The Mystery of the Hereafter AKA Grief


Henry Brooks Adams

February 16, 1838 – March 27, 1918


Marian “Clover” Hooper Adams

September 13, 1843 – December 6, 1885

Henry Adams, the scion of the great and influential Adams family was a journalist, an historian and a novelist. Born a Boston Brahmin, Adams graduated from Harvard and first worked as his father’s private secretary. His father, Charles Francis Adams, Sr., was in the House of Representatives, then was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln as the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Henry accompanied his father to London and spent the Civil War years in the United Kingdom. In 1868, Henry Adams returned to the United States and began his career as a journalist and an historian, later a professor of Medieval History at Harvard.

In 1872, Henry and Marian “Clover” Hooper married at Beverly, Massachusetts, and set out on their European honeymoon. After Henry’s early retirement as a professor, the couple moved from Boston to Washington, D.C., where their home on Lafayette Square became a hub of entertainment for Capitol society. The Henry Adam’s happy home life was shattered on the morning of December 6, 1885. After breakfast, Adams, suffering from a tooth ache, was stepping out to see a dentist when he met a woman caller who had come to their house to visit Clover. Adams went upstairs to ask Clover, who had retired to her bedroom after breakfast, if she was well enough to receive a visitor. Clover was lying on the floor next to a vial of potassium cyanide.

There was speculation that Clover had committed suicide because she was distraught about her father’s recent death. Others believed that the mental illness in her family was the ultimate cause. Still other suggested darker theories; the truth, however, will never be known for sure.

Adams commissioned Stanford White, one of the most famous architects of his day, to design a memorial for his wife, Clover. Augustus Saint-Gaudens was chosen to create the statue that was to be the centerpiece of the memorial. Adams gave Saint-Gaudens specific instructions that he did not want a sentimental monument, but was looking to have the bronze be influenced by the Buddhist devotional art he had seen while traveling in Japan.


Saint-Gaudens created the bronze titled, The Mystery of the Hereafter and the Peace of God that Passeth Understanding. The seated figure is a fusion of the male and female form with long flowing robes—contrasting the serene nature of the seated Buddhist figure with the waterfall-like clothing which creates a sense of moment and vitality. In spite of Adams’ admonition that this statue not be tagged with a saccharin and common name, the public came to call it simply, Grief, ignoring the lofty intellectual and exotic origins of its creation.

The Henry Adams Monument is one of the most sought out and visited in the Rock Creek Cemetery at Washington, D.C. Today the memorial is completely obscured by boxwoods which surround it. But, it provides a contemplative space to ponder life’s mysteries and the ultimate mystery of death itself.


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Eternal Disdain

Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois

Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois





1836 – 1891.





A few weeks ago, my son and I drove over to Springfield, Illinois, to visit the Lincoln Tomb in the Oak Ridge Cemetery. A cemetery docent told us about the highlights in the cemetery including a tip to make sure we visited the gravesite of Mattie Rayburn.

Her monument sets on the highest hillock in the cemetery with a white-marble sculpture of Mattie sculpted by the Springfield firm of Richter and Doland atop a polished granite column. The docent said, “Mattie wanted to be able to look down on all those who looked down on her during her lifetime.” Now for eternity she does just that from her perch.

But why did the citizens look down on Mattie, she was, after all, a wife of esteemed Bishop W. H. Rayburn? That is where the story begins to unfold. Rayburn had been a Methodist minister at Williamsville, Illinois, a small town just north of Springfield, before being elevated to Bishop by the Pilgrim Movement which advocated the doctrine of Free Love.

There seems to be some confusion as to whether Mattie was Bishop Rayburn’s wife at all or whether she was, in fact, his mistress. There is also confusion about whether the woman buried under the column is Mattie Rayburn, a Hannah Funk Rayburn, or a Mrs. Redfield or if they are all the same person. What is clear is that Reverend Rayburn’s views on Free Love and faith healing were too much for the sensibilities of the Williamsville Methodists—in 1869 Rayburn was relieved of his duties as a minister of the church. That is when he went on to form his own ministry. Rayburn was evidently charismatic and strikingly handsome—a bit of a dandy, building a flock that followed him.

He took his ministry on the road and on the seas—all the way to California and on trips overseas—always returning to the Springfield area. On one such trip back, Mattie died and was buried at the Oak Ridge Cemetery. The Bishop went to Europe. Some believe he is buried in a pauper’s grave in Ireland while others believe he was laid to rest in Paris. Whatever the truth about the prairie preacher, Mattie’s likeness stands watch over those who gave her a gaze of disdain. She faces Northeast toward the village of Williamsville, arms folded with a look of stoic disapproval.


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One of the things that I love about cemeteries, large and small, is the beautiful and moving artwork that you come across. The crucifix on the gravestone in the Rock Creek Cemetery at Washington, D.C., is not a traditional representation. But, the sculpture is expressive and moving demonstrating the pain and the suffering of Christ on the cross.

The symbol of Jesus Christ hanging on the cross is called a crucifix. This cross, which is not a part of the sculpture, though ever present, demonstrates the suffering of Christ.

The word crucifix is from Latin and is the combination of two words—cruci and fixus—which translates to one fixed to a cross.


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Seat of the Mighty Oak


The rustic movement of the mid-nineteenth century was characterized by designs that were made to look like they were from the country. Elegant and slim curved lines in furniture gave way to bulkier and heavier forms made from pieces that came directly from the trees often with the bark still intact.

In decorative furniture this often took the form of chairs made from rough tree limbs curved to form arms and chair backs, chair legs made from tree roots growing upwards. This kind of design was mimicked in cemetery furniture, as well, as seen in this cemetery bench in the Mount Carmel Cemetery at Hillsdale, Illinois.

The rough limbs are curved. The seat and the seat back of the bench is smooth to add to the comfort of sitting on the bench. The bench is adorned with two large upside down acorns on either side.


The acorn, seed of the mighty oak, is a symbol of prosperity and fruitfulness.  When the acorn is paired with oak leaves it is seen as a traditional symbol of strength.  The single acorn can represent a kernel of truth born into spiritual growth.  Twin acorns can represent male sexuality.  Two acorns can also represent truth and power of the Holy Spirit. The former is revealed in the Earthly realm and the later after entering the Heavenly realm.


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There is no Death





“There is no Death”

The souring angel in the Rock Creek Cemetery at Washington, D.C., that marks the grave of Anne Simon was carved by Brenda Putnam (1890-1975), a well-known 20th Century sculptor and author.


Putnam was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She created many commissions of noted Americans, such as, Jane Addams, Amelia Earhart, Pablo Casals, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and even the artwork for the Moses Cleveland Centennial half dollar. She also sculpted cemetery works like the angel on Anne Simon’s grave.

Anne Simon (1870-1916) was a talented artist who expressed her creativity through poetry and prose writing. She was an accomplished pianist, too. In fact. The morning of her death she performed in an instrumental trio.

After her death, her husband Otto Torney Simon wrote a book, The Message, the text of which he claimed he received from Anne after her death. The book published in 1920 and was titled, The Message of Anne Simon. Part of her epitaph, “A SOUL WHOSE EYES WERE KEENER THAN THE SUN, A SOUL WHOSE WINGS WERE WIDER THAN THE WORLD” is in the foreword to the book. The last cryptic line of her epitaph, “There is no Death” is also from the book written after her death. On page 26, Otto writes, “There is identity here! You will know me. And give the message: There is no Death, but there is Life, a new Life, which mortals will understand when they know love. The veil is thin (use gossamer; it is beautiful). Love will rend even this…Give this message!


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Lorado Zadoc Taft (April 29, 1860 – October 30, 1936) one of the great American sculptors of the late 19th and early 20th Century, was born at Elmwood, Illinois. His parents, a homemaker and a professor of geology, homeschooled young Lorado before he went on to the Illinois Industrial University (which later became the University of Illinois at Urbana—Champaign), where he received a bachelor’s and master’s degree. He then studied abroad at the famed École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts from 1880 to 1883, in Paris where he was widely recognized for his talent. He returned to the United States and settled in Chicago where he took up a career as an artist and a teacher. Lorado Taft was one of the premier sculptors of his day.  He was a widely published scholar on the topic and his work was highly sought after.  He was commissioned to produce many public works including The Soldier’s Monument in Oregon, Illinois, The Solitude of the Soul Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, and The Fountain of Time in Chicago.


His works also include funeral or cemetery monuments such as the Victor Lawson monument in the Graceland Cemetery at Chicago. Only a master carver could sculpt this magnificent statue from stone as hard as granite. The celebrated Lorado Taft created the monument in 1931, for newspaperman Victor Lawson (1850-1925).   Lawson had inherited SKANDINAVEN, a Norwegian-language newspaper, but met Melville E. Stone, Chicago Daily News founder and purchased the Daily News in 1878.



Taft was also commissioned in 1909 by Henry Graves, of Chicago, to create a monument for his father, Dexter Graves [1789-1844].  The Graves family had long been in America, their first ancestor, Thomas Graves, crossed the Atlantic and settled in Connecticut in 1645.  Dexter Graves himself was a pioneer and was one of the earliest settlers in Chicago who, according to the inscription on the back of the monument, “brought the first colony to Chicago, consisting of 13 families, arriving here July 15, 1831 from Ashtabula, Ohio, on the schooner Telegraph.”


The bronze figure that Taft created is named Eternal Silence, an obvious metaphor for death.  The foreboding cloaked figure stands against solid black granite–black being the traditional color representing mourning and death.  The figure has his eyes closed and gathers the shroud to his lips preventing him from speaking. The bronze has an eerie feel to it, in part, because of the way the patina has formed on the statue.  The shroud has a greenish blue unnatural color.  Except for a highlight on the nose, most of the face has remained dark and recedes from the hood, making it appear more menacing and mysterious.

Taft is noted as a ground breaker of sorts. He was working on several projects for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago that was to open in 1893. The chief architect of the project was Daniel Burnham. Burnham approached Taft saying that he was worried that Taft would not be able to complete all of the sculptures for the exposition. Taft asked if he might hire some of the women students who were studying art from him at the time. Burnham’s off-the-cuff remark was supposedly, “Hire anyone, even white rabbits if they’ll do the work.” From that grew a group of artisans who became known as the White Rabbits, many who went on to become noted sculptors at a time when it was not socially acceptable for women to be in the profession. Nellie Walker, though, not a White Rabbit, also worked with Lorado Taft, became a noted sculptor, as well. She studied with Taft and worked as an assistant in his studio in Chicago. In fact, when Taft died in 1936, Walker was hired to help complete the public sculpture Taft was working on at the time of his death.


As noted, Taft sculpted monumental public works, such as “The Pioneers” which stands in the city park in Elmwood, Illinois. The plaque has the following inscription:


The Pioneers

Lorado Taft

The works: Lorado Taft’s heroic-sized bronze work…a tribute to the pioneers…captures the essence of bravery, determination, and faith of the men and women who “bridged the streams, subdued the soil and founded a state.”

Taft created the sculpture as a gift to honor the place of his birth. The community launched an ambitious campaign to raise over $15,000 for casting and mounting. Donations included school children’s dime-collection rulers and contributions from townspeople and former residents.

On Sunday, May 27, 1928, the 10’ high statue weighing 3,500 pounds was unveiled before an enthusiastic throng of 10,000.

The statue serves as a reminder of the past and as an inspiration to the pioneering spirit in those who view it.

The artist, Lorado Taft…”Who has done most for the development of sculpture in the West”…was born in Elmwood at 207 East Cypress, April 29, 1860 to Don Carlos Taft, Headmaster of Elmwood Academy and Mary Lucy Foster Taft.

When Lorado was 11, his father joined the faculty of the University of Illinois. Young Lorado enrolled at the university at the age of 15 and at 19 received his master degree. After years of study at the Ecole Des Beaux Arts in Paris, he opened a studio in Chicago.

Taft’s works include the Fountain of the Great Lakes and Fountain of Time in Chicago, Blackhawk on the Rock River near Oregon, Illinois and the Alma Mater and others at the University of Illinois in Urbana.

Lorado Taft died at his Chicago Home October 30, 1936. After cremation, he ashes were scattered in the Elmwood Cemetery near family and friends.

As the plaque above states, Taft’s ashes were scattered in the Elmwood Cemetery at Elmwood. A monument to him was erected with a small replica of one of his own favorite sculptures mounted on top of a rose-colored granite base.


The plaque in front of his memorial states:











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Nellie Verne Walker (December 8, 1874 Red Oak, Iowa – July 10, 1973 Colorado Springs, Colorado) stood a whopping 4 foot 8 inches tall. The diminutive woman was not the image one thinks of when conjuring up a sculptor creating monumental works of art. But she climbed up and down ladders teetering on the steps, leaning in and over her creations to carve sculptures of all sizes earning her the moniker, “the woman who lives on a ladder”.

She first picked up a hammer and chisel in her father’s Moulton, Iowa, shop carving gravestones. But by age 17 she carved her first work of art—a limestone bust of President Abraham Lincoln. In a mere 24 days, she had created the bust for the Columbian Exposition being held in Chicago in 1893. Her first piece is now on display in the Moulton City Library.

"Abraham Lincoln" at the Moulton City Library, Moulton, Iowa

“Abraham Lincoln” at the Moulton City Library, Moulton, Iowa

Nellie was determined to study art at the Chicago Art Institute and set out on that path in an unlikely place—a secretarial pool as a legal secretary. Within six years she was able to afford tuition where she studied with the famed Lorado Taft with whom she worked until his death in 1936. In fact, when he died, his Herald Square Monument in Chicago which includes statues of George Washington, Robert Morris and Haym Solomon was not completed and Nellie was one of three artists engaged to finish it.

Nellie created famous works, such as, the statue of Senator James Harlan which stands in Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol Building; the Polish War Memorial in Chicago; and Chief Keokuk in Rand Park in Keokuk, Iowa.

"Chief Keokuk" in the Keokuk City Park, Keokuk, Iowa

“Chief Keokuk” in Rand Park, Keokuk, Iowa


She also returned, in a way, to her earliest work in her father’s workshop—creating cemetery monuments. But this time, she didn’t carve gravestones but instead created sculptures. Below are three examples of her cemetery commissions.

Milton T. Barlow 1844 – 1930 Forest Lawn Cemetery, Omaha, Nebraska

Milton T. Barlow 1844 – 1930 Forest Lawn Cemetery, Omaha, Nebraska

Myron Leslie Learned (1866 – 1928) and Mary Poppleton Learned (1873 – 1960) Forest Lawn Cemetery, Omaha, Nebraska

Myron Leslie Learned (1866 – 1928) and Mary Poppleton Learned (1873 – 1960) Forest Lawn Cemetery, Omaha, Nebraska

Donald Bartley McMullen (1892 – 1966) and Helen Diggins McMullen (1892 – 1918) Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Donald Bartley McMullen (1892 – 1966) and Helen Diggins McMullen (1892 – 1918) Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Nellie returned to her parent’s home in Moulton, Iowa. She attended church at the Methodist Church there, where her sculpture “Benediction” is on display.

Methodist Church, Moulton, Iowa

Methodist Church, Moulton, Iowa



A mile west of the small rural town is the Oakland Cemetery where Nellie was laid to rest beneath a plain gravestone hardly befitting an artist of her talent and status. Her tombstone bears one word that describes her and her life’s work, “Sculptress.”

Oakland Cemetery, Moulton, Iowa

Oakland Cemetery, Moulton, Iowa


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