|The monument for William J. Mullen, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA|
This blog is a little late because I have been deep into research, trying to unearth information about the people memorialized by the remarkable stone artworks below. These are not your average tombstones, and they literally tower over today's typical granite "wedgies" and flat metal plaques. Many of these monuments were erected in the late 19th century, in a time called "The Gilded Age," when the lavishness and ornateness of Victorian decoration was at its height. There was much debate in the media at that time about the "senselessness" and "waste" of spending vast amounts of money on funerary art. Granted, you can't take your money with you, but there was an outraged cry against the elaborate but cold stone sculptures left to mark a burial spot, while poverty still existed among living human beings, perhaps only blocks away.
Well, I am pretty sure you know how I feel about the cemetery monuments of the Gilded Age. I do understand that one of the best ways to memorialize a loved one is to donate money to their favorite cause in their name; that happens frequently today, "in lieu of flowers." But I maintain that 19th century cemeteries are more than just receptacles for the dead: in America, they were the first parks, the first outdoor sculpture gardens, the first art museums "en plein air." And cemeteries stand today as lessons in history, anthropology, art, culture, and architectural trends.
So perhaps you agree that a massive monument of marble or granite is a "waste of money." But I ask you to look, really look at the following examples and see the beauty of the workmanship, in addition to the sentimentality and sometimes hubris of the deceased and their families. Because let's face it, no one is ever going to walk into those newfangled "memorial gardens" and be awestruck by the "artwork" they see there. All they will see is happy caretakers whipping around on their riding mowers. Enjoy...
|Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA|
Kinsey learned the craft of tinsmithing after attaining manhood, but then he "caught the fever" and headed for California in 1849 (his tombstone claims he was " a California pioneer of 1849"). Apparently, he did not find much gold, as he returned to Easton 3 years later. I am not sure when he married Jane but by 1860, they are living as husband and wife. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Kinsey signed up with the PA 1st Regiment for three months, and then reenlisted as a corporal in the PA 51st. His right arm was "shot off" at Fredericksburg in December of 1862. He recovered and came home to Easton, and his wife Jane died in 1863. He could no longer be a tinsmith, so he became the assistant toll taker on the Delaware River bridge. I didn't find any records of children. Perhaps money from Charles' army pension provided for this lovely marker.
|Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, PA|
|Evergreen Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA|
|Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA|
Mullen was born in Lancaster in 1805, and made his fortune manufacturing gold watch dials. His monument claims he was the inventor and first manufacturer of gold watch dials, and on the marble, he listed the awards he had received to prove it. In 1850, Mullen used his vast wealth to partner with two other wealthy families from the Philadelphia area to found the Female Medical College of Philadelphia, the world's first medical school for women. He also served as the college's first president.
Mullen then turned his energies towards prison reform. A legend exists, never proven, that he was unjustly accused of a crime as a young man, and he never forgot that injustice. He became a prison agent for Moyamensing Prison (the county prison of Philadelphia, demolished in the 1960's) and worked tirelessly to hold police accountable for their actions, investigations, and accusations. He was the founder and director of the Philadelphia Society for the Employment and Instruction of the Poor, providing job training for the poor and for those newly released from prison. On his monument, Mullen calls himself "The Prisoner's Friend," and claims he rescued more than 50,000 people from unjust incarceration. (There is nothing about this man that my father would like, and Pop has probably scrolled down to the next monument!)
The monument depicts Mullen, to the left in a cape, next to the slightly open prison door. The crying figure on the right is a newly released female prisoner. Her shackles and chains lay on the step next to her. There is the head of Christ over the door, and the archangel Gabriel rests on the very top. Under Christ and to the right, there is a bat, (go figure), and there used to be even more to this! There was a mourning figure clinging to the cross at the base of the steps, and an owl used to sit on top of the shackles. And best of all, there was a monstrous bulldog guarding the vault. Cemetery employees from the 1880's were quoted as saying they had many times seen Mr. Mullen actually sitting on the dog and wiping spots off the door of the prison.
The NY Times reported that Mullen was a stranger to modesty, as even his home, where his wake took place, was covered with paintings and photographs of himself and his good deeds. He had a wife and children, but they seem to have fallen by the wayside for Willie J. My, my! Even I have to say that's a little much!
|Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA|
In 1872, somehow, Robert Coxe married Helen Bacon, and somehow, they traveled to New Mexico, where, in late 1872, a son was born to them, Alexander Bacon Coxe. (Robert was a Lt. in the army; was he serving in the Indian Wars?) A few years later, the family were living in Germantown, at the time a wealthy suburb of Philadelphia. In January 1875, Helen became ill with typhoid fever. She was baptized in her home by the St. Luke's Episcopal Church, and two days later, she was dead. Robert took his son Alexander to live with his family, who had moved from Kentucky to Illinois. Robert and his father started a wholesale hardware business together.
Alexander Bacon Coxe moved to Minnesota as a young man, and joined the Minnesota National Guard. The Guard was mobilized during the Spanish American War, and Alexander saw active duty in the Philippines and in China during the Boxer Rebellion. He was in the cavalry, and was instrumental in setting up U.S. Army Intelligence. He retired after WWI, but was called into service at the beginning of WWII to again help with Army Intelligence.
|Mauch Chunk Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA|
And on Halloween every year, a carved jack-o-lantern appears on top of his mortar board, placed by an anonymous someone who climbs the monument to place the seasonal decoration.
|Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA|
The sad part about this monument is there is not much known about the family who it memorializes. Dr. Wilson Jacob Hartman Bruch was a physician in Easton, and he decreed in his will that this monument be erected as a "source of beauty" to honor the memory of his parents, George Bruch and Elizabeth Hartman. There is only the three of them buried here. Dr. Bruch died from consumption, otherwise known as tuberculosis. The monument cost $20,000 to build in 1880, and while it is a "source of beauty" to me, I can't help wondering if a monument half the size would have been just as fine, with $10,000 being donated to a hospital in the Bruch name. But who am I to make such judgements?
|Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA|
His father Cyrus was buried in the cemetery in Riegelsville, behind the house that he had built for his bride. That house is now the office for the St. John's UCC Church, and according to its pastor, Cyrus haunts it, running up and down the stairs, perhaps searching for his bride and son. I wonder if Anna had been buried next to him, rather than up the canal road in Easton, would he be at peace?
|Old Albrightsville Cemetery, Albrightsville, PA|
This monument was created by the Wenz Monument Company in Allentown, PA (still in business). It memorializes the death of Aquila Henning who was "shot November 24, 1932." The bottom of the stone reads "An innocent soul sent to eternity." Aquila Henning is the figure to the far left, looking back to the 8 men hidden in the bushes, but specifically looking at the central man who has a gun and only one arm. Aquila's son, Aquila Jr., is seen kneeling in the center.
The story goes...Aquila Henning Jr. had been arrested for illegal hunting after a neighbor, the one-armed schoolteacher, Harry Wilkinson, turned him into police. It caused bad feelings between the Henning and Wilkinson families. Then on Thanksgiving Day, 1932, the Hennings went hunting (no NFL and big-screen televisions then). So were Harry Wilkinson, his brother Robert and several friends, or, some say, the Wilkinsons and friends set up an ambush.
According to court testimony, Aquila Jr. shot a dog belonging to the Wilkinson party. When Harry Wilkinson knelt down to see to the dog, Aquila Sr. stepped out of the bushes and up onto a stump, aiming his rifle at Harry. Harry's brother Robert claimed he saw Aquila Sr. shoot and miss and reload. Robert then shot Aquila Sr. in the back.
Harry Wilkinson had Aquila Sr. taken to the Palmerton Hospital, where he died hours later. But not before he gave a deathbed statement, saying he did not shoot the dog, nor did he shoot at Harry. The jury at Robert Wilkinson's trial acquitted him, feeling it was a justifiable shooting. Aquila's widow Anna felt a little differently, as she had this "story in stone" commissioned to mark her husband's tragic end. Harry Wilkinson sued the Wenz Monument Company for $50,000 for their portrayal of him in the prominent center of the stone, in such a derogatory manner (not many one-armed men in the area), but he lost his suit.
Aquila Henning Sr. is in my family tree, but not a direct relation: he's the stepson of the stepson of the wife of the uncle of the husband of the my first great grand aunt. Get all that?
|Gilbert Cemetery, Gilbert, PA|
Conrad lived until 1805, and ten of his children survived and seriously populated the area. The Kresge family reunion takes place in the area, now in its 107th year. This monument was dedicated in 1915 at the 13th reunion, to honor the Kresge ancestors. The family members paid $1800 for the monument.
One of Kresge's more famous descendants was Sebastian S. Kresge, who started a 5-and-10-cent store called Kresge's, that eventually grew into a chain of stores that we now know as Kmart.