The Mystery of the Hereafter AKA Grief

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Henry Brooks Adams

February 16, 1838 – March 27, 1918

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Marian “Clover” Hooper Adams

September 13, 1843 – December 6, 1885

Henry Adams, the scion of the great and influential Adams family was a journalist, an historian and a novelist. Born a Boston Brahmin, Adams graduated from Harvard and first worked as his father’s private secretary. His father, Charles Francis Adams, Sr., was in the House of Representatives, then was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln as the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Henry accompanied his father to London and spent the Civil War years in the United Kingdom. In 1868, Henry Adams returned to the United States and began his career as a journalist and an historian, later a professor of Medieval History at Harvard.

In 1872, Henry and Marian “Clover” Hooper married at Beverly, Massachusetts, and set out on their European honeymoon. After Henry’s early retirement as a professor, the couple moved from Boston to Washington, D.C., where their home on Lafayette Square became a hub of entertainment for Capitol society. The Henry Adam’s happy home life was shattered on the morning of December 6, 1885. After breakfast, Adams, suffering from a tooth ache, was stepping out to see a dentist when he met a woman caller who had come to their house to visit Clover. Adams went upstairs to ask Clover, who had retired to her bedroom after breakfast, if she was well enough to receive a visitor. Clover was lying on the floor next to a vial of potassium cyanide.

There was speculation that Clover had committed suicide because she was distraught about her father’s recent death. Others believed that the mental illness in her family was the ultimate cause. Still other suggested darker theories; the truth, however, will never be known for sure.

Adams commissioned Stanford White, one of the most famous architects of his day, to design a memorial for his wife, Clover. Augustus Saint-Gaudens was chosen to create the statue that was to be the centerpiece of the memorial. Adams gave Saint-Gaudens specific instructions that he did not want a sentimental monument, but was looking to have the bronze be influenced by the Buddhist devotional art he had seen while traveling in Japan.

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Saint-Gaudens created the bronze titled, The Mystery of the Hereafter and the Peace of God that Passeth Understanding. The seated figure is a fusion of the male and female form with long flowing robes—contrasting the serene nature of the seated Buddhist figure with the waterfall-like clothing which creates a sense of moment and vitality. In spite of Adams’ admonition that this statue not be tagged with a saccharin and common name, the public came to call it simply, Grief, ignoring the lofty intellectual and exotic origins of its creation.

The Henry Adams Monument is one of the most sought out and visited in the Rock Creek Cemetery at Washington, D.C. Today the memorial is completely obscured by boxwoods which surround it. But, it provides a contemplative space to ponder life’s mysteries and the ultimate mystery of death itself.

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