Tribute to War Heroes and to Volk’s Artistry

Leonard Wells Volk, written about in the previous blogpost, was buried in the Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois.  Not only is there a statue monument commemorating his burial plot, but one of the first monuments one sees through the castellated main gate—driving up the motorway is the soaring heroes monument designed by none other than Leonard Volk—another monument to him, this time displaying his talent as an accomplished sculptor.

Each of the four sides of the column honor a different branch of service:





Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Leonard Wells Volk


11 – 7 – 1828

8 – 19 – 1895



8 – 23 – 1832

5 – 28 – 1895


4 – 17 – 1864

8 – 9 – 1865



4 – 23 – 1853

10 – 31 – 1855


7 – 13 – 1861

12 – 13 – 1928


Leonard Wells Volk was an artist most noted for the live mask he made of Lincoln’s face and hands shortly before Lincoln was elected president.  Ironically enough, Volk’s patron was Stephen Douglas, who was Lincoln’s political revival.  Stephen Douglas was a first cousin to Emily Volk, Leonard’s wife.  Douglas paid for Volk to study sculpture in Italy and later supported him when he opened a small studio in Chicago. 

Volk designed his own funerary monument which was carried out by the Gast Monument Company.  The sculpture sits on a circular plot in the Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.  Volk is depicted seated as if he is resting on a rocky ledge.  He leans against a closed book that has a bas-relief profile of a woman—presumably of his wife, Emily. In one hand he is holding a walking stick and by his feet is a tattered hat. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Glass Trumpet Angel

In the article, “Embodying Immortality: Angels in America’s Rural Garden Cemeteries, 1850—1900”, pages 56 – 111, 2007 edition of Markers, XXIV, written by Elisabeth Roark, she writes of the eight most common types of graveyard angels found in cemeteries—grouped by the task they performed: soul-bearing; praying; decorating and guarding; pointing; recording; trumpeting; sword-bearing (archangel Michael); and child angels.  Of the eight, only the trumpet angels are commonly found in cemeteries before the 1850s. “Trumpet angels not only foretell of the impending apocalypse and that the last Judgment is at hand but also as “embodiments of the resurrection.”

An example of that can be found in a stained-glass window in a mausoleum in the Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois.  Here the angel is blowing a horn while walking down a path.  The angel does not have wings.  However, angels weren’t originally depicted with wings until the 4th Century.  In her article, “The Development of Winged Angels in Early Christian Art,” Therese Martin writes, “The shift to winged angels took place during the fourth century…it no longer sufficed to represent angels, who held a position somewhere between God and people simply as men.  Between God and man is the sky, a conceptual place where divinity had always been localized, a physical place occupied exclusively by winged creatures.”  She further writes that the concept winged angels can be found as early as Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 240), an early Christian author, who wrote, “Every spirit is winged, both angels and demons.”

After the 1850s, trumpet angels appear more frequently and often as full figures in sculptures rather than bas-reliefs and in glass. The angels are often depicted looking toward to Heavens with an almost serene expression unlike the trumpet angels found in the Book of Revelation. The seven trumpet angels in Revelation “are a ferocious lot; each trumpet blow brings a disaster that destroys earthly life.”  The trumpet angels found in rural garden cemeteries are watchful and calm by comparison.  This angel strolling along almost looks like the Pied Piper!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Gothic Style – the simple and the sublime

The Gothic Revival in the United States began in the late 18th Century.  At first, there were only small features of the Gothic style that were incorporated into buildings such as tracery and other minor embellishments but after a few decades the Gothic style was full on mainly in churches.  But the influence did find its way into the American cemetery not only with the design of mausoleums but with tombstones and monuments—everything from the simple to the sublime.

The gravestone of Nancy Hanks Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s mother, in the Pioneer Cemetery in rural Indiana close to Lincoln City, is an example of the influence of the Gothic revival.  Here, the plain unadorned white marble tablet is carved with a simple pointed arch as it’s only form of decoration.  Yet, the pointed arch, a significant feature of Gothic architecture, was visually lighter than the Romanesque rounded arch.  And, even though it looked more elegant, it was stronger and allowed churches and cathedrals to be built higher and higher.

The Caroline Padelford white marble tablet is a more elaborate example of the influence of the Gothic Revival pointed arch.  The gravestone mimics a window with a pointed arch complete with tracery that frames the arch.  Another feature of Gothic style is the highly ornamented and decorated surface treatments which is evident on the top of the pointed arch.  The arch is also topped with an ornate finial. 


The Edward and Elizabeth Padelford white marble monument in the Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia is a Gothic confection.  The plinth sits on layers of stacked bases each progressively smaller and atop that is a canopy supported by four columns with highly decorated capitals.  Lining the inside of the pointed gables are rows of round ball-like stylized buds known ballflowers which were characteristic of 14th Century English architecture.  The four pinnacles flanking the pointed gables are decorated with stylized foliage projecting from the edges known as crocket and topped with decorated finials.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Gothic Styles

In the ‘Nineteenth Century Mortuary Architectural Styles’ post by Jason Holm, he writes, “Victorian sensibilities merged with Romantic tendencies and thrust revivals of Gothic, Classical, and Egyptian architectural styles in the mainstream.”  There was not one Gothic style but many:

Venetian Gothic

The Spotts Family Mausoleum erected in the Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville Kentucky is designed in the Venetian Gothic style which combined several architectural styles—Moorish, Gothic, and Byzantine—into a single style reminiscent of the building designs that brought a confluence of cultures together to create a flourish and lightness to the canals of Venice.  During the Victorian era, several architects drew from the Venetians for creative building designs that was part of a larger revival that intertwined several styles into one pleasing to the eye.  At the time the Spotts Family Mausoleum was constructed the local newspaper, the October 14, 1866 issue of the Louisville Daily Democrat wrote, “It is of Moorish style architecture…this mausoleum is one of the most permanent and tasteful structures yet erected in our far-famed ‘city of the dead.’”  It is likely that the mausoleums was constructed and built by the Steam Marble Works in Philadelphia.

Victorian Gothic

The massive Dexter Family Tomb in the Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnat, Ohio has many features of the medieval cathedral from which it was inspired.  Typical of Gothic architecture, are the pointed arches which became popular in Western building designs during the 12th Century.  Visually the pointed arch is lighter and also allowed builders to create taller windows which gave the buildings an airy feeling.  In addition to the visual lightness, the pointed arch was stronger than the rounded arch which was popularized in Romanesque architectural designs.  The arches are highly decorated with multiple moldings giving the windows a delicate appearance.  In addition to the decorative moldings each arched window has small decorative points projecting from the curves in the arch—this is known as cusping.  These are formed using small curves.  It is where these small curves meet and form a point or cusp.  Lastly, each window has a hood molding that forms at the side of the window and then culminates in the pointed arch.  Flanking both sides of the tomb are flying buttresses.  These highly decorative arches gave additional support to the walls within a building.  The buttresses were positioned at the points of greatest stress and added additional structural support.  Each of the flying buttresses are decorated with tall pinnacles which add weight to the buttress.  The connecting pieces between the buttresses and the building are referred to as flyers and even those are highly decorated with tracery and quatrefoils.

French Gothic

The Belmont Mausoleum, in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, is a near replica of the Chapel of Saint Hubert; the original is in Amboise, France, and is the final resting place of Leonardo da Vinci.  The mausoleum was completed in 1913 and is a masterpiece of late-fifteenth-century French Gothic architecture.  The front façade displays two intricately carved sculptures.  The chapel has many architectural features that were common to Gothic design:  Gargoyles—The spouts that were designed to divert rainwater away from the building were often elaborately designed to look like grotesque animals and human forms known as gargoyles.  These figures became popular in France during the Middle Ages, though they can be found in other countries during that time, as well.  Hood molding—If you look above the scene of the stag, there is a three-sided molding, also known as a drip molding.  Pinnacles—These ornamented structures are usually pointed and are found on the corners of the Saint Hubert Chapel.  They are often found on the buttresses of Gothic buildings.  Stepped buttresses—in the chapel, the stepped buttresses can be seen of the front of the building’s sides.  These are a mass of masonry built against a wall to give the building additional support and strength.  The buttresses on the chapel are stepped, meaning in this case, the buttress has a wider segment, then on top of that is a smaller one, and still one more smaller buttress on top of that.  Topping the buttress is a gargoyle. Trefoil window—In the middle of the gable on the front of the chapel is a roundel, a small circular frame.  Inside the roundel is a trefoil—three-lobed form—in this case, a window.  Spire—The tall, oxidized copper structure tapering up from the roof is a steeple or a spire.

Castellated Gothic

The main gate at the Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago was build in 1864, designed by famed architect William Boyington.  The gate is constructed of Joliet limestone in the Castellated Gothic style which is easily identifiable because of the distinctive battlements at the top of the building.  The gate, at first glance, looks like an ancient castle—hence the name of the style!  The massive square tower and the hexagonal towers that punctuate the building give it power and strength.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


May “Mollie” Cash Neal

Born 1844, Louisiana

Died October 1894, aged 49-50

Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Neal

Born 1867, Louisiana

Died June 17, 1889, aged 21-22

The monument in the historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta of two women sitting next two each other could be of two goddesses or two sisters.   The monument, however, was carved to represent a mother and a daughter.

The sculpture on the left is thought to represent May “Mollie” Neal, wife of Captain Thomas Benton Neal (born October 21, 1838, Pike County, Georgia—Died April 12,1902, aged 63, Fulton County, Georgia).

The sculpture to the right represents Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” the Neal’s daughter, who suffered from rheumatism for several months before her death.  The Times (Shreveport, Louisiana June 23, 1889, Sunday) wrote, “Miss Mary Lizzie Neal of Atlanta, Georgia…was long a sufferer of the fatal disease, paralysis of the heart, which has at last snapped the tender cord and torn her from adoring parents and sister.  She was formerly a Minden girl and a general favorite with her numerous friends here and elsewhere who mourn her untimely end.”

According to Images of America: Historic Oakland Cemetery by Tevi Taliaferro (Arcadia Publishing, 2001, page 99), the Neal monument was “Designed in the neo-classical style, the Neal Mother and Daughter monument features both women dressed in flowing Greek or Roman robes.”  Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery, An Illustrated History and Guide by Ren and Helen David (page 66) states Thomas Neal had the monument erected in memory of his mother and daughter.  A Celtic Cross, symbolizing eternal life, faith, and redemption, towers over the sculptures of the two female figures. 

One figure holds and open book as she looks upward.  The open book likely represents the Bible.  The other figure looks downward with one hand she holds a palm frond.  The palm frond is an ancient symbol of victory, dating back to Roman times when victors were presented with palm fronds. The palm fronds were also laid in the path of Jesus as He entered Jerusalem. So, for many Christians, the palm represents righteousness, resurrection, and martyrdom, symbolizing the spiritual victory over death associated with the Easter story.  On her lap rest a closed book which most likely indicates a completed life.  Between the two women rests a wreath.  The wreath is round—a completed circle—symbolizing eternity.  A laurel wreath represents victory over death and dates back again to Roman times.

This monument is not an original—that is there are others that look similar, like the Frank and Mary Lang monument in the Fairview Cemetery in New Albany, Indiana.  The white marble monument is weathered and worn, but is unmistakably the same.

Asleep in Jesus, blessed thought.

In memory of

Frank Lang

Died March 26, 1892

Aged 80 years

Mary C. his wife

Aged 77 years.

There is also the Morris monument in the Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.

Has anyone spotted others?

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Receiving Vaults

Many cemeteries have receiving vaults.  Below are two famous examples:

According to the signage next to the vault at the Oak Ridge Receiving Vault in Springfield, Illinois the receiving vault there was the:


“Abraham Lincoln was laid to rest here, in Oak Ridge Cemetery’s public vault, during services held May 4, 1865 Government officials, members of the military, foreign diplomats, and private citizens gathered to witness the ceremony.

“Over the following months visitors in the thousands came to pay respects.  A New Yorker found that the “stone doors of the sepulcher were open, and the sentry permitted people in small parties to approach the iron grating and view the coffin within.  It was draped in black and festooned with garlands of flowers and evergreen shrubs…Sadness pressed heavily upon me at the scene.”

“The president’s casket, along with that of his son William, who had died at the White House in 1862, remained here until December 1865.  Then they were moved to a newly built temporary tomb, located about midway up the ridge.

“Built in 1864, this receiving tomb, like those found in many American cemeteries, served “those who in their bereavement are not immediately prepared to site a Lot for the final resting place, also those who are awaiting the arrival of friends.” Oak Ridge remodeled and enlarged the vault in 1891.”

The Public Vault at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC has an early classical revival design.  The vault was constructed between 1832 and 1834.  Like other receiving vaults found in many American cemeteries, its purpose was to house bodies until their final resting place could be built or decided upon.  In some cases, where the winters are particularly harsh, the vault also served as a place to store bodies until a grave could be opened—often the families had to wait until a Spring thaw before the grave could be dug. 

Since its construction, about 4,600 individuals have been temporarily interred in the Public Vault including many famous people such as presidents, William Henry Harrison, John Quincy Adams, and Zachary Taylor.  The longest known “tenant” of the vault was First Lady Dolley Madison who was interred in the vault from July 16, 1849, until February 10, 1852.

The Public Vault fell into disrepair and was restored with federal funds and private fundraisers. In 2010, fundraisers held a prohibition-based themed effort to raise money and used the Public Vault as a cocktail bar—now that’s spooky and just a little bit creepy. Talk about spirits! 🙂

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A President’s Day Tribute–OK?

Martin Van Buren (December 5, 1782 – July 24, 1862) was a very successful political figure during the early part of the 19th Century and is considered one of the founders of the Democratic Party. Van Buren was born in Kinderhook, New York, where he began his career as an attorney but became involved in politics, first at the state level as a member of the New York Senate, the 14th Attorney General of New York, US Senator of New York, and as the 9th Governor of New York.  Andrew Jackson appointed Van Buren Secretary of State in 1829, and then in 1832 he ran as Jackson’s running mate becoming the 8th Vice President of the United States. 

During Van Buren’s political career, he had many nicknames—the Sly Fox, Little Van, the Little Magician, and Old Kinderhook, a nod to his hometown.  The later became part of his campaign slogan when he ran for the presidency in his own right—”VOTE for OK.” Many have attributed the term “OK” to Van Buren, but the term was first used in an article printed in the Economist and was used as a satirical abbreviation for “Oll Korrect.”  However, Van Buren’s campaign did help to popularize the term.

Van Buren won becoming the 8th President. But, largely due to the Panic of 1837, Van Buren lost his bid for a second term.  He did run again in 1848 nominated as the candidate for both the Barnburners Party and the Free Soil Party but lost that bid, as well.  Van Buren completely retired from politics living the rest of his life in his estate, Lindenwald, in Kinderhook, New York. 

In 1862, suffering from bronchial asthma and heart failure, he died on July 24th.  He was 79 years old.  Van Buren was buried in the Kinderhook Reformed Dutch Church Cemetery where his parents are also buried.  An obelisk set on a plinth and a base made of gray granite marks the graves of Martin Van Buren, Hannah, his wife, and their son, Martin Van Buren Jr.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mrs. Gamble’s Grave

This blog post is a departure from my usual posts in two ways.  First, it is a guest blogpost written by a friend of mine, Martin Henley.  Martin is an author of many books, most written for educators, but his latest read is titled, Scoundrels Who Made America Great, a book with a fresh look at five well-known figures who changed the course of history, such as, Anne Hutchinson, Benedict Arnold, and Clarence Gideon.

The second way in which this post is different, is that Martin shares a remembrance from his childhood about a colonial cemetery that was moved from one site to another in his town.  His story is follows: 

Mrs. Gamble’s Grave

            I am seventy years old.  The preceding sentence is simple and declarative, yet for me it is as unfathomable as time itself.  How did I get to seventy years, and why am I still here while some of my closest childhood friends have died. These were my thoughts as I stood over Mrs. Gamble’s grave. Her tombstone is a simple gray granite marker. Wreathed with grass and leaves, it lies flush with the ground. The inscription is brief.  In letters worn smooth from 145 years of weather, it reads: “Mrs. Gamble, Died Dec 17th, 1798.” Her simple stone is the only visible marker in a neglected colonial cemetery in Syracuse, New York.   

              In 1955, when I was twelve, stately elms and shady chestnut trees dotted the open green fields of the cemetery. Kids from the neighborhood made it their playground and called it “the Park.” In the fall we played football, and during the winter the diminutive cemetery hills bristled with sleds. Summer was the best. Baseball games followed the sun. We started early, suspended play for lunch, and resumed until supper. We chose sides by picking the two best players as captains. Chosen last was a temporary humiliation quickly dissipated as we embraced the flow of the game. The batting order was determined by the quickest to speak up. “I got first ups,” “I got second ups,” the chorus continued until the sequence of “ups” concluded with the last batter.  For the rest of the day the cemetery resonated with the crack of wooden bats on rawhide baseballs, and the shouts of hooting kids.

              We devised several ball fields, each with its own set of ground rules and golf-course contours. On one field a ball hit over a path was a home run.  On another fly balls bounced through tree branches. An improbable catch earned a week of bragging rights. Trees, rocks, and stumps served as bases. In my favorite field a chestnut tree was first base, a forlorn baseball mitt served as second, and Mrs. Gamble was third base. My friends and I sailed together through the boundless summer joking, teasing, swearing, and playing. They were precious times, and we knew it. 

        These days I travel to Syracuse infrequently, but when I do I visit the cemetery. It is quiet and empty. Kids don’t play there anymore. I clear off Mrs. Gamble’s tombstone, and I look around recalling the bittersweet days of my youth. The neighborhood has changed. The big red house I lived in on the corner is divided into apartments.  Surrounding houses look worn and weary. The Irish and Italian families who were the backbone of the neighborhood moved to the suburbs years ago. The park seems smaller, shrunken. Blight destroyed the elm trees. A few stunted chestnut trees still stand. Only Mrs. Gamble is unchanged. Her solitary tombstone remains, an obscure memorial to the joy of childhood and the melancholy of old age. 

Note: Mrs. Gamble was not included in the list of interned souls. According to local lore her grave just appeared in the cemetery. There is no record of her burial either in the first location on in the “park”. Hers is the only visible marker indicating that the “park” is a cemetery.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Porter Angel


1840 – 1941

Porter had a brief stint in the 45th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Militia during the Civil War.  After, he had a distinguished career as an industrialist manufacturing light locomotives.  He also served a term as a US Congressman. But Porter is most remembered for his philanthropic work. He was one of the founders of the Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.) and served as the president of the Pittsburgh Y.M.C.A. from 1868 to 1887.   He served on various other community and international boards, as well, including, the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, the Western Pennsylvania Institute for the Blind, the International Committee of the Y.M.C.A., the Carnegie Institute, the Crozier Theological Seminary, and as a member of the Board of Fellows of Brown University.

Henry Kirke Porter and his family plot is commemorated by a bronze angel, one of the most visited monuments in the Allegheny Cemetery. The angel is a classic example of mourning figures found in cemeteries—head bent down in grief, wide wing span, and draped gown. 

In the book, Images of America: Allegheny Cemetery, published in 2016, page 29, published by Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, South Carolina, authors, Lisa Speranza and Nancy Foley describe one of the most impressive monuments in the Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh—the Porter Angel.

“…perhaps one of the most recognizable faces within the cemetery, standing watch over the family of Henry Kirke Porter.”  …The current Porter Angel likely dates to the 1920s.  However, as early as 1906, a Pittsburgh Daily Post article shows a marble angel and sandstone cross at the family grave.  Imported from Italy, it was reputed to be one of the most striking examples of marble carving in any cemetery in America.  As it weathered, it was likely replaced with the stunning bronze monument that so many recognize today.” 

The replacement angel was created by sculptor Enrico Butti (April 3, 1847 – January 21, 1932) of Milan, Italy and cast at the Kunst Foundry in New York.  Sculptor Butti came by his talent naturally having been born into a family of sculptors and marble cutters.  At an early age, Butti went to study with renowned Italian sculptors Pietro Magni, Francesco Barzaghi, and Ugo Zannoni.  By the age 25, Butti won praise for his first exhibited work, Raphael cementing his career as a budding sculptor winning commissions during the rest of his lifetime.

The Porter Angel is cast bronze, standing the second of three steps that lead down from a Latin Cross.  The Latin Cross is universally recognized as a symbol of the Christianity however, it is not the only symbolism in the monument, which may be lost on some viewers. In this monument, the cross rests on a foundation of three progressively larger stones as a base. Each represents a different virtue—“Faith in the will of God…Hope for the dawn of that yet more glorious day and Charity toward all men.”

In the journal article: “Transmigration/Transformation Enrico Buttie’s Angel in Milan and Pittsburgh” by Elisabeth L. Roark, (Italian Review Vol. 7, No. 2, Summer 2017, pp. 148-179 (32 Pages) published by the University of Illinois Press) she describes the drama of the sculpture,

Nine feet tall, with an astonishingly detailed ten-foot wingspan, it wears a wide-sleeved, loose gown that cascades over its body and down three outsize granite steps.  Its pose is theatrical; a dramatic weight shift thrusts its lower torso forward, balanced by outstretched arms that extend to the front and the side.  Its long fingers form graceful gestures: on the left hand, spread wide and held parallel to the ground; on the right hand, the thumb and forefinger almost meet and reach toward the stone block beside it.  The angel’s head is bent as if concentrating on its right hand, eyes cast down and face framed by long wavy hair.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment