THOMAS TRUEMAN GAFF
“EXCEPIT ILLUM MAGNA ET AETERNA PAX”
The memorial statue on the Thomas Trueman Gaff grave in St. Paul’s Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C., as described by the Smithsonian Art Inventory Catalog: “The memorial features a bronze male figure seated on a tomb, his body loosely draped in a long hooded robe, and his left hand raised over his head as he gazes straight ahead. The sculpture is installed at one end of a long flat granite base with an inscription plaque on top.”
The bronze statue was created by French artist Jules Dechin, the base of the statue is marked with his name and the year, 1922. The Smithsonian description makes no mention of the meaning behind the statue.
Gaff was born in Aurora, Indiana, but made his fortune in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the distillery and heavy machinery industries. Gaff was appointed by Howard Taft, who was the Secretary of War at the time, to be a commissioner on the Panama Canal. The Gaffs moved to Washington, D.C., in 1904. Gaff died in 1923; here below is his obituary from the Washington, D.C., January 18, 1923, edition of the Evening Star:
“THOMAS GAFF DIES IN HIS 66TH YEAR
Well Known Resident of Washington Had Long Been Ill—Funeral Here.
Thomas Trueman Gaff, a well known resident of Washington, died yesterday at his apartment, in the Lenox, Boston, Mass., after a long illness. The family home in this city is at 1520 20th street northwest. Mr. Gaff was sixty-six years old. While the arrangements for the funeral have probably not been completed, the services will probably be held at St. John’s Episcopal Church next Monday at 11 o’clock. Announcement of the complete funeral arrangements will be made later.
Mr. Gaff who was the son of James Wilson and Rachel Conwell Gaff was born at Aurora, Ind., September 27, 1856, but ten years later his parents moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where they became presently identified with that city. He was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy and entered Harvard College in the class of 1876, but left in his junior year to spend one semester studying at the University of Gottingen and two semesters at the University of Leipzig. In 1899 he was given the degree of bachelor of arts by Harvard College as of 1876.
Moves to Capital.
Upon his return from abroad, Mr. Gaff entered business in Cincinnati and subsequently became actively associated with a number of important corporations, among them the Pratt and Whitney Company and the Niles-Bement-Pond company, of which he was one of the organizers and a director until his death.
November 14, 1883, he was married at Newport, R. I., to Miss Zaidee Ellis, youngest daughter of Mathias and Sarah Forsyth Ellis of Carver, Mass., who were well known in Boston, Lenox, Albany, and Newport. In subsequent years much of Mr. and Mrs. Gaff’s life was spent in travel abroad, in Washington, or at their place, the Ship, at Osterville, Mass.
In 1897 they took up their residence in Washington, and their handsome house at 1520 20th street northwest, has been the scene of many brilliant entertainments in the past years. In the spring of 1905 Mr. Gaff was appointed by Secretary of War Taft, a member of the board of arbitration to value the land which had not already been acquired, but which was necessary for the construction of the Panama Canal.
Mr. Gaff was a member of Institute, D. K. E., “Med. Fac.” and Porcellian of Harvard College: Queen City and Riding clubs of Cincinnati: Metropolitan, Chevy Chase, Montgomery Country, Cosmos, University and Lock Tavern clubs of Washington, University, Harvard and Manhattan clubs of New York, and the Royal Mersey Yacht Club of Liverpool, England.
He is survived by his wife, a daughter, Mrs. Cary Duval Langhorne, and by two sisters, Mrs. Daniel H. Homes and Mrs. Charles M. Hinkle.”
I’m a native of DC and have enjoyed occasional wanders through the Rock Creek Cemetery . . . how did I miss this wonderful bronze? Probably because I was long ago seduced by Clover Adams’s grave, where I’ve spent many hours contemplating the so-called Grief. I now have a new reason to walk farther. Excellent post, as always; your blog casts a calm and appreciative light on cemeteries, for which I’m grateful. Happy new year to you, and may you lead me to many more cemetery discoveries.
It is easy to be mesmerized by the memorial to Clover Adams. Thank you for your generous comments. I have written other posts about gravestones in the Rock Creek Cemetery–if you search by “Rock Creek” in the search feature of the blog, they will pop up. More to come, for sure.
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I don’t recognize the (doubtless) Biblical verse, but excepit illum etc. means “A great and eternal peace welcomed him.” He’s rising in the resurrection, right? I’ve always been reminded of Jules Verne’s astonishing grave by this one.