A Closer Look

St. Paul’s Rick Creek Cemetery, Washington, D. C.

The elaborately designed Neo-classical sarcophagi of James B. Oliver and Frances Oliver Johnson in the Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the St. Paul’s Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D. C., respectively, are imbued with a profusion of symbolism.

The four corners are flanked with winged angels standing on pine needles and pine cones holding a palm frond in one hand and a laurel wreath in the other:

Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Palm fronds

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.

Laurel wreath

The laurel wreath dates back to Roman times when soldiers wore them as triumphal signs of glory.  The laurel was also believed to wash away the soldier’s guilt from injuring or killing any of his opponents.  In funerary art the laurel wreath is often seen as a symbol of victory over death.

Pine needles and pine cones

As is the case with many plants that are adopted by Christians it’s their characteristics that define what they symbolize.  Pine leaves are evergreen, which mean they stay green during the winter.  So, in this way, pine leaves came to symbolize immortality of the soul.   The pine cone carries the seed of the tree, so it symbolizes fertility.

Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh


In cemetery symbolism the poppy represents eternal sleep.  Just as it was portrayed in the movie, The Wizard of Oz, the main characters lie down in a field of poppies where they fall into a deep sleep.  That same imagery is used here.

Boughs of plenty

The boughs of plenty repeat the poppies and pine cones woven through them.  Each bough on the sarcophagus is held up by turtles.  In some cases the turtle can be strictly ornamental or can represent strength, durability, and the virtue of longevity.

The Skull

The ornamental post that holds the boughs is topped with an urn with a flame.   The flame, like many Christian symbols, has several different meanings—eternal life, religious fervor, and vigilance.  The flame can also represent martyrdom.  The other ornamentation on the base is a cow’s skull likely representing mortality.

St. Paul’s rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D. C.

The Urn

Topping off the Neo-classical design of the sarcophagus is the Neo-classical urn. 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.

St. Paul’s Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D. C.

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Two of a Kind






James B. Oliver was a highly successful steel magnate in Pennsylvania.  He is buried in the Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh in an elaborately adorned sarcophagus festooned with symbolism literally on every corner of the monument.

According to Images of America: Allegheny Cemetery, written by Lisa Speranza and Nancy Foley and published by Arcadia Publishing, 2016, page 26, “James opted for this spectacular original work in bronze, which depicts angels, virtues, and boughs of plenty held up on the shells of turtles.”

However, there was at least one other made just like it which rests in the St. Paul’s Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C. and marks the grave of James B. Oliver’s daughter, Frances Oliver Johnson and her husband:










Both of these sarcophagi were manufactured at the John Williams Foundry (Jno. Williams, Inc.) in New York City.  The foundry was established in 1875 by John Williams who had been an employee of Tiffany & Company who left to start his own enterprise.

The foundry worked with some of the most influential and well-known sculptors of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, such as, Louis Amateis, Karl Bitter, Gutzon Borglum, Pompeo Coppini, Daniel Chester French, Harriet Frishmuth Carl Augustus Heber, Anna Hyatt Huntington, Charles Keck, Edward Kemeys, Samuel Kilpatrick, Augustus Lukeman, Frederick MacMonnies, R. Tait McKenzie, Percival J. Morris, Allen George Newman, Charles Niehaus, Roalnd Hinton Perry, J. Massey Rhind, Andrew O’Connor, Alexander Phimister Proctor, Augustus Saint Gaudens, Anton Schaaf, Francois Tonetti, Gaetan Trentanove, J. Q. A. Ward, Olin Levi Warner, Albert Weinert, and George Julian Zolnay.

The foundry manufactured architectural pieces, such as bronze doors, for the Boston Public Library, the Library of Congress, and the United States Capitol building, as well as, sculptural pieces, such as, the tigers in front of Nassau Hall at Princeton University.


The Jno. Williams advertisements were all from an industry publication, The Monumental News, and were researched and provided by Peggy Perazzo who shares her vast collection of gravestone catalogs and resources at her Website: http://quarriesandbeyond.org/cemeteries_and_monumental_art/cemetery_stones.html.

The Quarries and Beyond Website was created by Peggy B. and Patrick Perazzo. It focuses on historic stone quarries, stone workers and companies, and related subjects such as geology. Whenever possible links of finished products are provided on the Website. There is a “Quarry Articles” section that presents articles, booklets, and links from the late 1800s to early 1900s, including the 1856 “The Marble-Workers’ Manual.” The “Cemetery Stones and Monuments” section provides references and resources, including many old monument magazines, catalogs, price lists, and a photographic tour “From Quarry to Cemetery Monuments.”

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An Artist’s Influence

Many 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.

However, a Danish neo-classic artist, Bertel Thorvaldsen (19 November 1770 – 24 March 1844) of international fame, did not work in North America.  Thorvaldsen was the son of a wood carver, born in Copenhagen, trained for a time at the royal Danish Academy of Art, then furthered his art education in Rome where he gained fame as a master sculptor.  His work can be found throughout Europe.  Even though his work does not appear in America, his influence can be seen in American cemeteries nonetheless.

The famed Lion of Atlanta was commissioned by The Ladies Memorial Association commissioned T. M. Brady of Canton, Georgia, to create a monument to the unknown Confederate war dead buried in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia.  The sculpture was commemorated on April 26, 1894.

The inspiration for the Lion of Atlanta was Bertel Thorvaldsen’s colossal Lion of Lucerne (Switzerland), which Mark Twain called “the most mournful and moving stone in the world.”  As the artist was completing the sculpture he was told he would not be paid the full amount for his work.  To demonstrate his contempt for those who contracted the work, Thorvaldsen carved the inset in the shape of a hog.

Variations of his bas-relief depicting an angel carrying two infants presumably to Heaven can be seen in many American cemeteries, including the Tollner gravestone in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

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Victorian Funerary Symbolism

John Baptiste Ford (November 11, 1811 – May 1, 1903) was born in Danville, Kentucky, and made his fortune as an industrialist producing various products including iron, steamboats, and eventually glass.

Ford is buried in the Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in a grand Victorian gothic mausoleum with pointed arched windows, buttresses, composite column capitals, and a quatrefoil tracery on the pediment over the doorway.  The mausoleum is topped by the figure of hope.

Two figures flank the doorway representing sleep and death.  On the left is a mourning figure holding a sprig of three poppies.  In cemetery symbolism the poppy represents eternal sleep.  Just as it was portrayed in the movie, The Wizard of Oz, the main characters lie down in a field of poppies where they fall into a deep sleep.  That same imagery is used here.

On the right of the doorway is a figure holding a draped urn.  The draped urn represents the clothing of the deceased being shed to move from the Earthly realm to the Heavenly realm.  The urn was an almost ubiquitous 19th Century symbol found in nearly every American cemetery.

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He had more than 15 minutes

The largest museum in the United States dedicated to one artist—seven floors in Pittsburgh—houses a large collection of artwork by famed pop artist Andy Warhol. The museum, located in an 88,000-square-foot building downtown contains 900 paintings, 77 sculptures, nearly 2,000 works on paper, over 4,000 photographs, more than 1,000 prints and over 4,350 Warhol films and videotaped works.  The collection includes such iconic pieces as his silkscreen paintings of Campbell’s Soup Cans and his Marilyn Monroe Diptych.

Born Andy Warhola (August 6, 1928 – February 22, 1987) the son of Andrew and Julia Warhola and raised in the Pittsburgh area, Warhol began his career as a commercial illustrator but developed into one of the most influential artists of his day.  The Factory, his New York studio, attracted the rich, famous, and celebrities of the era.  Warhol became famous for his art but also for those he knew and, in fact, for his own fame.  He was a Kardashian before there were Kardashians!

He also popularized the expression “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” which has become part of the American vernacular. The saying first appeared on a 1968 exhibition program of his work at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden.

Warhol, 58, died in February 1987 after complications from gallbladder surgery.  He was buried in Bethel Park, a south side suburb of Pittsburgh, in the St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church Cemetery close to his parents’ graves.  His gravestone is a plain and drab dark gray granite slant-face marker—not the colorful, iconic imagery one might expect to mark his grave.  His grave, however, was littered with rosaries, mementos from fans, and Campbell Soup cans as a nod to one of his most famous images produced in The Factory.

As recognition of his lasting fame, cameras have been placed on a pole facing his grave and live stream people coming and going to pay tribute to Warhol at his grave site.  His 15 minutes have long outlasted him.

The link to the Warhol erathcam livestream:



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General Stonewall Jackson and His Arm

This photo taken by Paul Breda

In the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery, formerly known as the Presbyterian Cemetery, in Lexington, Virginia, stands the commanding bronze statue of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, sculpted by famed Richmond, Virginia, artist Edward Virginius Valentine (November 12, 1838 – October 19, 1930).  The statue was cast by the Henry Bonnard Bronze Company of New York in 1890.

The statue commemorates the grave of the Confederate Lieutenant General Stonewall Jackson, considered one of the greatest military tacticians during the Civil War.  Jackson was shot by “friendly fire” during a reconnaissance trip after a successful flanking maneuver at the Battle of Chancellorsville.  He and eight aides were returning to camp late at night on May 2, 1863.  A skirmish broke out and gun fire was exchanged.  Four of Jackson’s aides were killed and Jackson was mortally wounded.  In the darkness and the confusion of war, the 18th North Carolina Infantry had mistakenly fired upon General Jackson.

The next morning, at the makeshift field hospital at Wilderness Tavern, General Jackson’s left arm was amputated.  Upon hearing the report of General Jackson’s death, General Robert E. Lee sent word to Jackson through Reverend Beverly Lacy, “Give General Jackson my affectionate regards, and say to him: he has lost his left arm but I my right.”

Jackson’s chaplain, Reverend Lacy went to visit him as he lay in a tent convalescing.  Upon leaving, Lacy saw Jackson’s amputated arm outside the tent.  Lacy gathered up the arm in a blanket and walked across a field to his brother’s farm, Ellwood Manor, where he buried the severed arm.

(Years later, Reverend James Power Smith, who served on Jackson’s staff, erected a gray granite gravestone to mark the spot where the arm was buried.)

Jackson was removed to Guinea Station where he died on May 10 of infection and pneumonia.  His remains were buried in a family plot in the Presbyterian Cemetery in Lexington, which was later renamed for him.  Though his white-marble gravestone still remains in its original place in the family plot, his remains were removed along with other family members to repose underneath the statue erected in his honor.  Though Jackson was reunited with his family members under the great statue, he was not reunited with his left arm which rests miles away in a cemetery on Ellwood Manor.

The plaque in front of his original gravestone reads:








Those graves marked underneath the statue:

Thomas Jonathan Jackson Christian Jr, Colonel U.S. Army Air Corps, November 13, 1915 – August 12, 1944, Killed in Action – Arras, France, Body Not Recovered

Thomas Jonathan Jackson Christian, Brig. Gen., U.S. Army, August 25, 1888 – September 15, 1952

Thomas Jonathan Jackson, “Stonewall” Lieut. Gen. C. S. A., January 21, 1824 – May 10, 1863

Mary Graham Jackson, Infant Daughter, in Crypt with Father, Feb. 28, 1858 – May 25, 1858

Mary Anna Jackson, Wife of Stonewall Jackson, July 21, 1831 – March 24, 1915

William Edmund Christian, May 14, 1856 – February 5, 1936

Julia Jackson Christian, Daughter of Stonewall Jackson and Wife of William Edmund, Nov. 23, 1862 – Aug. 30, 1889

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Neo-classic Angel






The gray granite rock-face monument for Theresa Schmidt in the St. John’s Lutheran Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas, has a masterfully sculpted bas-relief bronze inset.  The bronze was created in Fonderia Nelli, one of the top foundries in Rome, Italy, producing works by famous European sculptors during the late 19th Century and early 20th Century.  The foundry also produced works for Tiffany & Company in New York.  This particular neo-classical sculpture features a contemplative male angel.  His head is slightly bent leaning against his hand.  His other hand rests on top of an inverted torch which represents a life that has been extinguished.

The winged angel leans against a column that has an urn resting on top of it.  The urn was an almost ubiquitous 19th Century symbol found in nearly every American cemetery.  The urn symbolically represents the mortal body.  The Roman cross adorning the face of the urn is the universal symbol of Christianity.

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