If you follow my work, you know that I find the markers of children and especially babies very sad, even when they are worthy of artistic or cultural note, and the monument of little Cecilia Mendenhall in Falls Church’s Saint James Catholic Cemetery is so very sad.
It tells us the whole story in five words:
CECILIA MENDENHALL JUNE 25, 1955
Like you, I knew the sad story even before I read this simple anagraphic epitaph. The obvious baby shoes made the story plain at well over fifty paces.
This brings to mind the famous six-word short story attributed to Hemingway which is repeated in full as the title of this post. People don’t think he wrote it anymore, but faute de mieux, I’ll keep him. Those six short words encapsulate a sense of heartbreak, blasted hopes, and lost potential.
Yet the Mendenhalls got there first, both with the evocative baby shoes as a synecdoche for the baby, and with an even shorter story on the baby’s stone. But then, circumstances forced them to a lapidary brevity.
The beautiful tombstone of Rebecca Robinson was to my eye the most attractive of the many treasures in People’s Memorial Cemetery in Petersburg, Virginia. The cemetery, for those who don’t know it, sits on land that was purchased before the Civil War by Petersburg’s free black citizens. It offers a rich picture of black society in Petersburg right up to the present, though most of the burials are from the nineteenth century.
To return to Rebecca Robinson’s monument, I was immediately attracted by the grayish chestnut color and smooth texture of the limestone which nevertheless bears the many marks of a century and a quarter of existence. I assume from the inscription her husband cut it at home.
The cutter carefully measured off the stone and calculated the spacing of the words in the dedication (figure 3). His straight strokes are confident and have a V-shaped profile that catches the noonday sun well. Irregularities in his work suggest he wasn’t a trained cutter. See, for example, how his work becomes less sure when he encounters curves. After he carefully centered the phrase ‘IN MEMORY OF,’ one wonders why he chose not to center ‘MY WIFE.’
The stone is a bit brittle. See how the stone chipped and gave way as he cut the second ‘M’, the third ‘M’, the ‘W,’ and at other points in the inscription.
All of the letters in the anagraphic inscription (figure 4) are rather smaller than those in the dedication; a high proportion of curved letters has presented the cutter with many challenges. The ordination of the text is good, though it wavers a little in the first line. As always, the straight lines are confident, and the first ‘C’ in line 1 is actually quite fine, with serifs. The curved numbers were particularly difficult, as were all occurrences of the letter ‘S.’ The ‘7’ is particularly fine with its elegant descending stroke.
Interesting is the abbreviation ‘1th.’ Before computers, cutters had a text handed to them and they then either formatted it on the stone with pencil or chalk or they cut immediately by eye. Our cutter seems to have followed the latter course. It seems unlikely that whoever wrote the text would have deliberately offered ‘1th.’ Might the cutter have omitted a digit from a longer number, such as 11th, or 17th, which abbreviates with ‘-th’? Was he tripped up because most ordinal numbers abbreviate to ‘-th’? That is, was he so focused on his work that he absent-mindedly went for the default abbreviation instead of ‘-st’?
On the other hand, as a cutter works he reads bits of text and then moves to the stone. In other words, he cuts what he hears in his head while he repeats the words in his mind, and he hears them the way he says them. Might he have spoken the letter ‘T’ with the tip of his tongue butting up against the back of his front teeth, giving it a ‘th’ sound? “Firsth.” A linguist familiar with the accents of Petersburg could probably resolve this.
Interesting, too, is that the cutter chose to place a period after ’27,’ where ’27th’ would have worked fine. There was enough room in the lines in question so that he didn’t need to abbreviate one way or the other.
It was fine work for someone who was not a trained stonecutter, and laboring moreover under a burden of grief, as his wife had died at the age of 32. But unfortunately for him, his grief was only just beginning. There is a second stone in identical material alongside Rebecca’s, seemingly cut by the same hand.
The second stone is tipped a bit forward so that it did not catch the light as well as Rebecca’s. The characters, even those with rectilinear lines, are in general less monumental than those in Rebecca’s inscription. The ordination is crisp, however, and letters like ‘S’ and numbers like ‘8’ are better formed here.
The easiest (but not inevitable) conclusion is that Rebecca was Leslie’s mother. Leslie was born on February 23, 1895, and her mother died on September 27. For whatever reason, Leslie soon followed on October 11. Whether the baby’s death was a surprise or came as a result of birth complications that also killed the mother, we cannot know. If this reconstruction is correct, the husband and father had a terrible burden to bear in that fateful year. Of his grave, I found no evidence.
Grief, self-regard, and money are a flammable mixture. Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg, Virginia, has a nonpareil in the tree-stump monument of Mr. George W. Eanes. It spectacularly combines acute realism, many sub-elements of the genre, and three inscriptions, with no little poetry. It is perhaps the single most amazing thing I saw during a recent visit to that rich cemetery.
I have previously gone over the basics of the log style and explored what I think to be its greatest performance in a single plot, that of the Lloyd family in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery (figure 3).
As brilliant as the Lloyds’ efforts were, even including log-style curbs to demarcate the boundaries of the plot, they must now stand aside as the Eanes tree blows their central tree out of the water. This is no mean feat.
Figures 1 and 2 show the Eanes stump from two directions, from the south and the east, respectively. While the genre requires its practitioners to do what they can to produce an image of a crusty old dead tree notionally in the middle of the forest, the Eanes artist has gone to extreme lengths to portray the long-decayed remnants of an oak tree. The trunk has been battered and reduced by time to a barren, hollowed out widowmaker with only stumps where once stood long fallen limbs. Its blasted crown has been torn asunder in the violence of its fall (figures 4-7). All of this is a Romantic way of symbolizing the death and decay—in this case Eanes’. It’s a version of the pathetic fallacy.
The artist has captured the puckered scars left by the fallen branches. On the west side one final branch has been broken by time and violence and it hangs in mute decay notionally supporting the plaque recording the name GEO. W. EANES (figure 8). If you look closely, it’s been broken from the tree and then broken again; three of its broken ends peek out below the name plaque and a fourth helps hold up the east-facing dedication plaque.
The bark has been pulled and ripped away from the heart of the stump; it hangs in curled flaps around some of the breaks and is visibly working loose from the ends of the broken branches.
At the base, a gall (by the look of it) protrudes toward the NE (figure 9, on the left), and a fern grows to the W. Wood ear mushrooms grow on the SSE side (figure 10); as it died, the tree put out several suckers that, we are to believe, grew long enough to leave sizable stumps when they were (notionally) cut off.
A final leafing branch has sprung from the base of the tree twisting around the north side (figure 11). This must symbolize new life emerging from death.
TO MY DEAR HUSBAND GEO. W. EANES BORN DEC. 23, 1853 DIED AUG. 8, 1892. —
SLEEP ON BELOVED, SLEEP ON, AND TAKE THY REST. LIE DOWN THY HEAD UPON MY SAVIOUR’S BREAST. WE LOVED THEE WELL, BUT JESUS LOVED THEE BEST. GOODNIGHT, GOODNIGHT, GOODNIGHT.
These three iambic pentameters followed by a trimeter are an adaptation of the first stanza of the gospel hymn, “Sleep on, beloved,” by Sarah Doudney (1841-1926). Hymnary dot org finds it in hymnals going back to the early 1880s. In the original it reads:
Sleep on, beloved, sleep, and take thy rest; Lay down thy head upon thy Saviour’s breast; We love thee well, but Jesus loves thee best— Good-night! Good-night! Good-night!
You see that the first verse on the stump has an extra ‘on.’ This is because the person who gave the text for the verse heard ‘beloved’ as a disyllable (belov’d), and needed an extra to get the requisite ten. Doudney, by contrast, heard a trisyllable (belovèd). To my mind, this is virtual proof that the hymn was quoted to the monument designer from memory, not taken from a text.
See at the bottom of the plaque how it rests upon one of the stumps of the lopped suckers (figure 13). To keep it from sliding off the sucker we are given to understand that a wood-splitter’s wedge has been driven into the sucker’s stump. The wedge is a standard iconographic element in the tree-stump style, here put to clever use. But even better, the plaque upon which the dedication rests is imagined to have been made of wood: see the grain and the knot immediately to the left of the wedge.
Turning to the central portion of the main stump, on a portion of the heart of the tree exposed by the peeling and tearing away of bark, is a tertiary inscription (figure 14):
‘TIS HARD TO BREAK THE TENDER CORD, WHEN LOVE HAS BOUND THE HEART, ‘TIS HARD, SO HARD, TO SPEAK THE WORDS MUST WE FOREVER PART? DEAREST LOVED ONE WE HAVE LAID THEE IN THE PEACEFUL GRAVE’S EMBRACE, BUT THY MEMORY WILL BE CHERISHED, TILL WE SEE THY HEAVENLY FACE.
I do not find these verses online in a poem or hymn, but they are common (in numerous variants) on tombstones and mourning cards, such as that of Captain W.K. Davis in 1891 (figure 15).
One final iconographic element: there is a sheaf of wheat with a sickle (figure 16) propped on a lopped sucker under the primary inscription (figure 8; see also figure 1).
The sheaf of wheat with sickle connotes the harvest, when one rich in years and good works receives the fruit of (in this case) his labors. I’ve recently written about this here.
That’s it for the tree, but not for the plot. There’s a log-style mourners’ bench (figure 17)!
William Moir Smith died fighting for the Union at the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861. His monument reflects on his death as a soldier by displaying his kit, now laid aside, bereft of weapons (figure 2).
His kepi sits on his haversack, one of the wood-framed models we see carried by other New York infantry. The bed roll is just above the haversack (only partially visible in my photographs), and his bandolier and belt have been looped by the cutter to add visual interest to the composition. The ammunition pouch (with barely visible “U.S.” in the oval) is attached to the bandolier, and the box of caps to the belt. At the left side is the empty bayonet holster.
WILLIAM MOIR SMITH. COMPANY A, 71st REGT N. Y. S. M. HE FELL MORTALLY WOUNDED AT THE FIRST BATTLE OF BULL RUN, JULY 21st 1861 DIED AT RICHMOND, VA AUGUST 1st 1861 AGED 22 YEARS
The laurel branch at the lower left is of some interest (figure 1). The laurels connote victory (of the Union cause, if not of Smith personally), and are a standard Christian image indicating a life well lived. The broken twig at the top is a variant of the customary usage of having an object broken to symbolize a life cut off.
An analogous monument, improbably carried through in the well known tree-stump style, has been published at Gravely Speaking.
Mary May Hoffman died at the age of nine in 1884. Her parents erected to her memory a monument (figure 1) with an astounding conceit, a cross with nimb executed as though in knotted cable. I’ve rendered it in grayscale in figure 1 to give due emphasis to the style and texture; I’ve put the color image at the end (figure 10).
The cross is a Celtic one (see figure 2), of course, and the interlacing pattern peculiar to such crosses has been rendered here in the form of a cable or rope, making of the interlacings notional knots. The transposition of the Irish style into a knautical one is an act of genius.
The Monumental News of 1897 ran a brief article on the Celtic interlace pattern on pages 228-229. It’s worth reproducing the valuable illustrations from that article here, and unfortunately, the only credit given in the journal is to “The Architect and Contract Reporter.” The figures (figures 3-6) illustrate the process by which a simple weave is artfully altered, one bit at a time, to create the unending ribbon pattern that appears on the Tuam Cross.
Start designing the pattern with a simple drawn basketweave mesh (figure 3).
Close the ends, erasing as necessary (figure 4).
Carry the erasing and subsequent closing of loops through the interior of the weave (figure 5).
The finished product (figure 6). As a “Mr. Trench” cited by the author of the Monumental News article states, “anyone can join the ends, anyone can obliterate crossings, but the excellence of the pattern consists in the skill with which these processes are carried out, and herein lies the art.”
The interlacing on the Hoffman cross defies realism in that the rope must be imagined to be of zero thickness where it passes underneath; of course, because the style starts from the assumption that it is a thin ribbon that is interlacing.
On the other hand, the artist has played with textures in this soft limestone to generate great visual interest and excitement. Not only do we see the three-dimensional quality of the rope, we also see the spiraled bundles of fibres out of which the rope has been twisted, and beyond that the individual fibres that were twisted into those!
The artist has carried through the illusion of a rope cross and nimb to the extent that the ropes are imagined to be held in place at intervals by clamps (figures 7, 8).
The monument falls broadly into the rustic style, as witness the rough-hewn surfaces of the base and under the alpha and omega. The tactile roughness of the rope is a good stylistic match for the rough rock. The smoothness of the inscription plaque, alpha and omega, the clamps, and the bevels where the width of the monument is reduced offer pleasing contrast. I particularly like the way the rope magically emerges from the bevel below.
The Celtic Cross underwent a revival in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and they have been common features of cemeteries ever since. The font in the inscription with its uncial-inspired E and H also breathes in the air of revival. The interpuncts that separate the words (or numbers) are wonderful, and they make the otherwise awkward word split KING/DOM thinkable.
My hat is off to the quite well educated and skilled designer and cutter of this monument (and I’m sorry for Mary May). The color image of the monument follows (figure 10).
The saddest thing in a cemetery is the monument of a dead child. Actually, even worse is a monument with mother and baby having died together or on successive days. For me, that’s the nadir.
But if in the course of human events it was fated to little Luther Campbell to die, he could have done worse than to be buried in this beautiful setting in Glenwood Cemetery (figure 1).
The astounding portrait (figure 2), life-sized, is one of the finest monuments to a prematurely dead child I’ve seen.
I suppose it’s an idealized portrait, though you do see those Victorian photographs of posed dead babies, so it’s not impossible that this image is from, er, life. The modeling and outline of the child are quite good and realistic; only the right hand, on the breast, seems to me drawn from an adult body (figure 3).
In memory of LUTHER F. Son of William H. and Louisa F. Campbell, who departed this life April 4th 1870, in the 4th year of his age.
A lot comes together once we look closely at the hymn below the anagraphic data. It is the Moravian hymn Weil ich Jesu Schäflein bin, by Henrietta Louise von Hayn, “daughter of the master of the hounds to the Duke of Nassau (1724-1782).” Moravian Christianity is a close forerunner of Lutheranism, and in North America they have effectively unified. So we can check off the doctrinal purity on little Luther’s monument.
There are many Germans buried in Glenwood. The Campbell monument gives no sign of any Teutonic leanings (besides Lutheranism), and indeed, the hymn appears on the monument in a translation by Catharine Winkworth (1827-1878), published in The Chorale Book For England of 1863. The Campbells’ church clearly imported this book and drew at least this hymn from it.
Í am Jésus’ líttle lámb, Thérefore glád and gáy I ám; Jésus lóves me, Jésus knóws me, Áll that’s góod and fáir he shóws me, Ténds me évery dáy the sáme, [ev’ry] Éven cálls me bý my náme.
There are three stanzas, the middle two of each being longer and rising for an extra trochee. Auf Deutsch:
Wéil ich Jésu Schä’flein bín Fréu ich mích nur ímmerhín ü’ber méinen gúten Hírten, dér mich schö’n weiß zú bewírthen, dér mich líebet, dér mich kénnt, únd bei méinen Námen nénnt.
And as a last treat, we discover that the monument cutters were the Flannery Brothers. Well done, Flannerys!
Today we look at two splendid monuments with the common iconographic theme of the harvest. The two couples commemorated were close contemporaries, doing most of their living in the central quarters of the nineteenth century.
In Mount Auburn Cemetery in Boston we find the sizable, if somewhat weathered, monument of the Bishops (figure 1). Their monument has the basic shape of an altar, and fittingly, the inscription on it is in a gothic font. If you get a whiff of high church Episcopalianism, well, so do I. The taste and means of the Bishops or their commemorators is immediately apparent thanks both to the monument’s ambitious art program with its gorgeous sheaf of wheat and the costliness we may infer from the cemetery’s attractive, well maintained landscaping and low density burials.
In Baltimore Cemetery, by contrast, we find a couple anonymously commemorated by their children (figure 2). The cheek-by-jowl burial arrangements in that cemetery, together with the monument’s mishmash of shapes and forms point to lower middle class or top proletarian origins of the couple. This would agree with the majority of the modest monuments in Baltimore Cemetery. The Bishops’ peers would certainly have chosen Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore’s answer to Mount Auburn. Needless to say, the Baltimore monument is the more interesting of the two.
The Bishops’ cutters have placed upon their altar a massively carved sheaf of wheat wrapped with a cord made of twisted stalks. It has been laid upon the tomb in the satchel in which it was collected. Wheat carries the notion of being a gift of God, and it can bear eucharistic connotations, but here it points to a ripe harvest, either ripe from the advanced age of the deceased, or more likely because their good lives and works have been like seeds that have now come to fruition as the dead go to their richly deserved reward. The motto on the monument shows this was foremost in the mind of the commemorators: THE HARVEST IS RIPE; ITS FRUITS ARE GATHERED.
The Bishop monument is otherwise simple with clean moldings articulating the basic form of an altar upon its base. The sheaf of wheat is not common in monumental (so to speak) markers, but you do see it. The Bishop monument, for example, has a close parallel in the altar-form Aldrich monument in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn (figure 2).
They’re so similar, in fact, that I believe they represent a type, though I’d be happier if I could find a third. You can see another view of the Aldrich monument here, at Gravely Speaking. They’re not close replicas, however: the Aldrich monument’s wheat sheaf is differently proportioned and rises higher above the altar top and it lacks the cloth under the wheat.
How different is the Baltimore monument! It exhibits a true Victorian interest in showy bric-a-brac (figure 3). My photograph does a fair job of showing how the designer played with receding depths of the monument to create stark light and shadow effects on a sunny day that attracts the eye.
The Baltimore monument is divided into three parts horizontally and three vertically. The vertical arrangement is clear in the bright white marble bearing the more expensively cut artwork above, the cheaper, slightly pinkish or rusty marble in the center with the anagraphic inscription, and the functional base below. I do wonder of the three sockets on the front of the base once held a metallic feature giving the names of the deceased.
Horizontally, the two outer modules are topped with segmented arches having ovolo moldings below the cornice; these arches are notionally supported by complicated brackets like heavy furniture legs.
Under the right arch (figure 4) is a raised plaque roughly in the form of wide, fat ‘M’ on which the word ‘Father’ has been left in low relief. The font appears to me to be gothic-inspired. Above and connected to the ‘M’ is a small medallion bearing the Masonic compass, square, and G, with the three links of the Odd Fellows below. In the deeply recessed space above the ‘M’ and below the arch is carved a laurel branch. More on that in a bit.
The left module (figure 5) is analogous to the right except that its inscription is ‘Mother’ (same font), it has a palm frond instead of laurel branch, and its medallion appears to bear generic floral ornamentation.
The third and central module (figure 6) notionally rises behind and above the others, terminating in another segmented arch which is shallower and lacks the complication of the ovolos. Its profile has a baroque feel, and the arch has atop it a trefoil. It serves mostly to frame and serve as a backdrop for a giant sheaf of wheat which, as on the Bishop monument, is gathered with a cord of braided stalks. Wheat is a masonic symbol, but the presence of that sickle with the sheaf seems to indicate that the primary symbolism is the same as on the Boston monument. A small shoot climbs the sheaf, perhaps with the notion of new life from the old.
Father died at 68, mother at 66 (figure 7). The font recording their anagraphic data has been carefully chosen for legibility but contrasts with that used in their modules above.
The reader will already have realized that the Baltimore monument uses the laurel (figure 4) and the palm (figure 5) to advance a claim that the couple was victorious in the struggle to live a good life. I’ve written about the biblical and classical roots of this symbolism, with case studies and comparative evidence, here.
I’m interested in a species of monument in which drapery is used to suggest “bringing down the curtain” with death or, more frequently in a Christian context, “revelation.” Let’s have a look in my next post!
Appendix. Other images of ‘the harvest.’
Figures 7-9 are nearly identical, and this is no surprise, as they are all cast from the same mold to make zinc “white bronze” monuments. What changes there are reflect the aging of the mold between 1883 and 1905.
The catalog of white bronze monuments created by the Monumental Bronze Company. You can see that their catalog offers the very sheaf on these three monuments, which makes sense, since MBC was the major player in this field from the 1870s to the early twentieth century. Recall that the image is an etching, not a photograph, if you note minor differences.
The Wilkerson monument (figure 11), besides listing the manifold misfortunes of Alfred B. and Mary A., who had 4 children predecease them, two as infants and two as adults, has a workmanlike version of the harvest sheaf, which has been fussily tied with a ribbon.
The 1872 Wiessner monument in Baltimore’s Loudon Park Cemetery has a sheaf of wheat that appears to have been cut down and inset into a receiving niche in the wall of the monument. the sheaf appears originally to have been carved to stand upright, as the way it sits obviously defies gravity. There are actually four identical sheafs, one on each cardinal side of the monument, so I imagine they were ordered as a group from some central provider and cut on site. They’re about a meter across.
The weeping willow is one of the oldest and most attractive elements of American funerary iconography. It’s too common to merit my slogging through the topic here but if you want a refresher, at the end I’ve appended a bibliographical note and linked to the most reliable online treatments at Gravely Speaking.
The monuments collected here run from the 1830s through the 1880s, with a few revivals in classier cemeteries in the latter half of the twentieth century. The last is from 2002. Enjoy!
Figure 1. 1832. This is an older photo, but the stone survived the 2019 hurricane unscathed. A thirteen-lobed willow in a simple frame. The poem is something else: Loathsome!
Behold vain mortals, fitting forms Beneath clay cold sod Dies a prey to loathsome worms The noblest work of God.
Figure 1a. 1833. Approximately ten-lobed willow with the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree look of number 16 arching over a vast urn. Points to the carver for using Latin and a ligature in the age count: AEt[atis suae anno] 37 yrs 11 ms 20 ds. One assumes his people brought a predilection for lovely slate work from their former home in Scituate, MA.
Figure 2: 1836. A three-lobed willow with the lobes reduced to cascading verticals. Framed by two tombstones with burial mounds before them (in both cases extending to the left of the tombstone).
In faith assurance of a blest immortality.
Figure 3. Maybe 1836. Willow with two lobes schematized into cascades of lines. Tombstone on the left, obelisk monument on the right.
The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Job 1 Chapter, 21 Verse.
In my distress I cried unto the Lord and he heard me. Ps. 120
What I say unto you I say unto all: watch. Chapter 13: 37 [Mark]
Let me go for the day breaketh. [Gen. 32: 26]
Figure 4. 1837. Ten-lobed willow with braided articulated leafing branches in realistic cascades. Framed on both sides by stout obelisk monuments. Framed under a wide segmented arch.
Figure 4a. 1838, I believe. Two-lobed willow identical to figure 4 except for a third branch on the right side of the tree.
Figure 5. 1853. An eleven-lobed willow in a fantastic gothic frame. “Consort.”
Figure 6. 1853. A three-lobed willow with a draped urn on the left.
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord for they rest from their Labours And their works do follow them.
Figure 7. 1854. Ten-lobed braided willow with a center part with plucked rose on the left and table tomb on the right against a lunette background with attractive texture.
Figure 8. 1854. eleven-lobed willow in relatively high relief and braided leafing branches. A toppled column with a base and two pieces to its left, with a flower below.
Figure 8a. 1855. A married couple; we’re looking at the stone on the right. Highly stylized ten-lobed willow with marker or urn below willow on left.
Figure 8b. 1861. Thirteen-lobed willow with split trunk and asymmetrical massing. The artist has managed a fine three-dimensional effect in the rendering of the lobes.
Figure 8c. 1862. Ten-lobed willow with braided leafing branches in simple frame.
Figure 9. 1864. A ten- or eleven-lobed willow with curlicues. The leafing branches are marked by thin striations. Resembles a convention of cousin Its. Draped urn on a pedestal on the left, an obelisk monument on the right. Arch on columns frames scene.
Figure 10. 1865? Schematized three-lobed willow with leafing branches reduced to vertical lines. Obelisk monument on left and tombstone with burial mound before it on right. See the following for a clearer version.
Figure 11. 1868. Fussily symmetrical twenty-lobed willow with leafing branches reduced to vertical lines. Obelisk monument on left with laurel crown, tombstone with burial mound before it on right.
“For I know that my redeemer liveth and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth, And that after my skin worms destroy this body yet in my flesh shall I see God.” [Job 19: 25-26]
Figure 11a. 1870. The monument of the wife of the subject of number 8a, here the stone on the left. Attractive asymmetrical eleven-lobed willow in the “Cousin It convention” style.
Figure 12. 1871. Half of willow with singularly articulated branches in comparatively high relief. To the left, an ornate urn on a pedestal with a garland draped over a raised inscription. It is a funerary monument. To the right of the monument, leaning on the urn in a mirror image of the Venus of Capua pose is a grieving female figure with heavy drapery and a head covering. The figure’s right elbow rests on the top of the urn, the left hand on the belly of the vase. To the left of the monument stands a short tripod or three-legged stool. To the right of the left foot of the figure is a plucked flower possibly left as a gesture of mourning.
He took her from a world of care In everlasting bliss to share.
Figure 13. 1872. Highly stylized eight-lobed willow with lobes falling into forked ends. Strongly asymmetrical with balance of tree on right. Framed by a circle broken by the ground line.
He sleeps. “In Jesus, blessed sleep, From which none ever wake to weep.” [M. Mackay, Asleep in Jesus! Blessed Sleep. Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #478]
Figure 13a. 1874. Nineteen-lobed willow symmetrically arranged over asymmetrical trunk.
Figure 14. 1875. Ten-lobed willow with leafing branches reduced to verticals and prominent central gaps in several prominent lobes. On the right is an obelisk monument on a two-tiered base and die. The ground line segregates the bottom ninety degrees of the circular frame.
Figure 14a. 1881. Slack-jawed perfectly symmetrical willow with thirteen lobes and two small sub-lobes springing from low on the trunk.
Figure 15. c. 1884. Astounding many-lobed willow in the round in free-standing monument for two dead children. Tombstone at far left, lamb lies down on Broadway lying asleep in center, cut trunk of tree under willow. Object on stump.
Figure 16. 1955. Early revival “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree” willow with carefully articulated leaves drooping to right over (and framing) an urn. Crisp cutting on slate. Flowers at the corners of the semi-lunate frame.
Figure 17. 1977. Nine-lobed willow crisply articulated into branches and leaves in revival style on limestone. Off-center tree on left side of semi-lunate frame arcs to the right covering and framing a thin urn.
Figure 18. 2002. Late revival willow scene with two willows, a larger one on the left, closer to the center of the semi-lunate frame than a smaller one on the right. Just left of the central axis of the frame stands a stylized urn under the larger willow. The leaves of the latter, which are much larger than life, break the outline of the vase.
Treatments on paper can be found in Cothran, J., and and Danylchak, E. 2018. Grave Landscapes. The Nineteenth-Century Rural Cemetery Movement (University of South Carolina Press: Columbia), p. 173. Keister, D. 2004. Stories in Stone. A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography (Gibbs-Smith: Salt Lake City), p. 67.
If you prefer a screen over paper, good treatments through case studies can be found in the Gravely Speaking blog, especially here. I highly recommend it: its author is well traveled and has a good eye. The author also recommends the article “Death’s Head, Cherub, Urn and Willow” by James Deetz and Edwin Dethlefsen, published in Natural History vol. 76(3) 1967, 29-37 and now online here.
Appendix. Some further examples.
Figure 19. c. 1850? Eleven?-lobed willow in simple frame.
Practically in the shadow of the Confederate polyandrion at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond stands the crowded, fascinating monument of Charles Harris McPhail. McPhail died in July 1862, early in the Civil War. In fact, McPhail was killed in the final of the so-called Seven Days’ Battles, at Malvern Hill, as Union General McClellan attempted to make his way up the Virginia Peninsula to Richmond and Robert E. Lee successfully thwarted him, ending hopes of an early end to the war in the East.
The epitaph, on a beautiful marble slab with impressive blue and rust colored veining, goes far beyond providing the usual anagraphic data:
In memory of CHARLES HARRIS McPHAIL A native of Norfolk, VA., and a member of Co. G, 6th Reg. Va. Vol. He fell in the battle’s front July 1st 1862, in the 25th year of his age while gallantly charging the enemy at MALVERN HILL. A devout and humble Christian, a brave and faithful soldier, he here makes his last bivouac with thousands of other martyred sons of the South who sleep around him. — —
There then follows a poem in iambs, tetrameters followed by trimeters in couplets (I mark the scansion):
Rest ón, embálmed and sáinted déad! Dear ás the blóod ye gáve, Fear nót that ímpious fóot shall tréad The hérbiage óf your gráve; Your glóry sháll not bé forgót While fáme her récord kéeps, Or Hónor póints the hállowed spót Where Válour próudly sléeps. ——
This is, of course, the penultimate stanza of Theodore O’Hara’s famous poem ‘Bivouac of the Dead,’ written to commemorate fellow Kentuckians fallen in the Maxican-American War in 1847. It’s not a great poem, but it appealed to the sentiments of the central portions of the nineteenth century.
More interesting to me is the image of two crossed swords, which here signify death in battle, and the famous Latin verse from Horace’s Ode 3.2, Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. “It is a sweet thing, and fair, to die for one’s country.”
We ought to take a moment to scan the verse, which is in Alcaic meter and sounds rather different from how it’s spelled (marking long syllables, remembering that that ‘c’ will be hard, like a ‘k’):
Dūlcēt decōrūmst prō patriā morī.
This patriotic sentiment goes back at least to the Spartan poet Tyrtaeus, writing elegiacs in the seventh century, BCE:
It’s beautiful when a good man falls in the battle’s front while fighting for his country.
Such a reduced regard for oneself and contrasting prioritization of “country” is rare these days. It is different from patriotism, which we still have. For the Brits it was fatally wounded in World War I, and for us in Vietnam. Suicide bombers in the Middle East delivered the coup de grâce. In fact the sentiment that there are things worth literally dying for is now so foreign to our way of thinking that it’s hard for us to think anyone sane could ever have thought that way. And so when we find the idea of Dulce et decorum est expressed on someone’s monument we’re practically compelled to think that it must be ironic, or cynical, “the old lie.”
It’s just at this point that we must step back and recall that nineteenth-century people were profoundly different from us; their sense of the reality of religion was different, their sense of spirituality and what death meant was different, and over it all was a Romantic emotional wash that colored their perceptions. It’s why period films so often get it excruciatingly wrong by depicting them as familiar, having our attitudes, or, if they escape that, they end up looking unrealistic and quaint to our eyes.
One of the more important moments in Ken Burns’ Civil War was Paul Roebling’s reading of a large extract of Sullivan Ballou’s final letter home to his wife, Sarah, before the battle of Bull Run. In it is expressed precisely a nineteenth-century appreciation of a willingness to die for the country and its ideals that not only sounds quaint but downright naive.
But in fact, if you read or listen to Sullivan Ballou’s letter you can see that he was acutely aware of the good things in life that he stood to lose, such as a future with his wife and children. He has simply made a different calculation than we would when presented the same alternatives. Note, too, that in his letter he effectively looks his wife in the eye as he explains this calculation and expects her to understand.
Let’s have some more Tyrtaeus, giving us the best and purest statement of dulce et decorum est. (The translation is from J. M. Edmonds’ Elegy and Iambus, with an English translation (1931) found here and covered by a CC-BY-SA 3.0 license.)
I would neither call a man to mind nor put him in my tale for prowess in the race or the wrestling, not even had he the stature and strength of a Cyclops and surpassed in swiftness the Thracian Northwind, nor were he a comelier man than Tithonus and a richer than Midas or Cinyras, nor though he were a greater king than Pelops son of Tantalus, and had Adrastus’ suasiveness of tongue, nor yet though all fame were his save of warlike strength; for a man is not good in war if he have not endured the sight of bloody slaughter and stood nigh and reached forth to strike the foe.
This is prowess, this is the noblest prize and the fairest for a lad to win in the world; a common good this both for the city and all her people, when a man standeth firm in the forefront without ceasing, and making heart and soul to abide, forgetteth foul flight altogether and hearteneth by his words him that he standeth by. Such a man is good in war; he quickly turneth the savage hosts of the enemy, and stemmeth the wave of battle with a will; moreover he that falleth in the van and loseth dear life to the glory of his city and his countrymen and his father, with many a frontwise wound through breast and breastplate and through bossy shield, he is bewailed alike by young and old, and lamented with sore regret by all the city. His grave and his children are conspicuous among men, and his children’s and his line after them; nor ever doth his name and good fame perish, but though he be underground he liveth evermore, seeing that he was doing nobly and abiding in the fight for country’s and children’s sake when fierce Ares brought him low.
But and if he escape the doom of outstretched Death and by victory make good the splendid boast of battle, he hath honour of all, alike young as old, and cometh to his death after much happiness; as he groweth old he standeth out among his people, and there’s none that will do him hurt either in honour or in right; all yield him place on the benches, alike the young and his peers and his elders. This is the prowess each man should this day aspire to, never relaxing from war.
These ideas were common currency among well educated nineteenth-century Americans (they had less Chemistry and Psychology to compete with the study of Classics then). And it is just against this Romantic, religious, spiritual, and classically-steeped background that we must read McPhail’s monument. His commemorators try, with a complete absence of irony or cynicism, to make sense of his death—a horrible head-shot, research indicates—and express their good sentiments about him. They fall upon Tyrtaean ideals: he died at “the battle’s front,” “gallantly charging the enemy.” His commemorators made sure he had a conspicuous grave wondered at by his contemporaries and posterity.
McPhail’s marker is hardly an expression of pure classical ideas: it has an obvious Christian surcharge, invoking the idea that the deceased had suffered a “good death,” as those people called it. Its Christianity is also tinged with a sense of chivalry, which is a product of Romanticism.
In conclusion, figure 4 shows the monument company’s mark on the base of the stone: J. D. Couper, Norfolk, Va.
On McPhail’s monument, see Williams, E. Stories in Stone: Memorialization, the Creation of History and the Role of Preservation (Vernon Press 2020) 149-150.
In honor of Memorial Day I bring to you a monument commemorating two of our nation’s soldiers (figure 1). Of course, you know I wouldn’t put it up if I didn’t think there was something quite interesting about the monument. The first clue to its interest is that it lies in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.
There is no more significant burial site for Confederates than Hollywood Cemetery. There are thousands of ordinary Confederate soldiers here, and in addition one finds the graves of J. E. B. Stuart, George Pickett, and Jefferson Finis Davis, among many others. This is not promising for a Memorial Day post, because after all, Confederates fought against the Union. They also have their own memorial day. However, it is not impossible to find Union soldiers who died in battle, or in captivity, or after having moved to Richmond after the war. So perhaps it is fitting to celebrate Memorial Day after all with a Union soldier’s grave unexpectedly in Hollywood.
But no, our monument commemorates two Confederate soldiers. Both were killed at the Battle of McDowell in the Shenandoah Valley, at which Stonewall Jackson helped fend off the 1862 Federal advance upon Richmond. Jackson was tasked with beating back a flanking movement meant to come at Richmond from the west, via the Shenandoah. The main thrust, under the equivocally competent General McClellan, was coming up toward Richmond from Yorktown. The campaign was a dismal failure, you may recall.
The anagraphic data:
IN MEMORY OF CAPTAIN JAS. W. PATTERSON, Co. D, 12th Ga. Regt. A native Virginian. He fell at McDowell May 8th, 1862, Aged 39 years. —— LIEUT. J. K. GOLDWIRE, Co. D, 12th Ga. Regt. Fell at McDowell May 8th, 1862.
Uh oh! They died in battle, and so were presumably unrepentant Confederates. It looks worse and worse for me. A bit o’ research shows Patterson enrolled a company of men in Georgia and his company joined others in Richmond to form the 12th Georgia Regiment on 14 June 1861. He is listed as having been in Company I, not D as this monument claims. He was commissioned a captain over the company he raised. Company I of the 12th was badly mauled in the battle at McDowell; they lost 35, with 140 more wounded. You can see a photograph of Patterson here, and it is strange to think that Patterson, like me, studied at Brown University.
John K. Goldwire (listed in the roster of the unit as John R. Goldwire, and elsewhere as John William King Goldwire) enlisted as a private the same day Patterson did. He was made a first sergeant in 1861 and was elected second lieutenant of company I on the day and battlefield on which he died.
The monument is made of granite, which makes it probable that the obelisk was erected two decades or more after the war, when that material became common. It is reasonable to think that it might have been raised on one of the war’s anniversaries; the 25th, for example, fell during the later 1880s.
Swords are common in military funerary iconography through the nineteenth century. Sometimes they are crossed, which may mean that the soldier in question died in battle, as it does for the Confederates in figures 3-5.
When hung, there seems to be a prima facie indication that the soldier died in retirement. This is the case on the obelisk of General Alexander Macomb, America’s onetime top general, who died in 1841 (figure 6), and also on the 1886 obelisk of Major Louis Bossieux in Shockoe Hill Cemetery in Richmond, VA. (figure 8); but the hung sword can also signify death in battle as on the 1847 Botts monument, also in Shockoe Hill (figure 7).
Sometimes the sword is shown in the grasp of a soldier dead in battle, as with the fantastic monument for Brigadier General W.H. Stevens (figure 9), a former Confederate who died with U.S. Forces in Vera Cruz Mexico in 1867.
In a liminal space is the Pegram brothers’ monument in Hollywood Cemetery (figure 10). On it are two crossed swords, which are not technically hanging but are in an upright position as though they were. And both Pegrams, a Confederate General and Colonel, died in battle, a few months apart, in 1865.
There are, as one might expect, close parallels between customs in the South and in the North. Figures 11-15 illustrate versions of the hung sword motif, including a ‘sword laid down to rest’ variant in figures 14 and 15. Many other examples could be adduced.
The drapery on the Patterson obelisk qua drapery is not uncommon. Though I will not offer many comparanda here, it is worth pointing to the roughly contemporary Gray monument in Hollywood only a hundred meters or so from the Patterson monument. Its exquisite carving of the folds of the cloth, caught in afternoon sunlight, is a treat you deserve for reading this far (figure 16).
Of all the comparative evidence I’ve shown, the closest, it turns out, is Macomb’s 1841 obelisk (figure 6). But beyond the presence of drapery and a hung sword, is a third similarity, only noticeable at close range and stunningly unexpected. It puts the Patterson monument head and shoulders above most monuments to Confederate soldiers (and statesmen) in Hollywood. I’ve artificially colored it in figure 17.
Yep, the drapery is an American flag on a Confederate monument. And that makes sense, both because it was probably erected long after the immediate fires of the war had burned low in the survivors (such as those who commissioned the Patterson monument), and because it is a quintessentially American monument in that it looks past partisanship to find common ground (figure 19). This was the best aspect of the age of reconciliation, and it will be welcome again when President Trump is decades in our rear view mirror. This attitude, which not all who survive conflict manage to achieve, is worth remembering on this and every Memorial Day.