The second day of December is not yet winter, with traces of muted versions of the fall colors lingering, especially in the trees and grass of an old cemetery, almost forgotten. On that date this year, Yang and I finally got to visit the Riverside Cemetery in Waterbury, Ct. When passing by on the highway, we would always look down on the Victorian Gothic chapel and monuments to those lost in death, leaving us fascinated by its haunting, melancholy beauty. Finally, we managed to make a trip there to explore. We were not disappointed.
Of course, we stopped first in Seymore for tea at Tea with Tracey, where I enjoyed a delicious fig and cherry tea and Yang took pleasure in a nice green tea. The array of tea sandwiches was yummy, and soon we were well fortified for our expedition into the past of Waterbury through its monuments to the passed. The day was appropriate, with grey skies and a nip in the air. As you entered, you are greeted with an exquisite monument to the Elton family. The bronze has turned a soft green, but the female figures flanking either side of the memorial urn are beautifully articulated. On one side is a shrouded figure of grief at death and on the other a hopeful one looking upward serenely. The execution of the figures is graceful and feeling. Interestingly, the handles of the urn are cherubs, somewhat menacing in demeanor. I think it’s kind of neat that the man’s name is John Elton. Reverse the order and you have . . .
You can find the actual grave of the Elton family deeper into the cemetery. Clearly this was one of the leading families of Waterbury in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I heard that there was even a highly regarded Elton Hotel in the town quite some time back. What has happened to them since? I can’t tell you. Perhaps there are some Waterbury historians reading this blog who would like to take that one? I’d love to know!
There were several others who were clearly prominent in the town, indicated by the plaques on their graves or the imposing nature of their monuments. One interesting sort was the Civil War veteran John Lyman Chatfield. This plaque tells the story of his wounding on the battlefield and subsequent death back in Waterbury. The bronze statue of him in uniform further attests to his history as a Civil Warrior. The Chatfield family must have been one with tremendous clout in the city to be able to leave such an imposing monument. Any local historians want to fill us in on more about him?
The Spencer family also must have been amongst the movers and shakers of 19th-century Waterbury. Witness the tall monument with the carefully carved likeness in relief. This guy must have worked awfully hard for his money and position because he does look rather cranky, don’t you think?
Here we have a doctor who must have had a great deal of success and done much good. The description of his work helping children reveals his value to the population. Perhaps that’s likely the reason for the sleeping children on the corners of the face of this elaborate tombstone. They are a little creepy though, don’t you think? I guess that’s why they’re so Victorian, the era of photographing your dead all dressed up to remember them by – if you were upper middle class.
And of course the BPOE was a force to be reckoned with in those days as well. If you were a high-antler and did a lot of good, then you’d certainly be properly memorialized, so check out this monument. I don’t remember of the chap honored here, unfortunately, but I had to get several shots of this elk. How does he compare with the elk in the Edson Cemetery of Lowell’s ? Click here for an earlier blog to make a comparison. The one in Lowell does have the advantage of being cleaned and returned to its original bronze glory. Anyway, I can’t help providing you with several shots of this wonderful statue. It’s so cool how his base is shaped as a rock crag and is set on the hillside, so that he presides over the rolling slopes of the cemetery.
And roll those slopes do! I think navigating that terrain is half the reason the injured ligaments in my knee haven’t healed yet! You notice that geography immediately on entering the cemetery, with mausoleums banking upwards to a bleak late autumn sky, almost as grey as their stone. I want to share images of the slopes of stone rolling through the cemetery, topped with trees whose mostly denuded branches scratch across the grey sky, the grass rusty brown, and an occasional shrub or tree bearing the maroons or dark orange of late fall. Definitely the perfect setting for a mystery or a tale of terror. I just have to work this place into a novel, too!
Of course the statuary revealed the entrancing work of inestimable craftsmen. There were so many haunting statues of women. For example, regard the deep feeling of this woman who guards the entrance to one family’s mausoleum. Is this an actual likeness to a wife or mother of the N.J. Welton family who preserved that family’s secure home? Was the truth of that family portrayed in this woman’s intense devotion, or are any conflicts whitewashed here for posterity?
This statue of woman and child from another branch of the Welton family seems to portray a sad loss. Did mother and child pass when both were young or are they immortalized as eternally young in the next world? The child seems afraid, burying herself in the comforting lap of her mother, who has one arm around her but raises her hand hopefully, while the other holds a book and looks into the beyond. Is she holding the Book of Life or the Bible? Her steadfast stare and gentle but firm hold on her daughter indicates her guidance of her family toward redemption. This seems a statuary representation if the Victorian Angel in the House.
It’s hard to select which other statues to show you, there are so many beautiful, poignant ones, so I’ll try to select the more unique. I was fascinated by the bronze cast of this woman, whose plaque celebrated her firm virtues. The photo doesn’t quite convey how massive the bronze form is. Her hair style, dress, and sandalled feet portray her as a Roman matron. so, clearly, she was a powerful force in her family, devoted to her duties there and preserving them. Again, the book she holds indicates learning and wisdom, though perhaps only in religion if it’s a Bible. More knowledge of the family and this woman might indicate she was actually learned in areas outside the woman’s domestic sphere. Anyone know something of her?
This statue was particularly intriguing, for the base was not a smooth column, but in the shape of a cairn, with the information of the family’s deceased inscribed on the individual stones. I’m fascinated by the creativity of the masons who contributed to the Riverside Cemetery. Their statuary is amongst the most unique I’ve encountered in my explorations of cemeteries.
Now this statuary tremendously intrigued me. Coming upon it from behind, both Yang and I thought it was a spectral figure in a shroud, a figure implying the mystery of the world beyond this. However, as we came around the front of the monument, we realized that what you saw from the front was a partially draped urn. This leads me to wonder if the artist intentionally played with our perceptions, implying the ineffablity of pinning down or defining death. Was he, perhaps, implying our thoughts of ghosts and spirits turn out to be nothing more than dust in a dead stone urn? Or was he implying that perception of death as final dissolution into dust and cold stone was a superficial view that we have to look behind or beyond to accept the mystery of the world beyond? Maybe I just think to much? I was an English professor; it’s an occupational hazard.
I’ll just wrap up with an image that delights me in my most melancholy, Keatsian vein.
Category Archives: Don’t Blink
Forest Hills Cemetery: Touching or Eerie? Both?
Yang and I found a gorgeous old cemetery in Utica, NY when we went to the Joan and Constance Bennett film festival in Rome this past summer. However, life has just been so busy with all the prep for Dark Horse‘s release, then it’s actual release, that I just didn’t have time to put together a pictorial blog on it. Maybe that’s just as well, because aren’t we in just the right season for a sepulchral tour?
So, welcome to Forest Hill Cemetery. You know this is going to be one neat burial ground when you enter through these wonderfully Gothic gates. And the cemetery is definitely well-named, winding up above Utica on an extensive tree-shrouded, green hillside. Maybe we don’t have flaming autumn colors; however, the misty green mossyness perfectly emanates a Keatsian melancholy.
The statuary here was marvelously haunting: women, angels, urns, unique mausoleums, and one guy backed by a tree that seemed like something out of a Lovecraft piece. Let’s start with the angels. The first one that I noted, just getting out of my car (me not the angel), was a uniquely colored creature. It wasn’t as large as many or the others and the tip of one wing was chipped. Yet it’s lines were straight and powerful, grace and strength in a soft glow of gold.
Yet, there were other more traditionally imposing figures. This angel rose above a long bench that curved like his wings. It’s an imposing figure that makes you uneasily recall the Dr. Who injunction, “Don’t blink! On the other hand, this angel below sits peacefully atop the Ives family monument exuding comfort and repose. If it came to life, it would offer gentleness and compassion. The day’s sky, still a tad cloudy, softens the gleaming white of its stone.
This family must, indeed, have had clout! Not only do they have a fancy sepulchre, but they have two angels guarding the way to their entombed remains. Facing us, you can see that one angel holds a book, while, in the case of the one with its back to us, you can just make out its trumpet. Clearly that divine guy is ready to blow the horn to announce Judgment Day – or it’s Harry James.
Speaking of sepulchres, there are some really neat fancy ones here. This one makes me think of a stone beehive. It also has a medieval look. The stones fit together like the blocks of a castle. There are spires and arches like in a Gothic cathedral. Even fleur de lis are carved on joining stones on the sides and back. Note the brass door gone green. The graceful furl of draping ribbons carved on the doors evokes the unfurling of a gentle melancholy sigh, doesn’t it? Here’s a closeup so you can better perceive the detail. Notice how flowers trail from the end of the ribbons. A symbol of life’s fragility like a flower or of life’s renewal of flowers from seeds shed by flowers past/passed?
This mausoleum is more in the art deco vein. It’s shape is square-angled with blocks sharply cut. The woman on its metal door, though Grecian garbed, has the stylized posture of art deco figures. Pressing herself to a door carved with a gate of flowered shapes holding her out, her stance and expression are quietly yet powerfully sad. Is she reaching for the lost departed or is she a departed soul reaching back for life?
The statues of women representing faith, loss, families also abound here in some beautiful forms. I loved the view of this weather-stained woman peering down the hillside, through waving grass and dark green trees into the world beyond her, outside the grave. In a closer view from the front, you can see she supports stalks of harvested grain. The soul harvested from this earth? Or her life’s harvest of experience, carried into the next realm?
Here sits a pensive female, pure white against the greenery. Though she marks the reality of death, there is peace in her expression. Does she represent the soul’s passing into a realm beyond suffering to a place of calm contemplation or the quiet remembrance that those left behind have of loved ones now beyond the veil? I love capturing a close up of her features against the vivid blue streaked with the gauzy whiteness of clouds.
This woman is celebrated as a dignified Roman matron.
Here an angelic figure points an attentive Victorian mother and plump toddler heavenward. There are no wings on the rising figure, but there are definitely suggestions of her angelic nature. Interestingly, her trumpet points downward. A reference to the family in the world of the living below? The sculpture beautifully creates the illusion of the female figure rising through the sweep of her garments. I can’t help thinking that perhaps this monument commemorates the loss of a young wife and a child. Is the rising figure a younger daughter who had angelic qualities?
Then there is this far from traditional carving of gleaming white marble. The figure does not seem carved so much as transforming stone into a vibrant, pure flame consuming a body into a higher, ethereal form. Is her expression joyous, pained, both – combining the two in the ineffable constitution of the sublime.
Of course, we can’t forget about the gents, either. This chap must have been something, taking up the center of an enormous monument that surrounds him as if part of a capitol building or cathedral. Gothic arches and fancy urns denote his prominent family standing. You can see me standing there in front providing scale. The book he holds in his hand and his far away look seem to mark him as a scholar of some sort, or at the very least, a man of great learning.
I’m not sure who this guy was, but he certainly must have been important to get such a fancy statue of himself. He must have been wealthy, too, to be so well fed. Reminds me of Sidney Greenstreet. What do you think? Something else that’s neat is that if you look carefully behind him, you can see a tree that almost seems to have a cyclops eye; a long, bowed nose-trunk; and menacing upraised arms. The image didn’t photograph as well as it should have, but it’s still very Lovecraftian. Below is a picture of just that just shows that eldritch, daemonic tree, appearing to stride forth on an unspeakable quest of relentless destruction. And here’s a link to a list of Lovecraft’s favorite adjectives.
I’ve got to say that this tree also looks as if it’s up to no good, eldritch or otherwise. There’s a horror story in here somewhere.
There are still more wonderful monuments of unique shapes and beautiful scenes of a sea of stones, but I’ve just no more space. Perhaps, I can do a second edition on this cemetery. We’ll see. October is a busy month. Hmm, what’s that I hear tapping at my window pane? I hope it’s nothing cyclopean or eldritch.
Say “so long” to Forrest Hill as we drive out those wonderful Gothic Gates!
An Autumn Walk in St. John’s Cemetery
The Marvelous Marble of the Barre Cemetery
Definitely, Don’t Blink! Evergreen Cemetery Portland, Maine
So, at last I have a moment to finally post a blog on the Evergreen Cemetery in Portland, Maine. According to the cemetery’s web site, Evergreen was created in 1854, designed by Charles H. Howe, in the rural landscape style initiated in this country at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA. Yang and I went to Evergreen twice on our trip. The first time was on a beautiful sunny and breezy Friday afternoon. This was the visit where got the most pictures. I was not disappointed by the greenery or the Romantic/Gothic sculptures atop the graves.
Here we have some beautiful reliefs. One of my favorite reliefs was this dove, ancient with a a touch of bright orange lichen. We saw other statuary painted even more with this orange, as well as the more expected dark or pale green. There were also these more modern doves, sculpted in bronze and gracefully merged into the granite memorial, along a twining bronze vine. Lovely!
You can tell that these are the graves of seafaring people. They don’t call it Portland for nothing! The first photo shows a relief of an anchor and the second of a mast on the waves. This second seems worn down and weathered more than the first. Yang and I had a bit of a time trying to discern exactly what it was at first. Dr. Physicist was the first to figure it out! What would my Dad from the Navy say?
There were also some neat mausoleums! These two are in graceful classical style.
This one is modern with a lovely carved dove and beautiful stained glass. Like the mausoleums above, it maintains a sense of stillness, grace, and peace.
Here’s my favorite part to put on display, the one that give Dr. Whovians nightmares! The angels and other figures. There were quite a number of grieving young women, young women pointing souls victoriously upward to salvation, and – of course – angels. Here are some of the most interesting.
A woman stands proudly for victory of the soul over grief and death, reaching into the blue and rising up with the ascent of the powerful tree behind her.
This victorious female incarnation of the soul bring us back to the seafaring nature of the Portland. She holds an anchor, not to weigh her down but to assert the integrity of the sailing family whose life she honors and whose life after death she raises.
Another grieving female leans on a cross, perhaps embodying the soul’s dependence on Christ’s sacrifice on the holy cross. Does she grieve for her own death, those she leaves behind, the stains on her soul, or for the death of her Savior? I’ll also call your attention to the brilliant orange lichen encrusting the carven figure. It lends beauty, but the lichen is also a life form that thrives on the monument to death, eating away at it to survive. Dust to dust or dead stone to plant life?
As a writer, I find this angel especially interesting, for it is a writer, too! Is it improving on Milton, telling the REAL story of our Paradise lost? Is it recording the history of the family interred around the monument? Do we need to climb up on the monument to see what’s actually written there – not advisable!
Then, here are a few gravestones I found interesting. A globe, some Celtic crosses, an urn – enjoy!
There are also some ponds to the rear of the cemetery that back up to a woody nature trail. On the second day, we had the good fortune to see this guy in one of the ponds!
Wouldn’t all the maples in this graveyard look gorgeous in autumn’s colorful splendor? I’ve got to make it back here then!
Adventures in the Lowell Cemetery Part 2
I promised you a second post on our adventures in the Lowell Cemetery, so here it is! This blog will concentrate on the unique statuary gracing the cemetery. However, to begin, I want to revisit two of the monuments I showed you last time out. I’ve done some additional research and discovered intriguing background on them.
First is this beauty. I wrote about it as a penitent soul being ministered by an angel. However, I found out that it has an intriguing back story. A mill girl had saved up a considerable sum over the years, planning for a special monument to be erected upon her death, which came to pass in 1886, after a long life. For various reasons, her plans weren’t implemented until some after her burial. Finally, when everything came together for the tomb stone to be created, there was $8000 available (lots of dough back then!), and those left in charge employed Daniel Chester French (creator of the Minute Man Monument) to create this work of art (Chris Camire).
This monument to the Bonney family has been the subject of all kinds of crazy stories about witches and hauntings. However, the truth is that it is just a remarkable monument to the Bonney family (“Mysterious Witch Bonney”). It was created by Frank Elwell, the director of the Sculpture Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He titled the monument “New Life”(Camire), no references to witchcraft at all! The tomb honors Clara Bonney, who died relatively young in 1894, as well as other members of her family (Camire) – which kind precludes the monument housing the remains of anyone executed in the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s as some like to claim. I’m just saying . . .
Maybe the most remarkable monument, definitely the most well known, is this gorgeous recumbent lion. Called the Ayer Lion it memorializes James Ayer, a business man so prominent that he has a major street named after him in the city. The face is so powerfully expressive you almost forget it’s not a human. The lion is made of the finest Italian marble and was created in Italy, by Price Joy (“The Ayer Lion,” Lowell Cemetery).
I don’t have any back stories on the following statuary, but I think their beauty speaks for itself. I did note that books and publishing seemed popular, with two monuments taking the forms of volumes. I believe this one on the right honors two publishing partners. I also found the one below that showed the “open volume” of one man’s life, resting steadfast on a rock.
And below, is a closeup of the text of his life.
There were also some funky, creative shapes. I love the intertwining of initials here with what could be some form of a Celtic cross.
I can’t even begin to tell you what this thing is supposed to be – but it does have a kind of Lovecraftian flavor, does it not? Speaking of Lovecraft, there were some people taking pictures of a wonderfully goth-coutured wedding party. The groom had perfect H.P. hair, glasses, and suit! We exchanged conspiratorial smiles as Yang and I drove by!
Of course there were also plenty of angels, women ready to guide you to the unknown, and wise matrons. Something that gave many of these statues a wonderfully eerie quality was that, as Yang noted, they hadn’t been cleaned, so they frequently were aged with wear from the elements. This woman bearing a cross is a particularly good example. Is she coming to get me or guide me? Her blurred features make her seem unnervingly not quite human and her motives ambivalent.
Others could be put in unique settings like atop a tall monument or caged within the marble barriers of something like a spire. I see the woman above as a symbol of the heaven to which we all aspire above us. Holding a victory wreath, she implies if we reach her we can achieve the victory of salvation. Perhaps she is a guide waiting in a liminal space to lead us ever upward. Still, what about the woman encased in marble. Does she need to be kept in to protect us? Don’t blink!
Uh oh! Hope that Whovian reference wasn’t too unnerving! Here’s a picture of the victory lady in closeup to comfort you.
And what better way to end an October visit to a Romantic cemetery than with an autumn moon in a pure blue October sky? Keats would surely approve.
Below are the web sites where I found the background information not evident from just looking at the monuments. Check them out for more information and photos:
Chris Camire. “What a Site! The Lowell Cemetery Celebrates Its 175th Anniversary and ‘The Serenity of Nature.'” The Lowell Sun. 16 June 2016. http://www.lowellsun.com/lifestyles/ci_30022685/what-site
“The History of the Ayer Lion” Lowell Cemetery. 2015. http://www.lowellcemetery.com/
“The Mysterious Witch Bonney.” Atlas Obscura. 2017. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/mysterious-witch-bonney
Swan Point Twilight – Don’t Blink!
Last weekend, Yang and I paid a twilight visit to the Swan Point Cemetery in Providence. It’s a beautiful cemetery on the bay, encircled and populated by graceful old trees. The graveyard is designed in the Romantic style initiated by the Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge and emulated by others, such as Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain, the Lowell Cemetery (guess where), and Sleepy Hollow in Concord – Tarrytown, too!
This style is characterized by sloping greens; stately, shady trees; ponds; and monuments created to reflect both the sadness of loss and the serenity of eternal peace. Keats and Shelley would just die, so to speak, for a sojourn here.
This cemetery is surrounded on the street side by a stone wall of large rocks. So, it captures the New England tradition of dry stone walls, but adds solemn majesty by using boulders as its dry stones. I love this configuration near the entrance. We came here close to dusk because Rosie and ‘Tasha kept us out later than usual walking in the yard. So, we had to hurry a bit and were unable to stroll and take photographs at our leisure.
The posture and positioning of many of these statues seem to tell a moral about death. Perhaps women were usually chosen to immortalize in keeping with Poe’s dictum that the saddest thing in the world is the death of a beautiful woman. Each of these beautiful figures seems to convey a message back to the living. This woman looks down on our world, bearing a veiled gift. The broken column signifies a life cut off. I’m not sure where I learned about the column, but I do remember it was a legitimate source.
Here, a woman peers off into the beyond, urging us to look upward and outward, past this vale of tears – or is that veil of tears? Either makes sense in this context. She also holds an anchor on her far side. Does it symbolize that she is anchored to us, though she is looking to attain something beyond the earthly realm – or is she from a seafaring family?
I’m particularly interested in this figure, looking down at us from the heights of a pillar, perhaps symbolizing she is no longer anchored to this earth but soars above us toward the empyrean. Still, her gaze of concern is fixed on us suffering mortals below.
I found this stylized monument of an angel particularly intriguing. Yang thought it had an Egyptian look, but I find it much more art deco. It seems to flow down into the ground – or does it shoot upward?I didn’t have a chance to check the date on it to see if it fit into the deco period. I’m so impressed by its soft but still clean lines.
The weathering of this limestone angel blurs and softens it’s features so that it seems ethereal – and more than a little eerie. What do you think? What does she perceive hovering above even her? Don’t blink!
The cemetery has other lovely qualities. There is a pond surrounded by hedges, but I didn’t get any pictures this time. We had to rush. However, I did get a shot of this gazebo. What a wonderful place to sit and read. Yang graded papers here, while I attended a Renaissance Conference in town one time.
I have to add that there are some impressive selections of Celtic crosses. Some in family groupings.
Others even in pairs.
I especially loved the balustrades or curved stone work surrounding or leading up to family burial plots. The first of these pictures shows a lovely plaza surrounded by a bowed stone rail. I remember when there were actually a barrier of tall yews forming a second circle inside the balustrade. You couldn’t see within the green cavern it created. One of the grounds-people told me they had to cut down the yews because weird stuff went on in there at times. This was some time ago that I heard this tale. I hadn’t heard any tales about these gently curving steps and barrier, leading to this prominent family’s plot. I do love the graceful shape.
Of course, here are the pictures that all you faithful Lovecraftians are waiting for: Mr. Lovecraft’s family plot and monuments. We actually had some shots of me next to the monuments, but I looked awful enough to give a Shuggoth the willies. So, vanity prevailed and I ditched them. You may notice that there were deposits of presents by Mr. H.P.’s grave. If you look carefully on the gravestone, you can see that his birthday had been just a few days before.
There are lots of beautiful scenes that I hadn’t time to photograph that twilight, but seeing that I couldn’t fit in all the wonderful images that I took this trip, I don’t feel too bad now about not getting them. There should be another trip, maybe when the fall colors are aflame. Won’t that be a treat to see? So, with this proud, victorious angel, I will bid you adieu and slip away into the gloaming – whatever the heck a gloaming is!
Carven (not craven) Creatures of the Big Apple
Autumnal Woodlawn Cemetery – No Blinking!
Three years ago, Yang and I took an autumnal visit to Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. This was our second visit. Our first was in the summer, and we took many photos of the gorgeous sepulchres with their ornate carvings of lions and sphinxes, as well as beautiful stained glass inside. This time, with the fall leaves beginning their metamorphoses into vivid colors, we concentrated on the outdoor imagery. I love the way this angel is framed by the flaming curve of the branch and leaves above it.
I also found this figure fascinating, straining for freedom, emerging from his marble prison – perhaps to burst the bonds of the body’s clay and fly away on the sharp wind of the north to eternity.
We found this image especially beautiful, the soft orange of the tree leaves providing a brilliant background contrast to the soft grey/white of the stone and the gentle and flowing draperies of woman portrayed here.
This woman draped meltingly over the tomb stone in her anguish was a deliciously melancholy image to ponder. I actually manged to find a piece similar to this monument from Toscano to add to my own Halloween graveyard in my front yard this year.
I’m fascinated by this monument. My guess is that the chap memorialized in Roman senatorial garb must have been a judge or a high political figure. I hope he met a better end than Julius Caesar! I thought the warm orange of the tree behind his imposing statue made an appealing contrast. Stern but not harsh features on this chap.
Happily, we found a wonderful living denizen in the cemetery. Woodlawn also contains a beautiful reflecting lake, and this Great Egret found it just the ticket! Of course, he was probably more up to fishing than reflecting – a bird’s got to eat!
There were other typical Victorian monuments, wonderfully complemented by the fall colors. Here is a mother with her children. One hopes this is not a comment on the high mother/child mortality rate but rather a celebration of deep feelings between parent and children.
I was intrigued by this praying woman, high atop her monument. She almost has an aspect of the Catholic Virgin Mary, not what you would expect in a seemingly predominantly Protestant cemetery. Again, the autumn trees provide a pleasurable contrast to the cool white and grey-aged stone.
This cemetery is indeed a pleasure to stroll through, just be sure to bring your camera – whatever season you visit!
Here’s a link that gives you a virtual tour.