Double Headstones

In the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts, there are two gravestones, each memorializing a man and a wife’s life on the same gray slate gravestone.  Both gravestones are of similar design, with the willow and urn motif displayed in the tympanums.

The willow, as one might expect, represents sorrow—“weeping” willow would be a clue to its meaning. The willow first made its appearance in cemeteries in the early 18th century and became ubiquitous.  In addition, Christians saw the ability of the tree to live seemingly no matter how many of the branches were cut from the tree as a symbol of immortality. The urn was used by Romans to store cremated remains and the willow was associated with the Persephone, the goddess of the underworld. Combined they represent the soul’s journey from the Earthly Realm to the Heavenly Realm.

The motif represented a break from the stark and cold reminders that death would bring that the Puritans carved into their gravestones. The willow and the urn represented a more sentimental view of death that came about during the Great Awakening and the beginning of the Romantic Era. Often the willow and urn is accompanied with words like, “In memory of” or “Sacred to the memory of”. This represented a softer approach. This design coincided with a neo-classical revival that took place mid-18th Century in America.

 

THIS MORTAL MUST PUT ON IMMORTALITY

MR.

JAMES

BAKER

Died

Oct. 7. 1833

AE. 85.

MRS.

HEPHIZIBAH

BAKER

Died,

Feb. 8. 1831

AE 82.

Our Saviour will our lives restore,

And raise us from this dark abode:

Our flesh & souls will part no more,

But dwell forever near our God.

In memory of

MRS. LAVINA,

wife of Mr.

Joseph Farwell

who died

April 26,

1826: AEt. 57

 

In memory of

JOSEPH FARWELL,

who died

Jan. 25,

1829; AEt. 63.

The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

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The Beginning of the Romantic Era

Sacred

to the memory of

MRS. POLLY MANTOR

Wife of

Capt. Jeremiah Mantor

Who died

Oct. 19, 1817

Aged 31 years

8 mos & 3 days

My friend and colleague, Tom, vacations on Martha’s Vineyard and during one of his walks he took a tour through a neighborhood cemetery on the island.  He knows my passion for gravestones and shares an interest, too, though far less obsessively.  He snapped a couple of pictures and sent them to me.

The ornamented gray slate gravestone here has a rounded-top inset that has a weeping willow bending over the scene of a woman leaning on a giant urn with the words “O! DEATH” inscribed on the neck.  The woman is dressed in an empire-style dress, which was high couture at the time and looks like a character straight out of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  The woman could have been carved to represent Mrs. Polly Mantor symbolizes a mourning figure.

This gravestone demonstrates a softening of Puritan views about death that emerged during the Great Awakening and the beginning of the Romantic Era.  According to James Deetz and Edwin S. Dethlefsen, in their groundbreaking article, “Death’s Head, Cherub, Urn and Willow” the willow first made its appearance in cemeteries in the early 18th century.  The motif represented a break from the stark and cold reminders that death would bring that the Puritans carved into their gravestones—flying death’s heads, skulls and crossbones, and gravedigger’s equipment. In addition to the grim reminders of the inevitability of death Puritan gravestones often accompanied the haunting imagery with blunt words such as, “Here lies the body.” Nothing subtle there. The willow and the urn, however, represented a more sentimental view of death.

Often the willow and urn motif is accompanied with words like, “In memory of” or, as is the case with this gravestone, “Sacred to the memory of.” This change in language represented a softer approach.

Like many symbols found in the cemetery, they can have multiple meanings, or there can be disagreement about the meaning of the motif—the willow and urn is no exception. Christians saw the ability of the tree to live seemingly no matter how many of the branches were cut from the tree as a symbol of immortality. Others, however, suggest that the willow and urn predate Christianity to Roman times. The urn was used by Romans to store cremated remains and the willow was associated with the Persephone, the goddess of the underworld. Combined they represent the soul’s journey from the Earthly Realm to the Heavenly Realm. This design coincided with a neo-classical revival that took place mid-18th Century in America.

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Mail Order Markers

The Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut, produced cast zinc cemetery markers billed as “white bronze.”  The company set up their first subsidiary in Detroit, Michigan. Others followed in Philadelphia, New Orleans, St. Thomas, Ontario, Des Moines, and Chicago. The Chicago subsidiary was named the American Bronze Company.

Enterprising salesmen carried a catalog door-to-door with them to show customers the many styles and price ranges of their product line. In many cemeteries you can find evidence of highly successful salesmen who sold a large number of the markers. The zinc markers were produced beginning in the 1870s until the company closed shop in 1912.

The markers are distinguishable by their bluish-gray tint. These grave markers came in a wide assortment of sizes and shapes and were somewhat like grave marker erector sets.

 

The more elaborate markers had a shell of sorts and then various panels could be attached according to the tastes of the family ordering the grave marker. In this way, each marker could be “customized” to the tastes of the individual.

They were customized in other ways, as well. For instance, a customer could order a portrait cast in zinc for the monument—the ultimate personalization. These portraits came in several different forms—a bust, a full statue, or a bas-relief.  The examples show the range of possibilities that existed and that customers ordered.

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The Tuscan Order

David D. Pursglove

Born April 3, 1881 England

Died December 19, 1921

The gray granite mausoleum in the Saint Clairsville, Ohio, Union Cemetery is an example of Neo-classic design in the Tuscan order characterized, in part, by the plain Doric columns and the lack of ornamentation such as triglyphs or guttae.  The Tuscan order was largely a simplified version of the Doric order.  The protruding porch is supported by highly-polished non-fluted columns.  The occupant’s name, David Pursglove, is emblazoned on the architrave.

The tomb displays symbolism inside out—the passionflower, for example, adorns the pediment.  The passionflower was so named by Spanish Christian missionaries because they identified parts of the flower with the Passion of Jesus Christ.

  • Then ten petals represent the ten faithful disciples.  The two apostles who were not considered were St. Peter, the denier, and Judas Iscariot, the betrayer.
  • The filaments that circle the center of the flower represent Christ’s crown of thorns.
  • The curled filaments represent the whips used in flagellation of Christ.
  • The white color was equated with Christ’s innocence.
  • The styles symbolize the nails.

The bronze doors are split into two sections.  The upper section has a wreath overlaid on bars.  The wreath traditionally symbolizes victory over death.

The bottom panels feature inverted torches. The flame is symbolic of the soul.  The inverted torch represents a life that has been extinguished but the soul continues to exist in the Heavenly Realm.

A peek inside the tomb reveals a stunning stained-glass window in the rear of the mausoleum displaying a profusion of red American roses.

Romantics have waxed poetic about the rose and the connection to love for centuries which has made the rose an undeniable symbol of love.  The rose also has a religious meaning, differing by color.  The white rose symbolizes purity while the red rose represents martyrdom and the messianic hope that Christ will return.

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Man of Sorrows

Charles Hutchinson

October 3, 1828

August 9, 1893

Emily Smith Hutchinson

February 25, 1833

January 30, 1911

The Hutchinson monument in the Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois, displays a stylized bronze bas-relief of Christ surrounded by four attendants.  The title of the sculpture is “Man of Sorrows” which is a traditional devotional image that developed in the 13th Century.

This painting by Meister Francke, created around the year 1430, is a traditional rendition of a “Man of Sorrows” image. The painting depicts Christ with the wounds of His Passion. The painting also features four angels attending to the Messiah.

This sculpture differs from the iconic images produced at that time.  The artists of Northern Europe usually depicted Christ naked above the waist prominently displaying the wounds of His Passion often shown wearing the Crown of Thorns and sometimes attended by angels.  Here, Italian-born artist, Alfeo Faggi, depicts a seated Messiah with four attendants but no visible marks from the Passion.

Alfeo Faggi’s sculptures, like many other great artist’s works, can be found in North American cemeteries, including those sculpted by Daniel Chester French, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Aldabert Volck, Felix Weihs de Weldon, Karl Bitter, Martin Milmore, Alexander Milne Calder, T. M. Brady, Albin Polasek, Harriet Whitney Frishmuth, William Wetmore Story, Edward V. Valentine, Nellie Walker, Lorado Taft, Sally James Farnham, Adolph Alexander Weinman, Solon Borglum, and John Gutzon Borglum, a veritable who’s who in the art world.  These artists were able to earn a living creating sculptures, public and private.

Alfeo Faggi was born in Florence, Italy on September 11, 1885.  He studied art with his father—a fresco painter, as well as, studying at the Academia Belle Arti.  In 1913, Faggi immigrated to the United States to begin his art career.  Faggi is most well-known for his stylized forms and anti-Classical religious sculptures and paintings.  Faggi died October 17, 1966 at Woodstock, New York.

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In Stone and Iron

The A. C. Peck mausoleum and the Lynes-Peters mausoleum in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, both display the winged hourglass symbol prominently.

The Peck mausoleum displays the symbol on the iron gate that guards the entrance to the tomb.  The Lynes-Peters mausoleum has the motif carved on the lintel above the doorway.

There are several expressions in the American lexicon that express how fleeting our time on this Earth is, how this temporal life is short. The grand old soap opera, Days of Our Lives, has as their catchphrase, “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.”  Life measured by the grains of sand slip through one side of the hourglass to the other in a flash.

The hourglass symbol on a gravestone, often shown with wings, as it is in these two examples represent the same thought of time fleeting by quickly reminding us of the expression “Time Flies.”  This symbol, a winged hourglass, brings that expression to life, so to speak.

A reminder in stone and iron that life is short and that time is fleeting, every minute of every day brings one closer and closer to death.

It is also an admonition to us NOT to put off making that phone call to an ailing parent, sending that letter to a distant friend, mailing that birthday card even if it’s a day late, getting that present purchased and wrapped to celebrate an anniversary, or the simple act of telling those who you love that you do before it is too late and time has taken flight.

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The Cross and the Crown

The stained-glass window in a mausoleum in the Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia, displays a radiant cross and crown. The crown is a symbol of glory and victory over death.  The reward awaits in Heaven where the victor will receive a crown of victory. The cross represents the suffering of Christ and is a universal symbol of Christianity.

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