Flatware and Bronze Doors

The doors to mausoleums are often imbued with symbolism.  In fact, the door itself represents a portal.  Portals come in many forms—a door, a window, even your eyes and your mouth are considered portals.  Many superstitions about death concern portals, many of which come from the Victorian Age, some of which still exist today.

The eyes, for instance, are considered the windows to the soul. Victorians believed the eyes were powerful, almost magical, even in death. When a person died therefore, the body had to be removed from the home feet first (most people died at home in the 19th Century). In that way, the eyes of the deceased could not look back and lure a live person to follow the dead through the passageway to death.

The Victorians also believed that as you passed by a cemetery that you needed to hold your breath. The fear was that if one opened one’s mouth, that a spirit from the dead residing in the cemetery would enter your body through the portal—the open mouth.

Another superstition had to do with the mirrors in the home. After a death, the family very quickly covered the mirrors. It was believed that mirrors were false portals in a sense. The Victorians believed that the spirit of the dead could enter a mirror and become trapped in the mirror. If the spirit did so, it would not be able to complete its trip through the passageway from the Earthly realm to the Heavenly realm, or in some cases, to warmer climes.

The door as a motif in funerary art symbolizes mystery.  The door is the portal from the Earthly realm to the next. In Christianity, the door is usually viewed with hope, charity, and faith.  The next life in the hereafter will be better than the one experienced here on Earth.

The door pictured here was created for the Charles B. Bohn mausoleum in Detroit’s Woodlawn Cemetery by Rhode Island artist, Philip Bernard “Ben” Johnson.  Johnson was a long-time sculptor at the Gorham Silver Company and Foundry for over 50 years.  While working at Gorham, Johnson created Silver place settings, flatware, tea sets, and doors.

The bronze door features a classically dressed and draped mourning figure standing with her head bowed, tentatively waiting in somber silence.  In David Robinson’s book, Saving Graces, he describes these figures as “grieving women who signify how deeply the deceased is missed.  As symbolic mourners, their idealized beauty is spiritual, representing purity, passion, and commitment…But these women also serve as escorts on the journey ahead. 

With her other hand the mourning figure is lifting part of her garment uncovering part of her face.  The veil represents the partition that exists between the Earthly realm and the Heavenly one–between life and death.  Again, this door has two main symbols—pine cones and leaves and laurel leaves.  The bottom of this door has one additional symbol nestled in with the laurel branches—the Easter lily. The Easter lily, as a funerary symbol, has many meanings including purity, innocence, virginity, heavenly bliss, majestic beauty, and Christ’s resurrection.  Christians believe that the trumpet-shaped blossoms announce the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.   The Easter lily has long been associated with the Christian religion, commonly referred to as “White-Robed Apostles of Christ.” Early Christians believed that lilies sprouted where Jesus Christ’s sweat fell to the ground in the Garden of Gethsemane.

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…that immortal sea…

Anna Dorinda Blaksley Barnes Bliss


Anna Bliss was a generous benefactor to many charities including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Natural History in New York and the Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, California.  Mrs. Bliss was also a supporter of the suffragette movement and donated over a half a million dollars to the League of Political Education.

When her niece, Cora Barnes, fell to her death, Anna Bliss held a secret competition to create a memorial in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx to commemorate her life.  The competition was unusual.  Most patrons or their estates chose the sculptors themselves.  Each of the six artists were given photographs of the lot on which the memorial would stand.  Robert Aitken’s design was chosen.

The book, Sylvan Cemetery: Architecture, Art, & Landscape at Woodlawn, described the memorial as “The two figures … of heroic size … symbolical of the soul leaving the body, the … figures are of Faith and Hope.  The spirit-forms of a man and a woman, carved by the Piccirilli Brothers from Aitken’s model, stand atop a low curving bench, with spiral forms at each end, suggestive of flowing water.  Chiseled on the bench is the quotation, “Our soul has sight of that immortal sea which brought us hither.” Which comes from William Wordsworth’s ode, Imitation of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. In the poem, the lines suggest that our soul can reconnect with the formless, timeless realm from which we arrived as infants, when we were closer to the celestial before engaging the material world.”

The cinerarium in the back of the monument holds the ashes of Cora Barnes and Mrs. Bliss.

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Stained Glass Pieta

Many mausoleums have a window in the rear part of the tomb—often made of stained glass. Many of these windows are hand painted works of art, most often depicting religious symbolism or religious figures.

This stained glass and hand-painted window features the Virgin Mary and the dead body of Jesus Christ, known as a pieta.  Works of art, usually sculptures, depicting this subject first began to appear in Germany in the 1300’s and are referred to as “vesperbild” in German.  Images of Mary and the dead body of Jesus began to appear in Italy in the 1400’s. The most famous of these sculptures is Michelangelo’s pieta which he sculpted for St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, carved when he was only 24 years old.  Pieta is Italian for “pity.”  The scene in this window is reminiscent of the sculptures that were first popularized in Germany depicting the Lamentation.

Here The Virgin Mary tenderly holds the limp and dead body of Jesus Christ, clutching Him close, Her head bowed in sorrow.

In the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/2001.78 (October 2006)) a Bohemian Pieta on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is described in details that as easily could apply to this window from a mausoleum in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, “Images of the Virgin with the dead Christ reflect late medieval developments in mysticism that encouraged a direct, emotional involvement in the biblical stories… The sculptor exploits the formal and psychological tensions inherent in the composition…Christ’s broken, emaciated body, naked except for the loincloth, offers a stark contrast to the Virgin’s youthful figure, clad in abundant folds.”

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Escorts on the journey ahead

The modest mausoleum in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx was built for Charles Waite Waller (March 20, 1870-January 19, 1927) and his wife, Rose Ann Hutchcroft Waller.  Charles was born in the tiny coastal village of Anderby, England, with the original name of Whaler, which he later changed to Waller.  Waller was the financial officer and vice president for the United Hotel Company.  According to the January 20, 1927, Washington, D.C. Evening Star, (page 16), Waller was a hotel finance expert who died at the age of 56.  In addition to his work at the hotel company, Waller was long interested in electrical power and was associated in business with General Electric for over 15 years.  Waller died during a business conference he was conducting in his home.

The building is a plain unpolished gray granite tomb with a curved pediment as its only adornment.   The focal point of the mausoleum is the door which was created by Austrian-born artist Julius Loester.  Loester (April 12, 1861—July 20, 1923) was the son of Josef and Wilhelmine Loester who, like many artists at the time, took private and public commissions.

The figure Loester created for the Waller Waite mausoleum is like so many of the doors for tombs, it features a classically dressed and draped mourning figure standing with her head bowed, tentatively waiting in somber silence.  In David Robinson’s book, Saving Graces, he describes these figures as “grieving women who signify how deeply the deceased is missed.  As symbolic mourners, their idealized beauty is spiritual, representing purity, passion, and commitment…But these women also serve as escorts on the journey ahead.  As designated companions in eternity, they are posted there to watch over and take care of the deceased.  Forever present, they are also forever young…these women symbolize the aspiration of eternal life, not the acceptance of death.  They may grieve, but they also comfort, and in this role, their beauty is more sensual than spiritual.”  Robinson notes that these mourning figures are “Pure on the one hand, sensual on the other, idealized yet lifelike…a very human combination of spiritual devotion and earthly desire.”

Loester took commissions for funerary monuments.  For instance, he created the doors for the Winter Mausoleum in the Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh and the door for the Woolworth Mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery.  But He also received commissions for innovative and new sculptural projects.  An article titled, “Models in Miniature: A New Device of Architects to Prevent Disappointment of Owner,” in the New York Tribune from November 16, 1902, states that millionaires building palatial homes in Manhattan were often disappointed once the house was built because they didn’t really understand the plans they looked at when the blueprints were drawn up.  According to the article, innovative artist Julius C. Loester took the plans and constructed a plaster scale model of the house so the owners could see in 3-D what their house would look like thereby preventing disappointment.

He also won some major public commission work, such as the contract for the creation of the statuary for the Liberal Arts Building and the Horticulture Building at the Trans-Mississippi International Exposition of 1898 in Omaha, Nebraska.

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Double Take

The Egyptian Revival was an architectural movement that swept the United States and Europe.  The movement in America was influenced by three separate events—the first was Napoleon’s defeat of Egypt in the 1790s.  Later Napoleon published the results of his scientific expedition, which was printed in serial form, the last released in 1826.  The second event was when the so-called “Cleopatra’s Needle” was erected in Central Park in New York on February 22, 1881.  Lastly, “Egypto-mania,” as some called it, reached fever pitch in November 1922 when King Tut’s tomb was discovered, and the news flashed around the world.

The influence of the Egyptian Revival was reflected in buildings in the United States as early as the 1820s.  The revival was also found in American cemeteries in the 19thcentury and on into the 20th century. Egyptian ornamentation can be divided into three categories—architectural, geometric, and natural.

One example of a mausoleum that was Egyptian Revival-style architecture was the F. W. Woolworth (of five-and-dime department store fame) Mausoleum in Woodland Cemetery in the Bronx built by the Farrington, Gould, and Hoagland Monument Company.  According to the book, Sylvan Cemetery: Architecture, Art, & Landscape at Woodlawn, (page 107) “Egyptian themes inspired mausoleum doors, such as the one designed by Julius Loester for the Woolworth mausoleum, with costume, birds, and flowers intended to signify ancient Egypt and its enduring mysteries .”

The door to the Woolworth Mausoleum.

The door to the Winter Mausoleum.

According to a flyer published by the Allegheny Cemetery Historical Association in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an exact replica of the Woolworth Mausoleum was built for Emil Winter.  Winter was an “industrialist, banker, and founder of The Pittsburgh Steel Company, making him a man of vast  wealth…Living in New York City in his later years, he saw the Egyptian-style Woolworth family Mausoleum in Woodlawn and had an exact replica made for him in 1930 for his own lot in the Allegheny Cemetery.”  Even the door created by Julius Loester adorns the Winter Mausoleum.

The Winter Mausoleum sphinx.

The two gray granite mausoleums have strong and commanding architectural features. The sides of the tombs tilt slightly inward from the bottom to the top.  Rather than a traditional cavetto cornice curves which forms into a half circle at the top, the tomb has an architrave with a repeating reed pattern. The pediment rises very slightly to a peak.  The monument is geometrically balanced—two sphinxes flank the tomb.

The natural elements of the monument feature two winged globes with uroei above the doorway and on the cornice. In these examples 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.

Along the sides of the doorway are the long slender stems of the lotus flower, sacred to the Egyptian and Buddhist cultures. The Lotus represents purity and evolution. The lotus is born in the water, the primordial ooze—making it also a symbol of creation and rebirth.  Etched into the columns are incised scarabs and ankhs—both symbols from ancient Egypt.  The scarab beetle was represented the cycle of life—rebirth and regeneration and the ankh as the key to eternal life.

The monument gives one the sense of solemnity and a sense of eternity, reminiscent of the temples of the pharaohs.

The Winter Mausoleum.

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James Cash Penny, Jr.

The light gray granite mausoleum belongs to J. C. Penny (September 16, 1875 – February 12, 1971) the American businessman and department chain founder that bears his name.

The mausoleum is relatively plain, except for the elaborate repeating pattern surrounding the entryway that serves as a frame for the sculptured bronze door that features a classically draped mourning figure.  A circle of oak leaves and acorns forms a halo around the bowed head of the   melancholy woman.  One hand is bent and resting on her shoulder, while the other clutches a flower, as if it might be an offering.

The door as a motif in funerary art symbolizes mystery.  The door is the pathway from the Earthly Realm to the Heavenly Realm.  In Christianity, however, the door is usually viewed with hope, charity, and faith—the next life will be better.

The door was created by artist Oronzio Maldarelli, the son of Louisa Rizzo and Michael Maldarelli, Italian immigrants who came to America in 1901 when eight or nine years old.   Oronzio’s father, Michael, was a goldsmith.  Oronzio showed early promise as an artist and took lessons at the Cooper Union before enrolling at the National Academy of Design.  Maldarelli enjoyed a long career as a successful and award-winning sculptor whose commissions included architectural sculpture, his own free-standing works, and funerary designs.  He taught at Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University.  This bronze door is signed in the lower right hand corner of the door by the Maldarelli.

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The Gates Mausoleum


The Gates Mausoleum (not Bill Gates, who is very much alive) in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx is a massive display of wealth.  Robert “Bet-a-Million” Warne Gates, who made a fortune manufacturing and selling barbed wire and founding an oil company that later became known as Texaco, and had a penchant for gambling, built the austere classic revival-style light-gray granite mausoleum.  The mausoleum is of the Doric order—characterized by the fluted columns with no base resting directly on the stylobate, the capitals are slightly curved and unadorned.  The architrave (stone panel that traces around the building just above the column) is plain, as is the frieze which is generally enhanced with triglyphs, guttae, and bas-reliefs.  The cornice (the triangle-shaped architectural element above the door) is plain and adds to the solemnity of the tomb.

The massive bronze door into the mausoleum’s interior was created by the famed sculptor, Robert Ingersoll Aitken in 1914. Many great artist’s works can be found in North American cemeteries, including those sculpted by Daniel Chester French, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Aldabert Volck, Felix Weihs de Weldon, Karl Bitter, Martin Milmore, Alexander Milne Calder, T. M. Brady, Albin Polasek, Harriet Whitney Frishmuth, William Wetmore Story, Edward V. Valentine, Nellie Walker, Lorado Taft, Sally James Farnham, Adolph Alexander Weinman, Solon Borglum, and John Gutzon Borglum, a veritable who’s who in the art world.  These artists were able to earn a living creating sculptures, public and private.  Aitken “was a California-born sculptor who had trained in Paris and taught at the National Academy in New York.”  Aitken’s most well-known work are the nine sculptures that adorn the pediment on the Supreme Court Building in the U.S. Capital in Washington D.C.

The mourning figure on the door of the grand mausoleum is described in the book, Sylvan Cemetery: Architecture Art & Landscape at Woodlawn, as a “flowing figure of a grieving woman, seen from the rear with drapery slipping down to revel a long and sinuous form, a play of curved and angular contour lines.  Her long fingers speak of the tension between her continuing agony at her loved one’s absence, as seen in the clawing motion of her right hand and her need for calm reflection and endurance in the left hand.  Her head is bowed and her face hidden from our view signifying the ravages of grief works on the harmony and beauty of the human face.”

Robert Ingersoll Aitken (1878 – 1949) also created a sculpture of a seated angel sculpture as a funerary monument for William August Starke in the Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The bronze sculpture is 69 inches high and 62 inches wide, resting on a light rose-colored unpolished granite base that is 44 inches high, 63 inches wide and 53 inches deep.

The angel has Calla lilies laying in her lap, recognized as a symbol of marriage.   Aitken completed the monument in 1921—signed in the lower left corner of the bronze plinth, “AITKEN FECIT”—Latin for “Aitken made it.”

William A. Starke, a Milwaukee businessman and entrepreneur, was an immigrant, who along with his four brothers, came to the States from Kolenfeld, Germany.  The five brothers founded the C. H. Starke Bridge and Dock Company, were involved in the Milwaukee Bridge Company, the Christopher Steamship Company, and the Sheriff Manufacturing Company.

William Starke was married to Louise Manegold Starke (1858 – 1939) who is buried next to him, as well as their 40-year old daughter, Meta Eleanor Starke Kieckhefer (1883 – 1923).

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