The Greenwood Cemetery is one of the largest cemeteries in New Orleans with over 150 acres of graves and tombs still with active burials. The cemetery was founded in 1852 by the Fireman’s Charitable Benevolent Association and has a number of communal vaults including the General Mechanics Society vault.
The white marble vault is crowned with a draped urn. Urns are found on top of columns and mausoleums. The urn, of course, is a container used to hold the ashes or the cremated remains of the dead. In this case, the urn is draped. The drapery either represents a shroud symbolizing death and sorrow or can also be a motif that represents a veil that separates the Earth and Heaven. The urn was an almost ubiquitous 19th Century symbol found in nearly every American cemetery.
The decorative gable features an inset depicting the allegorical figure, Lady Justice, which was introduced into the Roman pantheon of gods by Augustus as Justitas. Here she is shown blindfolded with her arm around the scales and a sword at her side.
Lady Justice is most often found in a courthouse pediment or as a statue at the entrance of the building. The blindfold is meant to show that justice is meted out fairly and impartially with no judgment regarding a person’s wealth, social status, or station in life. The scale is a symbol that dates back as far as ancient Egypt, with the heart of the deceased being weighed against the feather of truth. Here, rather than weighing the evidence of a crime, Lady Justice in a cemetery may be weighing a lifetime of sin or one of virtue. Some believe the double-sided sword at her side symbolizes reason and justice while others believe it represents justice as swift and final.