Tag Archives: statuary

Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign

The Grim Reaper in Florence’s English Cemetery

After our visit to Il Cimitero degli Inglesi, I read the little booklet available from the cemetery office.  It said that many of the people buried in the “English” Cemetery were in fact Italians, who had been persecuted for their Protestant beliefs. Challenging the Pope’s authority in Italy in the 19th century had been a criminal offense, punishable by imprisonment and also refusal to be buried in sanctified ground. I wondered if the Swiss Evangelic Church had ever been allowed to bless the land of the cemetery it oversaw.

In the sea of sculpture that stood on this little island of the dead, the most amazing monument marked an Italian’s grave. A larger-than-life skeleton brandished a scythe, about to slice down a clump of stone lilies. The Reaper wore his shroud like a cloak, tossed jauntily over one shoulder. The raw bones of his shin and thigh peeped out at the bottom. A rag blindfolded his eye sockets but didn’t mask his grimacing teeth. I’d never seen anything like him. I haven’t been able to discover any information about Andrea di Mariano Casentini (1855-1870), but clearly Mama and Papa had some message to give the world when they lost their child.

In America, parents mark their children’s graves with teddy bears or toy cars.  In the 19th century, when Casentini’s monument was created, Americans chose lambs (to connotate innocence) or broken rosebuds (to symbolize lives ended too soon).  Nowhere have I seen Death, in all his glory, standing over American children.

Cemetery of the Week #73: Woodmere Cemetery

View of Woodmere Cemetery with Brevet General Vreeland’s grave

Woodmere Cemetery
9400 W Fort Street
Detroit, Michigan 48209
Telephone: (313) 841-0188
Founded: 1867
Size: 250 acres
Number of interments: more than 40,000
Open: Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. On Sundays, only by appointment.

Only two years after the Civil War ended, Woodmere Cemetery was founded by a group of prominent Detroit businessmen that included John J. Bagley (buried here), who would shortly be elected Governor of Michigan. These men felt that Detroit needed a rural cemetery, far enough away from the center of town that it would not be in danger of being exhumed and moved in the future. Of course, the city has grown out to engulf it now.

The 250-acre tract they chose had its own picturesque creeks, which had the lamentable habit of running red in the spring due to iron in the soil. According to Gail Hershenzon’s eponymous book about the cemetery, Woodmere was so heavily wooded in the beginning that the “cemetery office’s fireplace always had firewood.” Apparently, coffins were made out of other trees on the property. Some of the lovely old trees remain, but most are gone now.

Gravestone blackened by soot from the Rouge River factory three miles away.

Woodmere’s first burial was Anna Maria Schwartz in November 1868. The cemetery also received some 4000 bodies from the old City Cemetery including, Hershenzon says, a woman believed to have been buried alive during the city’s cholera epidemic in 1833.

In 1896, Woodmere set aside 10,000 feet for a military section. 156 bodies were moved from the Fort Wayne graveyard. The fort, which had been built in 1840, had the capability of firing on Canada across the river. Of course, that was never necessary.

Several titans of the auto industry lie beneath a modest gravestones at Woodmere. Among them is Henry Leland, a machinist who formed the Lincoln Motor Company and created the Cadillac. David Buick started his company because he’d developed an enameling process. Although he gave his name to the line of cars, he was forced out of his namesake company.

Formerly in a modest grave was Hamilton Carhartt, who developed the overalls that bear his name. His granddaughter had a classical mausoleum flanked by angels built and his body was moved in 2000.

Woodmere is the final haven for Private Eddie Slovik. Originally classified as 4F (exempt from service because of his conviction for theft) during World War II, Slovik’s classification was changed and he was forced into combat. He deserted twice in France. After he was caught, he was court-martialed and sentenced to die before a firing squad in January 1945. He was the only man to be executed for desertion since the Civil War. His wife fought to have him pardoned and his body returned to Michigan, but Slovik remained in a numbered grave until after her death. In 1987, Ronald Reagan signed an order allowing Slovik’s repatriation, but he has never been pardoned.

Brevet General Michael Vreeland is also buried in Woodmere. He fought at Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg, but was “gravely wounded” at Gettysburg in 1863. All the same, he survived until 1876. His body wasn’t moved to Woodmere until 1911.

A mysterious headstone in Woodmere.

I wrote about my visit to Woodmere yesterday.

Other Detroit cemeteries on Cemetery Travel so far include Elmwood Cemetery, founded 1846, and reviews of books about Mount Elliott, consecrated in 1841,  and Woodlawn, founded in 1895.

My review of Gail Hershenzon’s Images of America book, Detroit’s Woodmere Cemetery, is here.  You can order it from Amazon yourself here: Detroit’s Woodmere Cemetery (Images of America)

Useful links:

September 22 walking tour of Woodmere.

Woodmere’s homepage.

Author Gail Hershenzon’s homepage.

Online tour of Woodmere.

GPS coordinates at CemeteryRegistry.us.

Photographic Exploration of Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey: The MonumentsWestminster Abbey: The Monuments by Joe Whitlock Blundell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With over a thousand years of history behind it, Westminster Abbey is the repository of memory in the heart of London. Anyone who is anyone in the United Kingdom tried to get themselves buried in the Abbey for hundreds of years. Those who were buried elsewhere were often honored with a monument as grand as a life-sized sculpture or as simple as a plaque on the wall. One could spend hours wandering amongst the statuary inside the church and still miss many gems.

The abbey’s website says, “Taken as a whole, the tombs and memorials comprise the most significant single collection of monumental sculpture anywhere in the United Kingdom.” Unfortunately, photography inside the Abbey is prohibited. Some photographs of the monuments are available in the Abbey’s gift shop or in one of the souvenir guidebooks for sale. What is needed, though, is a serious photographic study of the wonders jammed cheek by jowl against the Abbey’s walls.

This book attempts to document some of the mortuary sculpture. Of necessity, the shades of gray in the photos blunt the whiteness of the marble and brighten the darkness of the shadows, so they don’t completely do justice to the Abbey’s treasures. Still, Blundell has a fascination with detail and uses tight focus to good effect, giving a sense of the way your eye bounces around the room, struggling to take it all in.

I like that the book includes capsule biographies of the people commemorated by the statuary. I wish the biographies were attached to their pictures, rather than arranged by number at the back of the book. The arrangement makes sense if you’re at the Abbey, working your way around the room and matching the photographs to the artwork. As a reader who might be interested in finding, say, Isaac Newton’s grave, the lack of alphabetization or an index means that I have to read through the biographies until I find him, then cross-reference back to the photo.

Still, until I can make my own collection of photographs from Westminster Abbey, I’m glad to have this book. It’s lovely, if frustrating.

The book is inexplicably out of print. I got my copy from eBay, but Amazon does have some used copies for sale: Westminster Abbey: The Monuments

Cemetery of the Week #63: Westminster Abbey, London, England

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

Cemetery of the Week #63: Westminster Abbey

Towers of Westminster Abbey

Collegiate Church of St. Peter at Westminster, known as Westminster Abbey
City of Westminster, 20 Deans Yard, London, SW1P 3PA, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44(0)20 7222 5152
Founded: 960
Number of Interments and Memorials: 500?
Open: Usually open to visitors from Monday to Saturday throughout the year. Hours vary, so check the daily schedule here: http://www.westminster-abbey.org/visit-us/opening-times. On Sundays and religious holidays such as Easter and Christmas, the Abbey is open for worship only. All are welcome to services.
Admission: £16 for adults, £13 for students over 18 and seniors 60+, £6 children from 11 – 18 years old, children under 11 free if accompanied by an adult. Family discounts are available. Each of these entry fees includes the audio guide.

King Edward (later called the Confessor) was born between 1002 and 1005, son of Saxon King Ethelred the Unready. He was chased from England by Danish invaders and lived in exile in Normandy, where he vowed to make a pilgrimage to Rome if he ever regained his throne. When he eventually returned to England, he was crowned at Winchester in 1042. The Pope released him from fulfilling his vow on the condition he would found a monastery to St Peter. Edward chose to replace the old Saxon church at Westminster with a new building in the Norman style. It was consecrated on Holy Innocents’ Day at the end of December 1065, but Edward was too ill to attend. He died early in January 1066 and was buried before the High Altar in his new church. The Bayeux Tapestry shows his burial procession.

Westminster Abbey has served as the site of every British coronation since 1066. The tradition predates the modern Gothic building, begun by Henry III in 1245. The abbey is also stuffed nearly to bursting with mortuary sculpture, which it is –unfortunately – forbidden to photograph. The abbey’s website says, “Taken as a whole, the tombs and memorials comprise the most significant single collection of monumental sculpture anywhere in the United Kingdom.” Photographs of the monuments are available from the Abbey’s gift shop.

Effigies of kings and queens in Westminster

Seventeen British monarchs reside permanently in the Abbey, ranging from Henry III, whose heart lies at Fontevrault Abbey in France amongst the tombs of his ancestors to Henry VIII’s fourth wife Anne of Cleves, and Mary, Queen of Scots. Protestant Elizabeth I shares a tomb with her older sister Catholic Mary I beneath an epitaph that says “Consorts both in throne and grave, here rest we two sisters…in the hope of one Resurrection.” Apparently, Elizabeth’s coffin was stacked atop Mary’s. Elizabeth’s effigy is the only one visible.

Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey

Commoners such as Geoffrey Chaucer, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Darwin, and Sir Isaac Newton were honored with burial in the Abbey. Charles Dickens was interred here against his will, rather than being allowed to be buried alongside his family in Highgate Cemetery. Composer Henry Purcell was buried in the abbey near the organ that he had played. George Frederic Handel requested burial in the Abbey in his will, since he had composed a hymn that is still used at every coronation. African explorer David Livingstone was offered burial in the Abbey after his death in Africa, so his attendants unearthed his body, embalmed it, and sent it back to England without its heart, which they reburied in his original grave. During the 20th century, coffins were no longer buried in Westminster. Actor Sir Henry Irving was the first to be cremated and have his ashes interred in 1905.

Other famous Britons are commemorated in the Abbey, although their remains lie elsewhere. Among these are Shakespeare (buried in Holy Trinity Church at Stratford upon Avon), Jane Austen (buried in Winchester Cathedral), William Blake (buried in an unmarked grave in Bunhill Fields, London), Lewis Carroll (buried in Guildford’s Mount Cemetery), Sir Winston Churchill (buried with his parents in St. Martin’s Churchyard in Bladon), Shelley and Keats (both buried in the Protestant Cemetery of Rome), and many more.

Some Britons were recognized many years posthumously with memorial plaques. Lord Byron’s memorial was placed in 1969. Oscar Wilde was recognized on a stained glass window unveiled on Valentine’s Day 1995. Poet and spy Christopher Marlowe received his acknowledgment on another panel in the same window in 2002, 500 years after his death.

American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was honored by a bust in the Poet’s Corner, the only American to be granted that honor. A statue of Martin Luther King Jr. stands in a niche beside nine other 20th century martyrs, including theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis at the Flossenburg Concentration Camp.

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior

At the west end of the nave lies the tomb of The Unknown Warrior. After the end of World War I, unidentified British servicemen were exhumed from graveyards in the Aisne, the Somme, Arras, and Ypres, then draped in the British flag. Brigadier General L. J. Wyatt, commander of British troops in France and Flanders, chose one, who was placed in a plain pine coffin. The others were reburied with honors. The chosen unknown was reburied in the Abbey floor on Armistice Day, November 11, 1920. Of all the graves in the Abbey, this is the only one upon which it is forbidden to step. Flowers or wreaths often surround it.

Useful links:

Westminster Abbey’s home page

An admittedly partial list of famous people buried or remembered at the Abbey

Map to Westminster Abbey

A map of the interior of the Abbey

The UNESCO Heritage listing

Books I’ve reviewed that reference Westminster Abbey:

Westminster Abbey: The Monuments

London Cemeteries: An Illustrated Guide

London Cemeteries

Who Lies Where

Famous and Curious Cemeteries: A Pictorial, Historical, and Anecdotal View of American and European Cemeteries 

The Cemetery Book

Cemetery of the Week #62: Sunset Hills Cemetery

Crack the Whip

Sunset Hills Cemetery
G-4413 Flushing Road
Flint, Michigan 48504
Telephone: (810) 732-0260
Founded: 1926
Number of interments: Findagrave lists more than 4500.
Open: 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. in summer, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. in winter

Sunset Hills Cemetery lies across from the Flint River between the former automotive capital of Flint and the former farming village of Flushing, Michigan. Sunset Hills is a lovely combination of lawn cemetery (with bronze monuments lying flush with the sod) and garden cemetery, full of gorgeous old trees, winding roadways, and peaceful views. In the spring, it comes alive with birdsong. In summer, you’d be amazed at all the shades of green. When autumn comes, the trees seem to catch fire with leaves of gold and orange. It holds a new kind of silence when the snow is on the ground.

Sunset Hills doesn’t have famous people buried in it. The best Findagrave can offer is Arthur Ellsworth Summerfield, who served as Postmaster General from 1953-1961, and Booker Moore, who played fullback for the Buffalo Bills. The Political Graveyard adds only Herbert E. Crouter, who ran as a prohibition candidate for the House of Representatives, the Lieutenant Governorship of Michigan, and the University of Michigan board of regents. It’s unclear to me if he ever succeeded in getting himself elected.

Sunset Hills is worth visiting because it’s home to some of the best sculpture I’ve seen in a graveyard anywhere.

The Provider

The first sculpture to greet the visitor stands just inside the gate. “The Provider” was sculpted by Derek Wernher in the likeness of Albert Koegel. (Koegel was the patriarch of the Koegel’s hotdog empire. Michiganders are fanatic about their hotdogs and Koegels are considered the best.) Koegel’s interest in the cemetery, dating back to its founding in the 1920s, “provided the beautiful backdrop of large trees we enjoy today,” according to Sunset Hills’ website.

“The Provider” is an older gentleman, raising a tin can up to fill a bird feeder. He wears striped rubber boots, slacks with a belt, and a button-down shirt: generic clothing for a very specific figure. The rough surface of his clothing was patterned in the casting process.

Wernher says, “My representational work does not dictate a story but, rather, captures a moment… All these works focus on the portrayal of the ‘self’ of the individual. We are all solitary, yet we are part of the universe.”

Generation Bridge

Farther into the cemetery, you come upon a group of statues called “The Generation Bridge” by J. Seward Johnson. A grandfather in a tweed suit offers a broken Hersey bar to a little girl in a quilted pale blue outfit. He looks at her, but she gazes at the blanket in her hands. Beside him on the wooden bench sits her dolly. The sculpture is tucked back under the trees in such a way that it looks very realistic.

“My art is an imitation of life. [The sculptures] invite people to come into that space, so that they don’t feel quite alone.” – J. Seward Johnson

Detail of Crack the Whip

The centerpiece of the Sunset Hills sculpture collection is “Crack the Whip,” a collection of eight children running in a semi-circle to play the game. “Crack the Whip” was the first of Sunset Hills’ sculptures, dedicated in 1983. The sculpture, which cost $85,000 at the time, was donated by an anonymous Flint-area resident who had family buried in the cemetery.

The Smithsonian’s Save Our Sculpture survey, compiled in 1993, says that the original leader of the game had gone missing. He appears in my photos taken in 1998 and 2008, so he must have been replaced. My photos from 1998 are here on yesterday’s post.

The sculpture is comprised of an Asian girl, two African American kids, a Native American, and four white kids, each distinct and individual. They are dressed in cleats and baseball shorts, a headband and a basketball jersey, a pinafore. The Asian girl has lost her Birkenstock sandal, which lies in the grass nearby.

Multiple copies of the sculpture are scattered throughout the Midwest. According to his website, Johnson makes up to seven duplicates of each sculpture. One belongs to Radisson Hotel Engineering Department in Indianapolis, who purchased it in 1986. Another copy stands at the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company in Fort Wayne Indiana. They dedicated theirs in 1987.

The Gardener

J. Seward Johnson’s final sculpture in the cemetery is called “The Gardener.” The man wears blue denim overalls with a handkerchief dangling from his back pocket. His turquoise plaid flannel shirt has its sleeves rolled back. In one hand, he holds a spade. The other holds a small flowerpot, which is sometimes filled with real flowers. On the ground beside him sits a tray containing more flowerpots. Except for the gloss on his skin – which could be sunscreen – he appears real enough that I expect people sometimes ask him directions.

Candice and the Flower Girls

“Candice and the Flower Girls,” by Gary Price, is a multi-figure piece that includes a pair of little girls and an older girl with a watering can, which trickles out a stream of water. Candice wears a sailor dress and dice-shaped ponytail holders. She holds a straw hat in one hand and her watering can in the other, her expression intent. She doesn’t have any paint, so she looks less realistic than the other sculptures in the cemetery.

The flower girls are roughly sculpted, with big grooves that show the pressure of the sculptor’s thumb. Their faces have less personality and are less established in their ethnicity than the others. Price says his goal is lifting the human spirit through sculpture. He often depicts children in natural settings, gardening and exploring nature.

The Flag Raiser

The final sculpture in Sunset Hills is called “The Flag Raiser,” again by Derek Wernher. The cemetery’s grounds crew calls him Charlie. He’s modeled on Charles Smith, grounds supervisor for over 39 years. He wears a large ring of keys clipped at his hip, a big chunky watch, loafers, and eyeglasses with no glass in them, as he reaches up as if raising the American flag.

Sunset Hills is a lovely place to spend a summer’s day, if you find yourself in mid-Michigan. Stop into the cemetery office, opposite the cemetery gates, and they will give you a map of all the sculptures.

Useful links:

Sunset Hills home page

Sunset Hills Flickr gallery

Sunset Hills urban legend

Smithsonian public sculpture listing

My thoughts and more pictures of the Crack the Whip sculpture