Gothic Styles

In the ‘Nineteenth Century Mortuary Architectural Styles’ post by Jason Holm, he writes, “Victorian sensibilities merged with Romantic tendencies and thrust revivals of Gothic, Classical, and Egyptian architectural styles in the mainstream.”  There was not one Gothic style but many:

Venetian Gothic

The Spotts Family Mausoleum erected in the Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville Kentucky is designed in the Venetian Gothic style which combined several architectural styles—Moorish, Gothic, and Byzantine—into a single style reminiscent of the building designs that brought a confluence of cultures together to create a flourish and lightness to the canals of Venice.  During the Victorian era, several architects drew from the Venetians for creative building designs that was part of a larger revival that intertwined several styles into one pleasing to the eye.  At the time the Spotts Family Mausoleum was constructed the local newspaper, the October 14, 1866 issue of the Louisville Daily Democrat wrote, “It is of Moorish style architecture…this mausoleum is one of the most permanent and tasteful structures yet erected in our far-famed ‘city of the dead.’”  It is likely that the mausoleums was constructed and built by the Steam Marble Works in Philadelphia.

Victorian Gothic

The massive Dexter Family Tomb in the Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnat, Ohio has many features of the medieval cathedral from which it was inspired.  Typical of Gothic architecture, are the pointed arches which became popular in Western building designs during the 12th Century.  Visually the pointed arch is lighter and also allowed builders to create taller windows which gave the buildings an airy feeling.  In addition to the visual lightness, the pointed arch was stronger than the rounded arch which was popularized in Romanesque architectural designs.  The arches are highly decorated with multiple moldings giving the windows a delicate appearance.  In addition to the decorative moldings each arched window has small decorative points projecting from the curves in the arch—this is known as cusping.  These are formed using small curves.  It is where these small curves meet and form a point or cusp.  Lastly, each window has a hood molding that forms at the side of the window and then culminates in the pointed arch.  Flanking both sides of the tomb are flying buttresses.  These highly decorative arches gave additional support to the walls within a building.  The buttresses were positioned at the points of greatest stress and added additional structural support.  Each of the flying buttresses are decorated with tall pinnacles which add weight to the buttress.  The connecting pieces between the buttresses and the building are referred to as flyers and even those are highly decorated with tracery and quatrefoils.

French Gothic

The Belmont Mausoleum, in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, is a near replica of the Chapel of Saint Hubert; the original is in Amboise, France, and is the final resting place of Leonardo da Vinci.  The mausoleum was completed in 1913 and is a masterpiece of late-fifteenth-century French Gothic architecture.  The front façade displays two intricately carved sculptures.  The chapel has many architectural features that were common to Gothic design:  Gargoyles—The spouts that were designed to divert rainwater away from the building were often elaborately designed to look like grotesque animals and human forms known as gargoyles.  These figures became popular in France during the Middle Ages, though they can be found in other countries during that time, as well.  Hood molding—If you look above the scene of the stag, there is a three-sided molding, also known as a drip molding.  Pinnacles—These ornamented structures are usually pointed and are found on the corners of the Saint Hubert Chapel.  They are often found on the buttresses of Gothic buildings.  Stepped buttresses—in the chapel, the stepped buttresses can be seen of the front of the building’s sides.  These are a mass of masonry built against a wall to give the building additional support and strength.  The buttresses on the chapel are stepped, meaning in this case, the buttress has a wider segment, then on top of that is a smaller one, and still one more smaller buttress on top of that.  Topping the buttress is a gargoyle. Trefoil window—In the middle of the gable on the front of the chapel is a roundel, a small circular frame.  Inside the roundel is a trefoil—three-lobed form—in this case, a window.  Spire—The tall, oxidized copper structure tapering up from the roof is a steeple or a spire.

Castellated Gothic

The main gate at the Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago was build in 1864, designed by famed architect William Boyington.  The gate is constructed of Joliet limestone in the Castellated Gothic style which is easily identifiable because of the distinctive battlements at the top of the building.  The gate, at first glance, looks like an ancient castle—hence the name of the style!  The massive square tower and the hexagonal towers that punctuate the building give it power and strength.

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May “Mollie” Cash Neal

Born 1844, Louisiana

Died October 1894, aged 49-50

Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Neal

Born 1867, Louisiana

Died June 17, 1889, aged 21-22

The monument in the historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta of two women sitting next two each other could be of two goddesses or two sisters.   The monument, however, was carved to represent a mother and a daughter.

The sculpture on the left is thought to represent May “Mollie” Neal, wife of Captain Thomas Benton Neal (born October 21, 1838, Pike County, Georgia—Died April 12,1902, aged 63, Fulton County, Georgia).

The sculpture to the right represents Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” the Neal’s daughter, who suffered from rheumatism for several months before her death.  The Times (Shreveport, Louisiana June 23, 1889, Sunday) wrote, “Miss Mary Lizzie Neal of Atlanta, Georgia…was long a sufferer of the fatal disease, paralysis of the heart, which has at last snapped the tender cord and torn her from adoring parents and sister.  She was formerly a Minden girl and a general favorite with her numerous friends here and elsewhere who mourn her untimely end.”

According to Images of America: Historic Oakland Cemetery by Tevi Taliaferro (Arcadia Publishing, 2001, page 99), the Neal monument was “Designed in the neo-classical style, the Neal Mother and Daughter monument features both women dressed in flowing Greek or Roman robes.”  Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery, An Illustrated History and Guide by Ren and Helen David (page 66) states Thomas Neal had the monument erected in memory of his mother and daughter.  A Celtic Cross, symbolizing eternal life, faith, and redemption, towers over the sculptures of the two female figures. 

One figure holds and open book as she looks upward.  The open book likely represents the Bible.  The other figure looks downward with one hand she holds a palm frond.  The palm frond is an ancient symbol of victory, dating back to Roman times when victors were presented with palm fronds. The palm fronds were also laid in the path of Jesus as He entered Jerusalem. So, for many Christians, the palm represents righteousness, resurrection, and martyrdom, symbolizing the spiritual victory over death associated with the Easter story.  On her lap rest a closed book which most likely indicates a completed life.  Between the two women rests a wreath.  The wreath is round—a completed circle—symbolizing eternity.  A laurel wreath represents victory over death and dates back again to Roman times.

This monument is not an original—that is there are others that look similar, like the Frank and Mary Lang monument in the Fairview Cemetery in New Albany, Indiana.  The white marble monument is weathered and worn, but is unmistakably the same.

Asleep in Jesus, blessed thought.

In memory of

Frank Lang

Died March 26, 1892

Aged 80 years

Mary C. his wife

Aged 77 years.

There is also the Morris monument in the Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.

Has anyone spotted others?

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Receiving Vaults

Many cemeteries have receiving vaults.  Below are two famous examples:

According to the signage next to the vault at the Oak Ridge Receiving Vault in Springfield, Illinois the receiving vault there was the:


“Abraham Lincoln was laid to rest here, in Oak Ridge Cemetery’s public vault, during services held May 4, 1865 Government officials, members of the military, foreign diplomats, and private citizens gathered to witness the ceremony.

“Over the following months visitors in the thousands came to pay respects.  A New Yorker found that the “stone doors of the sepulcher were open, and the sentry permitted people in small parties to approach the iron grating and view the coffin within.  It was draped in black and festooned with garlands of flowers and evergreen shrubs…Sadness pressed heavily upon me at the scene.”

“The president’s casket, along with that of his son William, who had died at the White House in 1862, remained here until December 1865.  Then they were moved to a newly built temporary tomb, located about midway up the ridge.

“Built in 1864, this receiving tomb, like those found in many American cemeteries, served “those who in their bereavement are not immediately prepared to site a Lot for the final resting place, also those who are awaiting the arrival of friends.” Oak Ridge remodeled and enlarged the vault in 1891.”

The Public Vault at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC has an early classical revival design.  The vault was constructed between 1832 and 1834.  Like other receiving vaults found in many American cemeteries, its purpose was to house bodies until their final resting place could be built or decided upon.  In some cases, where the winters are particularly harsh, the vault also served as a place to store bodies until a grave could be opened—often the families had to wait until a Spring thaw before the grave could be dug. 

Since its construction, about 4,600 individuals have been temporarily interred in the Public Vault including many famous people such as presidents, William Henry Harrison, John Quincy Adams, and Zachary Taylor.  The longest known “tenant” of the vault was First Lady Dolley Madison who was interred in the vault from July 16, 1849, until February 10, 1852.

The Public Vault fell into disrepair and was restored with federal funds and private fundraisers. In 2010, fundraisers held a prohibition-based themed effort to raise money and used the Public Vault as a cocktail bar—now that’s spooky and just a little bit creepy. Talk about spirits! 🙂

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A President’s Day Tribute–OK?

Martin Van Buren (December 5, 1782 – July 24, 1862) was a very successful political figure during the early part of the 19th Century and is considered one of the founders of the Democratic Party. Van Buren was born in Kinderhook, New York, where he began his career as an attorney but became involved in politics, first at the state level as a member of the New York Senate, the 14th Attorney General of New York, US Senator of New York, and as the 9th Governor of New York.  Andrew Jackson appointed Van Buren Secretary of State in 1829, and then in 1832 he ran as Jackson’s running mate becoming the 8th Vice President of the United States. 

During Van Buren’s political career, he had many nicknames—the Sly Fox, Little Van, the Little Magician, and Old Kinderhook, a nod to his hometown.  The later became part of his campaign slogan when he ran for the presidency in his own right—”VOTE for OK.” Many have attributed the term “OK” to Van Buren, but the term was first used in an article printed in the Economist and was used as a satirical abbreviation for “Oll Korrect.”  However, Van Buren’s campaign did help to popularize the term.

Van Buren won becoming the 8th President. But, largely due to the Panic of 1837, Van Buren lost his bid for a second term.  He did run again in 1848 nominated as the candidate for both the Barnburners Party and the Free Soil Party but lost that bid, as well.  Van Buren completely retired from politics living the rest of his life in his estate, Lindenwald, in Kinderhook, New York. 

In 1862, suffering from bronchial asthma and heart failure, he died on July 24th.  He was 79 years old.  Van Buren was buried in the Kinderhook Reformed Dutch Church Cemetery where his parents are also buried.  An obelisk set on a plinth and a base made of gray granite marks the graves of Martin Van Buren, Hannah, his wife, and their son, Martin Van Buren Jr.

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Mrs. Gamble’s Grave

This blog post is a departure from my usual posts in two ways.  First, it is a guest blogpost written by a friend of mine, Martin Henley.  Martin is an author of many books, most written for educators, but his latest read is titled, Scoundrels Who Made America Great, a book with a fresh look at five well-known figures who changed the course of history, such as, Anne Hutchinson, Benedict Arnold, and Clarence Gideon.

The second way in which this post is different, is that Martin shares a remembrance from his childhood about a colonial cemetery that was moved from one site to another in his town.  His story is follows: 

Mrs. Gamble’s Grave

            I am seventy years old.  The preceding sentence is simple and declarative, yet for me it is as unfathomable as time itself.  How did I get to seventy years, and why am I still here while some of my closest childhood friends have died. These were my thoughts as I stood over Mrs. Gamble’s grave. Her tombstone is a simple gray granite marker. Wreathed with grass and leaves, it lies flush with the ground. The inscription is brief.  In letters worn smooth from 145 years of weather, it reads: “Mrs. Gamble, Died Dec 17th, 1798.” Her simple stone is the only visible marker in a neglected colonial cemetery in Syracuse, New York.   

              In 1955, when I was twelve, stately elms and shady chestnut trees dotted the open green fields of the cemetery. Kids from the neighborhood made it their playground and called it “the Park.” In the fall we played football, and during the winter the diminutive cemetery hills bristled with sleds. Summer was the best. Baseball games followed the sun. We started early, suspended play for lunch, and resumed until supper. We chose sides by picking the two best players as captains. Chosen last was a temporary humiliation quickly dissipated as we embraced the flow of the game. The batting order was determined by the quickest to speak up. “I got first ups,” “I got second ups,” the chorus continued until the sequence of “ups” concluded with the last batter.  For the rest of the day the cemetery resonated with the crack of wooden bats on rawhide baseballs, and the shouts of hooting kids.

              We devised several ball fields, each with its own set of ground rules and golf-course contours. On one field a ball hit over a path was a home run.  On another fly balls bounced through tree branches. An improbable catch earned a week of bragging rights. Trees, rocks, and stumps served as bases. In my favorite field a chestnut tree was first base, a forlorn baseball mitt served as second, and Mrs. Gamble was third base. My friends and I sailed together through the boundless summer joking, teasing, swearing, and playing. They were precious times, and we knew it. 

        These days I travel to Syracuse infrequently, but when I do I visit the cemetery. It is quiet and empty. Kids don’t play there anymore. I clear off Mrs. Gamble’s tombstone, and I look around recalling the bittersweet days of my youth. The neighborhood has changed. The big red house I lived in on the corner is divided into apartments.  Surrounding houses look worn and weary. The Irish and Italian families who were the backbone of the neighborhood moved to the suburbs years ago. The park seems smaller, shrunken. Blight destroyed the elm trees. A few stunted chestnut trees still stand. Only Mrs. Gamble is unchanged. Her solitary tombstone remains, an obscure memorial to the joy of childhood and the melancholy of old age. 

Note: Mrs. Gamble was not included in the list of interned souls. According to local lore her grave just appeared in the cemetery. There is no record of her burial either in the first location on in the “park”. Hers is the only visible marker indicating that the “park” is a cemetery.

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The Porter Angel


1840 – 1941

Porter had a brief stint in the 45th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Militia during the Civil War.  After, he had a distinguished career as an industrialist manufacturing light locomotives.  He also served a term as a US Congressman. But Porter is most remembered for his philanthropic work. He was one of the founders of the Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.) and served as the president of the Pittsburgh Y.M.C.A. from 1868 to 1887.   He served on various other community and international boards, as well, including, the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, the Western Pennsylvania Institute for the Blind, the International Committee of the Y.M.C.A., the Carnegie Institute, the Crozier Theological Seminary, and as a member of the Board of Fellows of Brown University.

Henry Kirke Porter and his family plot is commemorated by a bronze angel, one of the most visited monuments in the Allegheny Cemetery. The angel is a classic example of mourning figures found in cemeteries—head bent down in grief, wide wing span, and draped gown. 

In the book, Images of America: Allegheny Cemetery, published in 2016, page 29, published by Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, South Carolina, authors, Lisa Speranza and Nancy Foley describe one of the most impressive monuments in the Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh—the Porter Angel.

“…perhaps one of the most recognizable faces within the cemetery, standing watch over the family of Henry Kirke Porter.”  …The current Porter Angel likely dates to the 1920s.  However, as early as 1906, a Pittsburgh Daily Post article shows a marble angel and sandstone cross at the family grave.  Imported from Italy, it was reputed to be one of the most striking examples of marble carving in any cemetery in America.  As it weathered, it was likely replaced with the stunning bronze monument that so many recognize today.” 

The replacement angel was created by sculptor Enrico Butti (April 3, 1847 – January 21, 1932) of Milan, Italy and cast at the Kunst Foundry in New York.  Sculptor Butti came by his talent naturally having been born into a family of sculptors and marble cutters.  At an early age, Butti went to study with renowned Italian sculptors Pietro Magni, Francesco Barzaghi, and Ugo Zannoni.  By the age 25, Butti won praise for his first exhibited work, Raphael cementing his career as a budding sculptor winning commissions during the rest of his lifetime.

The Porter Angel is cast bronze, standing the second of three steps that lead down from a Latin Cross.  The Latin Cross is universally recognized as a symbol of the Christianity however, it is not the only symbolism in the monument, which may be lost on some viewers. In this monument, the cross rests on a foundation of three progressively larger stones as a base. Each represents a different virtue—“Faith in the will of God…Hope for the dawn of that yet more glorious day and Charity toward all men.”

In the journal article: “Transmigration/Transformation Enrico Buttie’s Angel in Milan and Pittsburgh” by Elisabeth L. Roark, (Italian Review Vol. 7, No. 2, Summer 2017, pp. 148-179 (32 Pages) published by the University of Illinois Press) she describes the drama of the sculpture,

Nine feet tall, with an astonishingly detailed ten-foot wingspan, it wears a wide-sleeved, loose gown that cascades over its body and down three outsize granite steps.  Its pose is theatrical; a dramatic weight shift thrusts its lower torso forward, balanced by outstretched arms that extend to the front and the side.  Its long fingers form graceful gestures: on the left hand, spread wide and held parallel to the ground; on the right hand, the thumb and forefinger almost meet and reach toward the stone block beside it.  The angel’s head is bent as if concentrating on its right hand, eyes cast down and face framed by long wavy hair.”

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My Special Angel

Recently on a drive to attend a company retreat in sunny Captiva, Florida, while listening to the radio, I heard Bobby Helms sing one of his 50’s hits, “My Special Angel”.  It reminded me of one of the gravestones I recently photographed in the Cliff Hill Cemetery in Versailles, Indiana, (pronounced ver-sailes), not to be mistaken for the pronunciation of the Palace of Versailles—(ver-sigh) in France.

The angel in this case is standing with one hand resting on a broken column and holding a small bouquet of roses in the other hand.  She looks downward.  In an article about angels titled, “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 grouped by the task they performed: soul-bearing; praying; decorating and guarding; pointing; recording; trumpeting; sword-bearing (archangel Michael); and child angels.

Angels are mentioned over 270 times in the Bible but of the eight categories of angels that Roark describes in her article, decorating is the only type not specifically defined in the Bible. Roark notes that decorating graves with flowers originates with the ancient Greeks, this type of symbolism, however, is something newly found in graveyards of the 19th Century. After the Civil War, it became popular to decorate graves lavishly with flowers. Roark writes, “Like their live counterparts, the angels’ sculpted flowers suggest the parallels drawn at this time between the cyclical nature of plant life and human birth, death, and resurrection.”

The angel in the monument holds 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.  However, the roses in this case, are unlikely to symbolize romantic love but instead represent martyrdom and the messianic hope that Christ will return. The number “3” is also important—she holds three roses which may very well represent the Holy Trinity.

The column, too, is an important piece of iconography.  In the cemetery, much of the symbolism that can be found represents a life ended—the winged death’s head, the hanging bud, the broken wheel.  Some sources say that the broken column represents the loss of the head of the family—others that it represents the life cut down in its prime. In this case, however, the deceased couple whose graves this monument marks lived past 70.

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The Mori monument in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx was a collaboration between sculptor Charles Keck (September 9, 1875 – April 23, 1951) and architect Raymond Mathewson Hood (March 29, 1881 – August 14, 1934).


SEPT 11 1868 – JULY 17 1927


SEPT 5 1897 – NOV 4 1951


Hood was an American architect who had an outsized influence that dominated twentieth century architecture.  His designs include the Tribune Tower in Chicago and Rockefeller Center in New York City, an iconic Art Deco masterpiece. Charles Keck was a famed sculptor born in New York who studied at the National Academy of Design, the American Academy in Rome, the Art Students of New York, and was a protégé of the renowned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. His masterpieces include Lifting the Veil of Ignorance at Tuskegee University, the statue of Huey Long in Statuary Hall, and the Lincoln Monument in Wabash, Indiana, among many many others.

Together Hood and Keck collaborated to create the Mori Monument in Woodlawn Cemetery.  The monument is an Art Deco masterpiece.  Art Deco was a design movement from the 1920s that marked a break from the fluid and flowing Art Nouveau designs of the 1890s.  The term ‘Art Deco’ is derived from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, an exhibition of artists that showed their work in Paris in 1925.   Arts Décoratifs was eventually truncated to Art Deco.  

Here the simple lines of the platform are a contrast to the curved lines of many of the monuments seen in funerary art that feature Art Nouveau and Gothic designs.  The mourning figure looks off in the distance in a contemplative stare.  The basket with the flowers reinforces the feeling of melancholy and sadness as the strewn flowers are a symbol of grief and loss.

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A Legacy

John Walz (1844—1922) was a popular sculptor in Savanah who was commissioned to create many monuments that can be found in the famed Bonaventure Cemetery.  Walz, a talented German immigrant, began his career as a stonecutter but only as a means of saving enough money to gain a classical education in sculpture.  After working as a stonecutter for eight years, he’d saved enough to travel to Europe to study in Paris and Vienna before returning to the United States to ply his artistry.

The gravestone he carved for the Wheless family depicts two children’s winged heads that appear to be floating on a cloud.  The cloud is atop a cartouche with the letter “W” carved into it signifying the last name of the family.  The names and birth and death dates of the Wheless children flank the carving:


June 28, 1904 – Oct 25, 1906


Sept 21, 1892—May 24, 1895

The most famous gravestone carved by Walz and most likely the most photographed in the cemetery was created for Gracie Watson (1883-1889) who died of pneumonia.  The story told and re-told is that the father of the little girl was so grief stricken that he could not speak when he met with Walz to commission a monument for his sweet six-year-old girl, Gracie.  Instead, he handed his only photograph of Gracie to the sculptor—who went to work creating a chillingly accurate replica of the young girl.  The white Georgia marble monument depicts Gracie seated next to a tree stump with ivy leaves twinning round it.  The sculpture of the little girl rests on a plinth sitting on a base.  In front of the base is a small planter with a cartouche folded over with the letter “W” emblazoned on it—a noted hallmark of Walz’s work.  Gracie’s gravestone is the only one in the family plot.  Her parents, W. J. and Frances Watson, hoteliers in Savannah eventually moved from the city.

These two monuments represent only a small part of Walz’s legacy.  His sculptures can been seen in the Bonaventure and Laurel Grove Cemeteries in Savannah as well as other works in the city.

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The Sheltering Branches of the Willow

On a slope south of Nashville, Indiana, lies the rural New Bellsville Cemetery founded in 1853.  The cemetery has a mix of old and new gravestones.  Among them, a limestone gravestone carved for Solomon Moore who it looks like died in 1856—the last two numbers of his death date are still discernable.  Unfortunately, much of the stone has flaked off and the rest of the inscription is gone.  However, the symbolism is clear—a Willow tree with its branches sheltering an obelisk and a sleeping lamb.

The obelisk on this gravestone is on top of a plinth and a base. The obelisk is a stone shape that is ubiquitous in American cemeteries and part of the Egyptian Revival Period which was inspired by the French and then the British presence in Egypt in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. The obelisk is said to represent a single ray of sunlight, petrified from sunlight into stone.  It was thought that the Egyptian sung god Ra lived within the obelisks.  These towering monuments were often placed flanking the entrance to temples.

The willow motif represents what one might expect; sorrow and grief, it is after all a “weeping” willow.  The lamb is the symbol of the Lord, the Good Shepherd. It also represents innocence, likely the reason why this motif often adorns the tombstones of infants and young children.

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