Dennis O’Leary

Pvt Co. I 23rd Infantry

Died Apl 1, 1901

Age 23 Yrs, 9 Mos.

Marking the grave of Private Dennis O’Leary in the Santa Fe National Cemetery is the hand-carved sandstone gravestone, which O’Leary reportedly carved for himself. Several legends have been told surrounding the soldier’s monument. As one story goes, O’Leary was bored and carved the gravestone including the inscription that states his death date. Then on that date he committed suicide leaving only a note with instructions that he was to be laid to rest underneath his work of art. Another story states that he deserted, carved the gravestone including his death date, turned himself in to the military authorities at Fort Wingate and was summarily hanged on the date he himself had inscribed. Both fanciful stories, however, do not jibe with the military records which cite tuberculosis as the cause of his untimely death.

Private O’Leary was first buried at Fort Wingate, New Mexico.  But, when the fort was decommissioned and closed the soldiers buried there were removed to the Santa Fe National Cemetery.


The photographs in today’s blog post were taken by my friend, Dan Siburg, who often thinks of me as he passes by a cemetery, as many of my friends do. While I completely understand why they do, on some level it is still a bit disturbing.  I know it is my own fault!

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For such is the kingdom of Heaven

Forest Lawn Cemetery, Omaha, Nebraska

Forest Lawn Cemetery, Omaha, Nebraska

Matthew 19:14 King James Version (KJV)

14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

Many cemeteries have sections laid aside for infant burials. Often a feature of these sections is a statue of Jesus with children, a reminder of the Bible verse from Matthew.


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You say sarcophagi, I say sarcophaguses. Whichever way you say it, it means more than one sarcophagus.

Sarcophagus tombs are designed to look like coffins.  Most often they are set on a platform or a base.  The tomb is often embellished with ornamentation and nearly always has feet–but the “coffin” is empty–just an empty symbol of the receptacle.  This style of burial monument is ancient.

The word, sarcophagus, is derived from two ancient Greek words, sarx, which meant flesh and phagein meaning to eat.  The two words together, sarkophagus, meant flesh eating.  The term came from the limestone used by the ancient Greeks to bury the dead which was thought to decompose the flesh of the deceased.

The sarcophagi shown here are from the Mt. Auburn Cemetery at Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The John Adams Blanchard sarcophagus features four winged cherubs, two on each side, embellish the footed tomb.  The winged cherub was a symbol that became popular in the 18th Century.  Winged cherubs replaced the stark and morbid flying death’s heads from our Puritan forefathers.  The cherubs have a childlike countenance of innocence.  The iconography represents the flight of the soul from the body upward to Heaven and the hope of the resurrection.


Carved on top of the William and Lucy Howard Brown white marble sarcophagus is a great shock of wheat. Wheat’s origins are unknown but is the basis of basic food and a staple in many cultures. Because of wheat’s exalted position as a mainstay foodstuff, it is viewed as a gift from Heaven. Wheat symbolizes immortality and resurrection.  But, like many symbols found on gravestones, they can have more than one meaning.  For instance, because wheat is the main ingredient of bread, the sheaf of wheat can represent the Body of Christ.  Wheat can also represent a long life, usually more than three score and ten, or seventy years.



This sarcophagus was erected by the students of Professor John Hooker Ashmun, a testament to his connection to his teaching ability and personality. The tomb rests upon four lion’s feet, giving it an imposing feel.


Here lies the Body of


Royall Professor of Law in Harvard University

Who was born July 3d. 1800 & died April 1, 1833


In him the science of law appeared native and intuitive.

He went behind precedents to principles, and books were his helpers, never his masters.

There was the beauty of accuracy in his understanding,

And beauty of uprightness in his character.

Through the slow progress of the disease which consumed his life,

He kept unimpaired his kindness of temper and superiority of intellect.

He did more work sick than others in health.

He was fit to teach at an age when common men are beginning to learn,

And his few years bore the fruit of long life.

A lover of truth, an obeyer of duty, a sincere friend, and a wise instructor.

His pupils raise this stone to his memory.

This white marble sarcophagus was built for Waldo Merriam, a soldier who was killed in a battle. The top of the monument features the soldier’s hat and sword.




BORN FEB. 23, 1839;


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A Bouquet

Fairmont Cemetery, Denver, Colorado

Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado





JULY 21, 1847.

DIED NOV. 19, 1871.

AGED 24 YRS. 3 MS.

& 28 DAYS


There are many symbols that represent death in funerary art—the broken bud, the sleeping lamb, baby shoes, the flying death’s head, and, here, a broken pot of flowers turned on its side.  The bouquet spilling out of the pot may be reminiscent of the one the young bride carried down the aisle.


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Clara Bell

Fairmont Cemetery, Denver, Colorado

Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado

Clara Bell

Daughter of



Jan. 18. 1885

Died July 13. 1886.


The gravestone of this little girl is haunting with those hollow eyes. Only six months after she was born, she died. Her gravestone features a winged cherub that may be a portrait.

The winged cherub was a symbol that became popular in the 18th Century.  Winged cherubs replaced the stark and morbid flying death’s heads from our Puritan forefathers.  The cherubs have a childlike countenance of innocence.  The iconography represents the flight of the soul from the body upward to Heaven and the hope of the resurrection.


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The Good Samaritan




DIED MAY 31, 1895




DIED SEP. 18, 1893



Nearly everyone knows the term “good Samaritan” but many might not know of its origins from Luke and more specifically that it is a parable told by Jesus:

Luke 10:25-37King James Version (KJV)

25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?

27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.

31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,

34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

That story is illustrated in stone upon the monument for Vincent and Mary Markham in the Fairmount Cemetery at Denver, Colorado. Neither of them, however, chose it for themselves. Vincent had a clause in his will that his executors should choose an appropriate monument to honor him and his wife, Mary. It also needed to display in some way, their values, which, in part, are carved in the stone, “Humanity and Charity are our Religion”.

By all accounts the Marhams were generous people who shared their wealth and prosperity with their community. When Vincent Markham died, the Arizona Weekly Citizen, June 15, 1895, edition of the paper wrote this, JUDGE MARKHAM. Colorado papers of June 1st contain announcements of the death of Judge Vincent D. Markham, in the city of Denver. …The Denver Republican editorially says of the distinguished jurist: By the death of Judge Vincent D. Markham, Colorado has lost one of its most distinguished and honorable citizens.” They went on to say, “Respected and loved while he lived, he will be mourned now that be is dead. He always will have an honorable place in the history of Colorado, a state which remembers with gratitude the service of the men who did its pioneer work, strengthening it by their example to others and promoting its interests by all they did.”

The Markham were active philanthropically in Denver throughout their adult lives. They contributed to many charities and were instrumental in founding Denver’s Humane Society. Though they never had children of their own though they were generous with the neighborhood children and godparents to many.

The monument was designed by William Greenlee who owned and operated the Denver Marble and Granite Company, who won a competition held by the executors. The design was an original design from the New England Granite Company of Hartford, Connecticut.

It appears that the statue atop the monument was a fitting tribute to the Markhams.


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A Victorian Folly



The Metarie Cemetery at New Orleans is by most accounts one of the great garden cemeteries in the United States, if such things are rated. The famous, the rich, the infamous, the highly decorated, and the obscure are all buried in this place. Some in modest graves, others in elaborate tombs fit for kings potentates, and even madams!


One of the most interesting monuments was built for Henry J. Egan, a Confederate Lieutenant Colonel, who was killed April 6, 1865, at Amelia Springs, Virginia, during General Robert E. Lee’s retreat. The monument was built to appear like a ramshackle Gothic Revival-style Church. It is a sham. The ruin was designed by Charles A. Orleans, one of the leading monument builders in New Orleans at the time, who was at the height of his fame when it was built in 1881. The Victorian folly, built to look like one thing when it is actually another, is a marble monument complete with mock cracks and crumbling stone to deceive the passerby.

Carved above the arched doorway into the tomb are the words, “Sic itur ad astra” – Latin which translates to “Thus to the stars”.

Goth Gardener, who has an impressive blog pointed, out that this monument actually marks the graves of several Egan family members. Their names have been added to the description of the monument. Goth Gardener also wrote a blog post about the Egan monument in Metarie Cemetery which can be found at this URL:

(Inscription on the back wall of the church)

In Memory of

Bentinck Egan

Who died Dec. 27, 1881

And his brothers






The Good Sons of

Dr. J. S. Egan and I. M. Yelverton

Mother died 1884

Father died 1891

(on the floor )

Lieutenant Colonel Henry I. Egan

Killed at Amelia Springs, Va.

While in command of

Sharpshooters, Gordon’s Division,

Covering Retreat of Lee’s Army

April 6, 1865, Aged 24 years.

Dr. Yelverton B. Egan

Killed at the Battle of Sharpsburg

September 17, 1863, aged 24 years.


Letitia M. Yelverton Egan

Their mother

Died in London England 1884

Mary Louisa Egan

Only daughter of

James and Letitia Egan

Died Dec. 26, 1920

Buried with them in

Fulham Cemetery, London

Cecilia Maria Egan

Died Jan. 2, 1941

Frederick Egan and his wife

Julia Wilkinson Egan

 (inscription on the back of the building)



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