Uncomfortable Coexistence

Lawrence McMahon

1845 – 1941

Jennie McMahon

1847 – 1907

The pyramid-shaped tomb of Lawrence McMahon, a retired pharmacy chain store businessman, and his wife, Jennie, in the Calvary Cemetery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was designed by Herman Buemming.  McMahon commissioned the mausoleum after his wife died in 1907.  When the tomb was completed in 1909, McMahon had her body re-interred.

Herman Buemming (1872 – 1943) was a native of Ohio who moved with his parents to Milwaukee as a child.   He apprenticed as a draftsman and eventually had the top drafting job at Pabst Brewing Company. In 1893, he moved to New York City to study architecture at Columbia University.  When he returned to Milwaukee he formed the first of several partnerships.  His various architectural firms designed commercial buildings and homes all around the city, many of which are still standing and part of the Milwaukee landscape.

The McMahon mausoleum designed by Buemming is an example Egyptian Revival architecture that became popular in the United States.  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 Pryamid 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.

However, the Egyptian and Christian symbolism share an uncomfortable coexistence in this design.  The pyramid-shaped mausoleum is the penultimate ancient pharaonic tomb.  Yet, it also displays the Celtic cross.  The Celtic cross is recognized by the nimbus featured with the cross.  The Celtic cross is above the doorway and also as incised carvings on each side of the top of the door frame. Many Christians objected to Egyptian motifs and their non-Christian origins.  To soften the impact, designers often included Christian symbolism, as is the case here.

This entry was posted in Mausoleums, Symbolism. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Uncomfortable Coexistence

  1. Bob Giles says:

    Looks like a copy of the Pyramid tomb in Perl Lachaise in Paris.

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