of aging, though he has a prominent sagging jowl, double chin, and pouches under his eyes and small crow’s feet under them. The nose is straight and has a large bulb at the tip. His tall collar tidies up his neck. The ears have a vertical character and are not prominent. The eyebrows are detailed with a little riffle appropriate to such small patches of hair.

Bowman wears a coat in thick, soft cloth. He also wears a bow tie. Looking to the exterior statue for a moment (figure 11), it allows us to see that there is a vest under the coat.

The exterior portrait face (figure 11) manifestly bears the features of the one inside. However the outside one has many applied signs of aging on the rectangular face. There are very prominent naso-labial folds, sagging jowls and cheeks, pouches under the eyes, creases on the forehead, clenched brow, and sunken eyes with now quite prominent crows’ feet.

The figure is portrayed rising up the final steps to the door of the mausoleum, key in right hand, top hat cradled in the crook of his arm, overcoat clutched in his left. Not unexpectedly, the expression is one of sadness.

The statement of the mausoleum’s significance I mentioned above asserts that it was built between 1880 and 1882, and that the mausoleum was begun in July 1880. The interior bust of Bowman has, like Ella’s, an inscription under the right shoulder:
G. Turini
New York

This means that his bust, as Croff’s Interior perspective already suggests, was part of the original design of the tomb. Certainly the exterior portrait, which is integral to the tomb, was. A fortiori, the portraits of the women (and child) must have been, since they actually represented inhabitants of the tomb, which in 1881 he was not.

Already in the summer of 1881 we’re told that 10,000 visitors came to see the tomb. They came, I think, to see a marvel that had been finished, not a chamber without busts. By the time Bowman died, in 1891, the tomb had been standing for about ten years, and ten years after that The Monumental News still found the tomb remarkable enough to do a feature on it.

What I think we can say, then, is that here is an unequivocal, landmark example of American funerary portraits which were consciously carved for funerary purposes both ante- and post mortem. The posthumous portraits were sculpted from photographs, and likely the two of Bowman were, as well. Visitors were encouraged, and in warmer months the tomb was open for viewing. These busts and portraits were conspicuous tokens of mourning and, given the $75,000 (1880 dollars) Bowman spent on the mausoleum and the house across the road, tokens of conspicuous consumption.

Of course, we always knew that some portraits were created specifically for the tomb, because they literally form part of it. Bowman’s exterior portrait is one. We know that at least one company perceived sufficient demand for portraits specifically made for funerary purposes that they paid money to advertise them as a service provided. But busts that you just find in a mausoleum, because of their portability, have some ambiguity about them.

Laurel Glen firmly establishes a category of funerary portrait busts deliberately made for the tomb, as opposed to other possible scenarios such as domestic portrait busts consciously repurposed to funerary use, or family busts that have been “de-accessioned” and dumped in the family crypt to get them out of the way.

I would want to get some mileage out of a costly bust by displaying it publicly in my house while I was still alive before it got relegated to posthumous duty in the tomb. But for John P. Bowman, the mausoleum itself—through its portraits— was a theater of conspicuous mourning and consumption, and that gives us a peek into the later nineteenth-century American psyche.

The cover photo is by J.W. Ocker and used with his kind permission.

Alien skull on Alexandria tombstone!

Not infrequently I am reminded of the grim demographic realities of human life. All people die, even those close to us, and that is painful and grievous.

Yet I find myself consoled by visiting cemeteries: as the cliché goes, when so many better people than I have gone before, can I really be resentful? Still, nothing is as sad as the marker of a dead child, and when you trek through nineteenth-century graveyards you come across the cold stone that must have reflected great grief.

They say that people in those times were fatalistic about child death because it was so common that they were to some degree inured to it. I’m not so sure. A distant collateral relative of mine died at age three in 1866 and his parents invested in a locket with his photograph and a snipping of his blond hair. To judge by the condition of the locket it must have been carried by a parent for the rest of a lifetime. I wrote about him and the locket here.

In Alexandria, in the Presbyterian Cemetery, I saw a stone that equivocally testifies to parental grief. It is the marker of the three dead children of Charles and Honore Pascoe (figure 1):

Figure 1. Tombstone of the children of Charles and Honore Pascoe, Presbyterian Cemetery, Alexandria, VA. Photo: author.

The anagraphic data is clear in the elegant script of the early nineteenth century. William died at age 3 years, 9 months, Charles at 2 years and 7 months, and William (II) at 11 months. They were born in approximately May 1801, March 1804, and October 1806.

The poem in two quatrains below in italic script (figure 2) is not a dialogue, but two separate utterances by the concerned parties.

Figure 2. Pascoe children monument, Presbyterian Cemetery, Alexandria, VA. Detail: quatrains. Photo: author.

The top quatrain is spoken by the two parents to the wayfarer, the bottom by the dead children to the parents:

Here lies three children sweet asleep,
Which brings fresh to our mind,
That die we must, and come to dust,
And leave this world behind.

Weep not for us our parents dear,
We are not dead but sleeping here.
God took us home as he thought best,
And now in heaven our souls doth rest.

This poem is clearly a vernacular product, to judge by the inconsistent rhyming scheme. It was arguably assembled in part from bits and pieces that circulated in the verse equivalents of pattern books: the greatest is Charles Box’s Elegies and Epitaphs, published in 1892 in the UK. For example, “Weep not for us, our parents dear” can be found without the succeeding verses in many places, including in Box. In fact you can see how banal it is by replacing the last four syllables of that verse with the word “Argentina.”

In the first quatrain we have the rhyme of verses 2 and 4 (mind-behind) and the internal rhyme of verse 3 (must-dust). In the second quatrain, we have no internal rhyme but a consecutive pattern AABB (dear-here; best-rest).

The meter in the first quatrain is tetrameter-trimeter-tetrameter-trimeter, in iambs. In the second, it is straight iambic tetrameters (see that heaven is “heav’n”). On the whole, I think the children should have joined the dead poets’ society, because their product is far better than their living parents’.

Figure 3. Skull memento mori, Pascoe children monument, Presbyterian Cemetery, Alexandria, VA. Photo: author.

In the first quatrain, we hear that the death of the children has brought to mind that all must die, we all turn to dust, we leave the world behind. This is as fatalistic as you get, a consolation along the lines of the cliché I referred to at the top. The tombstone’s skull memento mori supports this view completely (figure 3).

But the children insist that their death is really sleep, that God brought them home, and that they’re doing well in paradise. Leaving aside that this is a commonplace, it certainly tries to effect a resolution to the fatalism of the parents. In fact, the parents address the wayfarer, whereas the children evidently interrupt them with the good news.

Put in the best possible light, the parents in despondency have forgotten their faith, and the children remind them of it, appealing to the consolatory power of religion. It’s an extraordinary production, and the crazy skull at the top is not much like a human one. But it does look like an alien skull, as can be seen in this archival footage.

Bennie’s grave

Figure 1. Benjamin Eugitt monument, Bethel Cemetery, Wilkes Street Complex, Alexandria, VA. Photo: author.

DIED DEC. 6, 1888.
In his 21st year.

The anagraphic data’s dull recitation of facts does not prepare us for one of the simplest, most heartfelt codas I can remember seeing on a tombstone (figure 2):

Figure 2. Benjamin Eugitt monument, Bethel Cemetery, Wilkes Street Complex, Alexandria, VA. Detail: coda. Photo: author.

“Oh for the touch of a
vanished hand,
For the sound of a voice
that is still.”

You will immediately notice the quotation marks, and you may be suspicious of the quality of the poetry. In fact, it transpires that this is part of a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Break, Break, Break. We do not need to laboriously go through the meter and rhyming scheme, since there is no doubt about Tennyson’s greatness.

But the two verses here were so obviously adapted to the grief surrounding death that it’s no surprise that there is another monument in Georgia that adopts the verses as shown by S. Lincecum on her Southern Graves website. In fact, a casual search turns up many other nineteenth- and early twentieth-century examples.

I’ve seen a lot of funerary doggerel in recent weeks. “A man’s got to know his limitations,” said Dirty Harry, and man or woman, it’s good to see someone here grabbing something appropriate from a master rather than trusting to their unaided powers.

An amuse-bouche

While you breathlessly await two fairly substantial posts I have in train, here is a little something to keep you going. It’s the Charles Weber (1855-1947) mausoleum in Loudon Park Cemetery in Baltimore (figure 1).

Figure 1. Charles Weber mausoleum, c. 1947. Loudon Park Cemetery, Baltimore, MD. Photo: author.
Figure 2. Charles Weber mausoleum. Loudon Park Cemetery, Baltimore, MD. Detail: damage. Photo: author.

Besides its crazy take on the Ionic order (just what is it with those capitals, for a start), it’s been banged up somewhat (figure 2). The glass in the door has been replaced with a mesh and the bronze door on the right had been vandalized. There is to me inexplicable damage to the pilasters at the edges of the façade holding the door.

However, it’s the photo I took through the mesh replacing the glass on the door that makes it all worthwhile: a manifestation from the other world!

Was the door broken by someone trying to get in . . . . or something trying to get out ???

Figure 3. Charles Weber mausoleum. Loudon Park Cemetery, Baltimore, MD. Detail: interior with terrifying manifestation.

It’s a hatted man with padded shoulders, I believe. AAAAGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Figure 4. Julian Beck as the triply-evil Reverend Kane in Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986). Publicity Photo. Freddie Fields Productions and MGM. IMDB.

Funerary portraits to order

The reader may know that I am looking into American funerary portraits. Searching turns up a fair number of them, but there is always a question of whether portrait statues or busts in the wild were made for the tomb or were repurposed from a domestic setting.

It’s therefore time to touch base with theory, so to speak, to illuminate practice. Let’s have a look at a section (figure 1) of the catalog for white bronze (zinc) monuments made by the Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport, CT. Happily the Smithsonian has digitized the MBC catalog of 1882.

Figure 1. The Monumental Bronze Company catalog, October, 1882, page 16. Detail: advertisement for free-standing portrait bust in white bronze. Internet archive. From the Smithsonian Collection. Public domain.

The resolution is low, so I will reprint the associated text here:

“Sample of life-size Portrait Busts such as we are prepared to model from photos or sittings, and cast in White Bronze for $300, duplicates for $100. Height 29 in. When possible, views of right, back and left sides are desirable, also a few measurements, which will enable the artist to get correct size of head. This already popular method of perpetuating the likeness and memory of individuals, can now be made more attractive than ever before, owing to price, appropriate color, and durability of the material we use. These busts can be placed on our monuments or on those of marble and granite.”

Monumental Bronze Co. catalog, October 1882, p. 16.

MBC dates the beginning of white bronze monuments to the mid-1870s, so this catalog is early in their development. More to the point, it’s clear that there was a demand for funerary portraits to which this catalog responds, and upon which MBC was trying to cash in. Cha-ching!

Here (figures 2-3) are examples of white bronze monuments: once you see their distinctive color, there is no mistaking one. They’re interesting to find, but I think relatively unattractive. See, for example, the unsightly casting seams in the figure on the right in the gallery below (click to enlarge).

I’ve yet to see a white bronze portrait in a mausoleum, or a portrait bust in the round on a white bronze outdoor monument.

Mysteries of Mt. Olivet

Below, and click to enlarge, are images of two astonishing and wonderful mausolea in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Both present mysteries. Let’s dive in.

On the left, both in life and in the gallery above, is the Miller mausoleum (figure 1); on the right, the Frank mausoleum. Where do we start? With the mystery!

The Frank mausoleum does what I would expect in placing the family name atop with that prominent tag, if one must have such a tag. The Miller mausoleum has, by contrast, been rebranded to SALLY’S. This seems to me aggressive, as though Sally had divorced Mr. Miller, gotten the tomb in the settlement, and with some flair taken full possession of it, with her given name atop in the genitive (and again in the nominative below), with ‘Miller’ relegated to the shadows.

Sally appears to be one of those people who prided herself on her profession. That would be palmist-fortune teller, hence the crystal ball and the palm with prominent lines centering her name atop.

Figure 3. Sally [Miller] portrait. Photo: author.

The image of Sally (figure 3) is nicely posed with a rose in her left hand, right hand to chest. The cow print coat is extraordinary. She floats in a general misty background, with three lobes of more opaque mist on each side by her legs. She casts no shadow on these clouds of heaven. The light mist-like stripe on her shins is a reflection of my silver car.

As I read the door, there is a bronze panel of three approximately equal-sized vertical registers set into a frame which has been given a handle to make it appear to be part of a larger door. There’s actually space between the inset panel and the frame which wouldn’t be possible if it were one solid door. Theory: the inner panel opens and coffins can be loaded into exposed shelves foot first, one atop another. There’s no little room inside.

The overall architectural style defies description. Extremely etiolated Greek temple?

Figure 4. Jack and Bessie Frank portraits. Photo: author.

The Franks’ mausoleum is much more staid (figure 4). Their formally dressed images are clearly taken from photos that have been transposed to a colorized treatment on the granite. He wears an old-school three-piece suit with fedora, she a lovely blue dress with pearls and a rose boutonniere. They are depicted in the fullness of age. They both cast shadows on the clouds of mist that surround them. The polished black granite background with white lithic inclusions is just terrific in that it gives the impression of star spangles in the firmament.

Theory: this unusual depiction of an epiphany of the dead indicates the deep cultural influence of the 1982 movie Poltergeist, namely the part where the dead in their burial finest parade down the Freelings’ living room staircase.

Figure 5. Suit coat exhibiting pocket on the left side. Photo: Ingemar A. CC BY-SA 4.0. Wikimedia Commons.

The two Frank mysteries: Jack has a pocket square in his suit coat pocket. It’s on the wrong side; coats do not have breast pockets on the right (figure 5). My answer to that mystery is that Jack’s photo was digitally reversed left to right so that he appears to face toward Bessie. They could have put his image on the right side, but maybe protocol got in the way?

The other mystery is the door. I did not inspect it directly, but it looks very much like it, too, has been created by coloring the marble. The clouds cover its lower quarter, for example, it does not reach down all the way to the porch floor, and the elements of the door look painted on. But the question is: why do we see a seam corresponding to the edge of the door on the lower left as we look at it and at the bottom. Is it possible that the door is slightly inset, i.e., carved a quarter-inch deeper than the surface of the façade? Or is there a “door” that is really more of a removable panel in the center?

There is in fact a third mystery: why these two nearly identical mausolea are nearly adjacent in the same cemetery. I’ve never seen anything quite like them anywhere else, even in trade magazines. It seems reasonable to guess that “influence” is at play. Given the dates, might the Franks, or their children (“World’s greatest dad”), have seen Sally’s ™ tomb and wanted another just like it?