Frighten the evil spirits

Robert H. Richards

January 18, 1830 – September 16, 1888

Josephine A. Rankin Richards

August 12, 1833 – December 14, 1910

The Robert H. Richards mausoleum, built by H. Q. French and Company of New York, in the Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia, is considered one of the most beautiful in the cemetery—a cemetery not short on beautiful mausoleums. Richards was a London-born businessman who successfully opened Atlanta’s first bookstore but really made “bank” when he co-founded the Atlanta National Bank with Alfred Austell.

The warm-colored stone mausoleum located on a slice-of-pie-shaped lot, is a combination of architectural designs—Gothic revival and Romanesque.  The vertical design, with a quatrefoil window in the tower are common elements in the Gothic style.  The rounded arches above the door and in the tower each with a slight Gothic peak, are much more reminiscent of Romanesque architecture.

The structure’s four gargoyles, also a Gothic feature, on the tower feature bats facing outward—with their wings stretched backward as the entire animal juts forward.  The bat is a rare graveyard symbol. Like many symbols it represents one thing in Eastern cultures and quite another in the West. To the Eastern cultures the bat is seen as a symbol of good fortune.

Not so in the West. Since Medieval times, the bat has symbolized demons and evil spirits. In cemetery symbolism the bat is associated with the underworld. Think how often the bat is used as a Halloween decoration—it is part of all things spooky, creepy, and the macabre.  As if the bats weren’t scary enough, these have lion heads and talons.  According to Images of America: Historic Oakland Cemetery, by Tevi Taliaferro, (pages 42 and 43), they are “intended to frighten away evil spirits” and many a child, I imagine.

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