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.