A Pioneer

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, California

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, California

Inscription at the base of the monument:

THE ATLAS AS SHOWN HERE,

IS TO THE EXACT SCALE OF THE

ORIGINAL MISSILE

THE PIONEER ATLAS

(INTO ORBIT WITH 122-POUND

PAY LOAD, DECEMBER 18, 1958)

 Inscription on the back of the monument:

  • FIRST INTERCONTINETAL BALLISTIC MISSILE OF THE UNITED STATES
  • FIRST TO FLY 5500 NAUTICAL MILES, NOVEMBER 28, 1959
  • FIRST TO LIFT A UNITED STATES CAPSULE INTO SPACE
  • FIRST SATELLITE TO BROADCAST A MESSAGE TO“THE FREE WORLD”
  • FIRST TO RECORD A MESSAGE IN SPACE AND BROADCAST IT TO EARTH

Things are not always what they seem. At first blush when looking at this monument in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery at Hollywood, California, you see the reproduction of the Atlas missile built to scale in glimmering white granite which was launched into space on December 18, 1958. This was part of the United States’ reaction to Sputnik, which had previously been sent into space to the embarrassment of our government. The space race was on in the mid to late 50s and the US was losing. This successful launch helped our country catch up.

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The Atlas was launched with a one hundred and fifty pound payload, a communications satellite that was part of Project SCORE (Signal Communications by Orbiting Relay Equipment). The satellite carried an on-board tape recorder that carried a Christmas message from President Dwight Eisenhower that was broadcast, “This is the President of the United States speaking. Through the marvels of scientific advance, my voice is coming to you from a satellite circling in outer space. My message is a simple one: Through this unique means I convey to you and to all mankind, America’s wish for peace on Earth and goodwill toward men everywhere.”

So, does this monument mark the grave of Roy Johnson, the ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) project leader? Nope. Does it mark the grave of anyone who worked on the missile project? Nope. The monument marks the grave of Carl Morgan Bigsby and his wife, Constance W. Bigsby. The connection to the rocket:

Inscription on the front of the monument—center panel:

THE ATLAS PIONEER IN SPACE

HERE SYMBOLIZES

THE LIFETIME ACTIVITIES OF

CARL MORGAN BIGSBY

A RECOGNIZED LEADER

IN MANY PHASES

OF THE GRAPHIC ARTS.

HE, TOO, WAS A PIONEER

 

CARL MORGAN

BIGSBY

RETIRED BY GOD

1898 – 1959

CONSTANCE W.

BIGSBY

TOO BAD…WE HAD FUN

1914 -

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“That’s All Folks”

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, California

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, California

What Lon Chaney, master of makeup, was to faces, Mel Blanc was to voices. That is, Blanc was the man of a thousand voices. Voices every child knows instantly—the wisecracking Bugs Bunny chewing on the end of a carrot with his famous question, “What’s up Doc?” Or the voice of the frenetic Daffy Duck, or the hoarse and rowdy Yosemite Sam. These voices filled the Saturday morning cartoon lineup for decades and his voice still rings in children’s ears through re-runs.

Mel Blanc was born on May 30, 1908, Melvin Jerome “Mel” Blank at San Francisco, California. Blanc claimed that he changed the spelling of his name because of a chance remark a teacher made, who said to him, with that last name he would amount to nothing. He dropped the “k” and added the “c” and changed the spelling of his name. That one letter change evidently was providential enough to make a difference, because Mel Blanc will be remembered and the name of the teacher who made the remark has been long forgotten.

In 1927, Blanc began his career as a voice actor on a radio program, The Hoot Owls, on KGW where he did several different voices. For the next 62 years, Blanc performed as some of the most beloved Warner Brothers characters ever animated for the movies and television—including the Foghorn Leghorn, Sylvester the Cat, Speedy Gonzales, Wile E. Coyote, and the Tasmanian Devil. Blanc was also the voice for notable Hanna-Barbera characters, too, such as Barney Rubble in The Flintstones and Mr. Spacely in The Jetsons. As if the list wasn’t long enough, Blanc was also the original Woody the Woodpecker, a smash-hit cartoon for Universal.

But, the most famous voice was probably that of Porky Pig, the hapless and chubby pig who never bagged the “silly rabbit”. His was also the last voice you’d hear in a Warner Brothers Cartoon at the close of the cartoon a circle would draw around Porky and he would stutter and stammer, “That’s All Folks”.

The trademark phrase, “That’s All Folks”, at the direction of Blanc’s will was carved into his gravestone. We’ll never know if that was just a nod to his famous cartoon character’s sign off or if it was a deeper sentiment about life itself.

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The Pyramid: Monumental Architecture

This is my 500th post. So, to commemorate the occasion, I wanted to write about something monumental. When it comes to funerary sculpture and architecture, nothing is more monumental than the pyramid.  The Egyptians knew how to bury their dead, especially when it came to burying the pharaohs.

After the French and British occupations of Egypt, there was a renewed interest in Egyptian architecture and symbolism.  The Egyptian symbol that is most commonly found in American cemeteries is the obelisk.  And the most famous obelisk in America is the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.

But the pyramid is by far the epitome of Egyptian funerary architecture, the tomb of the pharaohs.  The oldest pyramid is the Pyramid of Djoser built over four thousand years ago from 2630 BC to 2612 BC.  The largest of the Egyptian pyramids is the Pyramid of Khufu at Giza built between 2589 and 2566 BC. This later pyramid was the inspiration for many of the pyramids found in American cemeteries, three of which can be found in the Green-Wood Cemetery at Brooklyn, New York, which I will write briefly about today: The Van Ness-Parson Monument, the Henry Bergh Mausoleum, and the Benjamin Stephens pyramid mausoleum.

The Henry Bergh Pyramid:

The pyramid mausoleum of Henry Bergh was built in 1888. It is an imposing structure. As far as mausoleums go, it is relatively unadorned except for the winged globe surrounded by two rearing snakes—the uroei—above the doorway. In this example, there are three sets of falcon wings that are a symbol of the king, the sun, and the sky. The globe represents the Egyptian god, Horus. The uroei, snakes, are waiting to strike. They symbolize the king’s ability to ward off evil spirits. On the entryway of the mausoleum is a large round bronze insignia of the ASPCA which displays a man lifting a club to beat an horse.  An angel comes between the man and the horse interceding to stop the cruelty.

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The Benjamin Stephens Pyramid:

The Stephens pyramid, built in 1890, is very much like the Bergh pyramid in that the only ornamentation is above the doorway. Again, the winged globe is carved onto the lintel. The Stephens pyramid, though, while having the same base width is taller.

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As Elizabeth Broman writes in her article, “Egyptian Revival Funerary Art”, Markers XVIII, 2001, pages 30-66, “The Bergh pyramid is angled lower and has a block-like shape that seems more firmly planted on the ground. The Stephens’ sides are more steeply pitched and it presents a loftier appearance because there is more surface area between the top of the lintel and the pyramidion: it appears to be reaching skyward, whereas the Bergh monument seems to have a solid, heavy center of gravity that is firmly planted in the ground.”

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The Van Ness-Parsons Pyramid

This pyramid was built in 1931 for Albert Parsons. It is broader than the Bergh and the Stephens pyramids and is adorned with Christian and Egyptian symbolism.

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The Egyptian and Christian symbolism share an uncomfortable coexistence.  The mausoleum displays images of the ancient pharaonic religion including the sphinx, the winged globe, and the uroei.  It also displays Joseph holding a lamb and Mary holding the baby Jesus. Many Christians objected to Egyptian motifs and their non-Christian origins.  To soften the impact, designers often included Christian symbolism.  In this case, however, the designer of the mausoleum believed there was a “long-standing identification between Americans, Christianity, and ancient Egypt.”

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Note: For a more complete analysis of the Egyptian Revival architecture found in the Green-Wood Cemetery, check out Elizabeth Broman’s article, “Egyptian Revival Funerary Art”, Markers XVIII, 2001, pages 30-66. In her article she writes not only about the pyramids but other Egyptian Revival-style mausoleums found in Green-Wood.

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Cross and the Crown

Glendale Cemetery, Akron, Ohio

Glendale Cemetery, Akron, Ohio

The Gothic-style Miller family monument in the Glendale Cemetery at Akron, Ohio, is inscribed, “Be Thou Faithful Unto Death and I Will Give Thee a Crown of Life”. That message is further reinforced by the mourning figure atop the monument of a woman holding a crown in her hands.

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The crown is a symbol of glory and victory over death.  The reward awaits in Heaven where the victor will receive a crown of victory.

The crown symbol is found again resting on top of a cross found on each of the individual family headstones. The cross and crown symbols are green oxidized copper bolted to each of the family members’ headstones.

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The cross represents the suffering of Christ.

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Reach for the sky

Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York

Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York

This small monument is dedicated to the memory of a infant girl, the epitaph too faint and eroded to read clearly, is in the form of a bed.  The covers are pulled aside and the pillow still has an indentation where the little girl’s head rested.  The side of the tombstone shows a small child, surrounded by swirling clouds.  In this tableau she is looking toward the rays of light, representing Heaven, as she lifts her arms up reaching toward the lit sky.

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Eternal Sleep

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The most poignant and tender gravestones are those for children.  In the 1850s, the mortality rates for children under one year, were estimated at over 200 deaths per thousand, with much higher mortality rates for children under 5.

Here, is the gravestone of Mary, her barely visible and the other details originally carved into the gravestone eroded and unreadable.  It is clear, however, that this gravestone commemorates the death of a little girl.  She is seen represented lying down, her arm underneath her head forming a pillow on which she can sleep.  Directly under the sculpture of the little girl, are three poppies carved into the upper portion of the pedestal.

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In cemetery symbolism the poppy represents eternal sleep.  Just as it was portrayed in the movie, The Wizard of Oz, the main characters lie down in a field of poppies where they fall into a deep sleep.  That same imagery is used here.  Mary falls into an eternal sleep over a sprig of three poppies.

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Anchor

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, California

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, California

The anchor is an ancient Christian symbol that has been found in early catacomb burials.  The anchor was used by early Christians as a disguised cross.  The anchor also served as a symbol of Christ and his anchoring influence in the lives of Christians.  Just as an anchor does not let a moored boat drift, the anchoring influence of Christ does not allow the Christian life to drift.

 

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