From Rages to Riches

Our history is full of stories about smart and ambitious immigrants who “struck it rich” after they came to America.  One such story about Irish immigrant, James Graham Fair, who was born December 3, 1831, in Clogher, Ireland, to a poor family, recounts how he and his father moved to America.  The family tried farming in Illinois, but Fair moved West to seek his fortune in the gold country of California.  Eventually moving to Nevada to mine silver, he and three business partners literally struck it rich.  Fair became known as one of the “silver kings” who made millions on the Comstock Lode when they tapped into a large silver vein that was dubbed “the big bonanza!”

Fair invested in real estate, railroads, and banking increasing his vast fortunes. As his fortunes rose, so did his political fortunes—in 1881, Fair was elected to the U.S. Senate representing Nevada for a single term.  Though, Fair had been very successful in business, his personal life was less so.  His long-time marriage to Theresa Rooney, mother of his children, ended in 1883, when she requested a divorce because of his habitual infidelity.

Fair is buried in a towering mausoleum in the Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery at Colma, California.  The mausoleum is a masterpiece of eclectic architectural styles.  The half circle façade is reminiscent of the Baroque and Rococo, which used rounded shapes to exploit curves for plan forms.  The two “wings” of the façade envelope the viewer and are punctuated by modified and decorated Tuscan columns that support an elaborate cornice.  The cornice is decorated with lionheads while the friezes above the columns display Greek letters—alpha on the left and omega on the right. Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and omega is the last—they are respectively the “A” and “Z”. In this case, alpha and omega are a reference to the Biblical passages found in the Book of Revelation, Chapter 1, Verse 8: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty”.

There are three steps to the doorway to the mausoleum. This may be a nod to Christian symbolism, each step representing a different virtue—“Faith in the will of God…Hope for the dawn of that yet more glorious day and Charity toward all men.”

Even though, the doorway is a practical way to enter the tomb, even the door as a motif in funerary art symbolizes mystery.  The door represents the pathway from the Earthly realm to the Heavenly realm—the doorway is the portal the next and better life.

Carved in a low bas-relief above the doorway, is a winged angel.  Winged figures in a cemetery are instantly recognize as angels–messengers of God.  However, Christian art did not depict angels with wings until the fourth century.  Before then, angels were represented in several different forms–sometimes in human form, but also represented as a dove, or even just as a hand reaching down to Earth from the Heavens.  Beginning with the reign of Constantine, angels began being depicted with wings, as we commonly portray them today.  “Based on the winged Greco-Roman Nike or Victory, their form thus embodied Christianity’s promised triumph over death.  Medieval and Renaissance tombs often featured angels that attended images of the deceased.”

This angel is seated with an open book resting on her lap.  She looks down to view the register of names that have been recorded in the book.  In Judaism and Christianity, the names of the righteous were recorded in the Book of Life; they were assured entry into Heaven.

In her article, “Embodying Immortality: Angels in America’s Rural Garden Cemeteries, 1850—1900”, pages 56 – 111, 2007 edition of Markers, XXIV, Elisabeth Roark categorized the eight most commonly found types of graveyard angels—which included recording angels.  The “Book” is referenced many times in the Bible (King James Version), including Revelations, Chapter 20,Verse 12: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God: and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”

Verse 13: “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.”

Verse 14: “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death.”

Verse 15: “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

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1 Response to From Rages to Riches

  1. Sheldon Thomas Baker says:

    the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco was built by his daughters and named in his honor

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