A Sign Post

A sign outside the gates of the Old North Cemetery announces the burial of the most New Hampshire native son within its fencing.  The sign outlines the major accomplishments of Franklin Pierce:


1804 – 1869

Fourteenth President of the United States

(1853 -1857)

Lies buried in nearby Minot enclosure.

Native son of New Hampshire,

Graduate of Bowdoin College,

Lawyer, effective political leader,

Congressman and U.S. Senator,

Mexican War veteran, courageous

Advocate of States’ rights,

He was popularly known as

“Young Hickory of the Granite Hills.”

While the sign outlines Pierce’s political accomplishments, there is nothing about his personal life.  Franklin Pierce was born in Hillsborough, New Hampshire.  He married Jane Appleton, the daughter of a Congregational minister.  Jane and Franklin were nearly polar opposites.  Franklin was outgoing and gregarious.  Jane was shy and suffered from depression.  Jane was pro-temperance and devoutly religious.  Jane was from a family that belonged to the Whig party and the Pierces were Democrats.  She eschewed the limelight, while Franklin thrived in it.

Their marriage and life together was punctuated with tragedy.  Franklin and Jane had three sons.  Franklin Pierce Junior, who was born in 1836, died just three days after his birth.  Their second son, Frank Robert, born in 1839 and died four years later from typhus.  Their third son, Benjamin, was killed in a tragic train accident two months before Pierce took office.  The family was traveling when the train they were riding in overturned and their son, Benjamin, was killed.

Pierce took the office of the presidency exhausted and bereft.

Pierce served one term.  His party did not re-nominate him.  He returned to private life but did not ever give up his zest for politics.  He stayed engaged but was not elected again to office.  His wife, Jane, died in 1863.  Franklin, a lifetime long heavy drinker, died in 1869 from cirrhosis of the liver.

President Franklin Pierce and his wife, Jane, were buried in the Old North Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in the Concord, New Hampshire.

The gravestone for President Franklin Pierce, his wife, Jane, and two of his three children, Frank and Benjamin, is constructed of unpolished gray granite and sits in a semi-circle of neatly-tended flowers and plantings.

The central portion of the monument consists of a block sitting on a platform.  A tall six-sided tapered column rises above the center block and is topped by a floriated or fleury cross, with a cloth draping it.  The empty cross with drapery is known by many different names—Risen Cross, Resurrection Cross, Draped Cross, Shrouded Cross—and symbolizes atonement and redemption. The center of the floriated cross features a circle.

On either side are flat blocks topped with a thin ledge flanking the central and main portion of the monument.  On the left side is the inscription:




BORN MAR. 12. 1806

DIED DEC. 2. 1863

On the middle portion of the monument is the following inscription:


BORN NOV. 23. 1804

DIED OCT. 8. 1869




1853 – 1857

On the right flank of the monument is the following inscription:



BORN AUG. 27. 1839

DIED NOV. 14. 1843


BORN APR. 13. 1841

DIED JAN. 6. 1853

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Happy President’s Day, Happy Birthday George Washington

In 1885, Congress passed a law to recognize and celebrate George Washington’s birthday each February 22.  On June 28, 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Act (Pub.L. 90—363) and moved four holidays—Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, Columbus Day and Washington’s birthday—to the nearest Monday to create more three-day weekends for American workers.  The bill took effect on January 1, 1971, though, Veteran’s Day was officially moved back to its original date on November 11, which reverted in 1978.

Most people have the misconception that by moving the date of the celebration of Washington’s birthday, that it combined the holiday to include Lincoln’s birthday with Washington’s (since they are both in February) or that the holiday was changed to include all presidents in the holiday.  Neither is true.  The holiday celebrates George Washington’s birthday.

So, today it NOT George Washington’s birthday—he was born February 22, 1732—and yet, we celebrate his birth.

In nearly every public poll, George Washington is listed as either the greatest president or polls in the second spot behind Abraham Lincoln.  He was, of course, our first president, and many of those at the Constitutional Convention that drafted the document believed and wanted George Washington as the first president.  He was described during those deliberations as the “first character.”

Washington set many precedents for the office and the country.  He was there to set up the American government after the devastating War of Independence.  His steady leadership guided our nation through the early years when our institutions were established.  Just as important to his legacy was he return to private life after two terms in office.  His old adversary, British King George III asked portrait artist Benjamin West what George Washington would do after the colonies won independence and West answered, “return to his farm.”  King George replied in near disbelief that that would make Washington “the greatest man in the world.”

After Washington left the office in 1797, he did, in fact, return to his beloved Mount Vernon.  Less than two years later he became ill after riding on horseback in freezing rain to inspect his plantation.  He awoke having difficulty breathing.  As was the practice, his doctor’s recommended bloodletting.  His condition weakened and on Saturday, December 14, 1799, George Washington died at Mount Vernon.  His last words were recorded as, “tis well.”

George Washington was buried on his plantation.  He now rests in a tomb beside his beloved Martha.  Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee put it best George Washing was, “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

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Monroe’s “Birdcage”

James Monroe (April 28, 1758 – July 4, 1831) was the fifth President of the United States (1817 to 1825).  Most historians rate Monroe as an above average president for the way he managed the office.  He appointed the people to various positions based on their credentials with no regard to whether or not they belonged to his political party which lessened the tensions in the two-party system. The economy was relatively stable during his presidency and the after the War of 1812, nationalism was running high.  His time in the office was dubbed “The Era of Good Feelings.” His crowning diplomatic achievements included the enunciation of the Monroe Doctrine and the acquisition of Florida.  During his presidency five states—Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, Maine, and Missouri—were admitted to the Union.  Monroe left office as a popular president.

When Monroe’s wife, Elizabeth, died in 1830, the president moved to New York to live with his daughter, Maria Hester Monroe Gouverneur, and her husband Samuel.  His health was already failing.  He died on July 4, 1831, and was buried in the Gouverneur family’s crypt in Marble Cemetery in New York City.

In 1858, Monroe’s body was re-interred in the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.  His body was laid to rest in a sarcophagus with a slate plaque that reads, “James Monroe, Born in Westmoreland County 28” April 1758.  Died in the city of New York 4” July 1831.  By Order of the General Assembly His Remains were removed to this Cemetery 5” July 1858.  As an evidence of the affection of Virginia for Her Good and Honored Son.”

The white granite sarcophagus is surrounded by an elaborate cast-iron temple-like structure designed by Albert Lybrock.  The Gothic Revival structure, complete with lancet and rose windows has become known as the “birdcage.”  Since its construction, it has repaired, patched, filled, and painted several times.  Even still the structure was in bad disrepair and needed urgent care.

A Richmond Times-Dispatch September 29, 2015, article reported, “The ornate cast-iron canopy over the tomb of President James Monroe will be taken apart and restored to its original, lighter color as part of a $900,000 restoration of the Gothic Revival structure that helped put Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery on the map. The repair project, announced … by the state Department of General Services, is timed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Monroe’s election as the fifth president in 1816.

Conservators estimated that up to 40% of the structure needed to be replaced, recast, or repaired.  After examination of the structure and photos of the canopy at the time of its erection, it was determined that it was originally painted a light gray more closely resembling the granite sarcophagus.  After the birdcage was taken apart and repaired, it was repainted to match the original color and re-installed as a fitting tribute to the fifth President of the United States.

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Jefferson’s Epitaph

Thomas Jefferson (April 2, 1743 O.S. – July 4, 1826) was the third president of the United States serving in that office from 1801 to 1809, when he was succeeded by James Madison, his protégé and political ally.  Jefferson stacked up an impressive record as president—he doubled the size of the country with the purchase of the Louisiana Territory; reversed the Alien and Sedition Acts of the previous Adams Administration, and sent off Lewis and Clark to explore the vast North American continent, among many other accomplishments.

But what he is likely remembered for most happened before he was elected to the highest office—in the hot summer of 1776, he wrote the Declaration of Independence, our founding document.  He penned those immortal words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

And with the following words our new nation was born, “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Perhaps one of the greatest tributes to Jefferson was given in a speech to Nobel Laureates on April 29, 1962, when President John Kennedy said, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. Someone once said that Thomas Jefferson was a gentleman of 32 who could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, and dance the minuet.”

He was definitely, to use an over used word, a genius.  He could read and write Latin and Greek and was fluent in French.  He designed his palatial home, Monticello.  Jefferson was a voracious reader and writer.  But Jefferson, though an accomplished politician and statesman, only wanted to be remembered for three things, which he had carved on the obelisk that he designed.  Jefferson left explicit instructions that not a single word more be carved on his gravestone but the following:

Here was buried

Thomas Jefferson

Author of the Declaration of American Independence

of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom

& the Father of the University of Virginia

The gravestone that marks the grave of Thomas Jefferson is a replacement.  The original was picked at by souvenir seekers.  Jefferson left instructions that his gravestone be made of a lesser stone, of a course stone, so as to prevent someone from wanting it.  He had no idea it would be chipped away by tourists.

I would like to thank my friend and colleague, Denny, and my friend and neighbor, Doug, for sharing their photos of Monticello and Jefferson’s graveyard with me.

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President Lincoln

Two hundred and nine years ago today, Abraham Lincoln, who became the 16th president of the United States, was born, as every school child knows, in a log cabin in Kentucky.  From very modest beginnings, Lincoln rose to the highest office through wit, political cunning, and hard work.

In poll after poll, many historians and the general population rank Lincoln either as the first or second greatest president to ever have served in the office of the presidency.  He is credited, rightly, with navigating to preserve the Union with moral clarity and “malice toward none.”  And two of his speeches, the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, are considered to be two of the greatest speeches ever delivered in our history.

His second term, however, was cut short when an assassin’s bullet killed him.  After Lincoln took his last breath, Secretary or War Edwin Stanton reportedly said, “He now belongs to the ages.” The country wept and mourned the fallen president.  The day his death became known, leaders in Springfield began to plan for a suitable tomb to be constructed.

After lying in state, Lincoln’s body was transported by train to Springfield, Illinois. After his body was removed from the Statehouse, it was taken to a receiving vault in the Oak Ridge Cemetery.

The monument designed by the architectural firm of Larkin Goldsmith and Mead that now contains the mortal remains of President Lincoln, his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln and their three youngest sons, was completed in 1874.

The tomb, constructed of granite from Biddeford, Maine, has a large rectangular single story and a semi-circular entrance with a 117-foot obelisk rising from the center.  On either side of the entrance are staircases that lead to the top of the tomb’s terrace.  Four large semicircles form the base of the obelisk with bronze statues representing the infantry, navy, artillery, and cavalry that defended the Union.  On a pedestal directly in front of the obelisk is a bronze statue of President Abraham Lincoln.

In front of the tomb is a bronze sculpture of Lincoln’s by Gutzon Borglum.  Many tourists rub the sculpture’s nose for good luck leaving it shiny.

In 1876, two hapless criminals from Chicago were caught in a failed attempt to steal Lincoln’s body and hold it for ransom—for cash and the release of one of their jailed buddies.  When they enlisted a third partner to help with their scheme, they chose a Secret Service informant and were easily caught.  This caused the authorities to rebury Lincoln’s body in a more secure vault underneath the floor of the original burial chamber.  Since the death and burial of Mary Todd Lincoln, the president and their three sons, Edward, Willie, and Tad, have been moved several times within the monument.  Lincoln is secure in an underground vault—Mary Todd Lincoln rests along with her sons in crypts in the burial chamber room.

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The Father of Photojournalism



OCTOBER 28, 1875 FEBRUARY 4, 1966







MAY 8, 1878 DECEMBER 26, 1964



Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor was the long-time editor of the National Geographic Magazine and is considered to be the “father of photojournalism.”  His wife of 64 years, Elsie May Bell Grosvenor, daughter of Alexander Graham Bell, is buried next to him, along with 14 other family members.

The memorial that marks the graves of the Hubbard, Bell, Grossman, and Pillot family members in St. Paul’s Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C., is a traditional gravestone style known as a stele.  The stele, a stone or wooden slab that is generally taller than it is wide and designed as a funeral commemorative, dates back many centuries and is one of the oldest forms of gravestone.

This stele has two rosettes on the shaft and is topped with an acroterion motif. The acroterion motif is a stylized palm leaf, which can be found on classical Roman and Greek architecture.  The word acroterion comes from the Greek meaning summit.  This motif has its origins in Egyptian art and architecture.

In the top of the stele, just under the cornice, is a bas-relief carving showing a classical nude male seated with his body turned to the right showing his profile. In his left hand he holds a torch and his right arm rests on an urn.

The urn was an almost ubiquitous 19th Century symbol found in nearly every American cemetery.  The urn symbolically represents the mortal body.

The torch upright with the flame atop represents life.  The torch is also seen as an instrument that illuminates the darkness representing enlightenment.  It can symbolize zeal, liberty, and immortality.

The stele was designed and carved by Yale-trained sculptor Lee Oscar Lawrie (October 16, 1877 – January 23, 1963).  Lawrie was a leading architectural sculptor who worked on commissions that included the Nebraska State Capitol, the Los Angeles Public Library, and the monumental bronze statue of Atlas installed at Rockefeller Center in New York City.  The stele and the sculpture of Atlas demonstrate Lawrie’s Moderne or Art Deco style. Both are characterized by strong simple lines, unadorned design, and powerful dynamic imagery.

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Under Her Feet

This funerary sculpture of the Virgin Mary can be found in the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois.  In addition to the symbolism of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which the Virgin Mary points to, is also the image and symbolism of Mary standing on a snake. Look to the bottom of the statue.

In Genesis 3:15 God speaks to the serpent after the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; He shall crush your head and you shall lie in wait for his heel.” In the Latin translation the passage read “she shall crush your head.”

The passage comes to be seen as a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Christ is the “seed of the woman.” Mother Mary is free from sin, both original and actual, and as such is viewed as the new Eve, the only woman who has a perfect enmity with the devil. It is the ultimate symbol of Mary’s victory over Satan.

In a larger sense it is viewed as the triumph of good over evil.


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