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.
I hadn’t had a chance to do up a blog of this wonderful, remarkable cemetery in Barre, VT before, which Yang and I visited three years ago in the Fall. What makes the spot so unique? Well, this town in Vermont is famous for its marble quarrying and this local product is beautifully worked to produce the most creative, unique monuments. Many of these take on unique forms to honor the life work or interests of those they honor in death.
If you’re a fan of Dr. Who, don’t blink. Otherwise, you could be pursued by those pesky stone aliens by car or plane.
The Fukuda family chose to celebrate their Japanese heritage with this rendition of a Japanese house.
This man seems to be dreaming of or lovingly guided by the spirit of his late wife, though her wafting out of cigarette smoke probably wouldn’t please the Surgeon General.
There are also some startlingly unique works of funerary art, such as the following:
The open book, as in his life was an. . . all in French.
And we can never forget the angels and urns.
There were also striking columns
All were lovely to see on a clear Vermont Sunday morning, with the fall colors tinting the trees in gorgeous contrast to the blue skies and white wisps of clouds.
Yang and I have some specially favorite rail trails to ride, and one of these is the Pittsfield to Adams line. Even if we do it once in the spring, we have to do it again in the fall because the colors are so gorgeous! This year, we made our trip around the Columbus Day Weekend, on Tuesday. We thought we’d try something different by not going straight from Pittsfield to Adams, but by parking at the dam in the middle and first going down to Adams. Then we’d come back and having lunch at a restaurant near where we’d parked before continuing on to Pittsfield and returning. As you can see I was able to take some beautiful shots of hill full of colorful trees across the river from the parking area.
It was a gorgeous day, a little colder than the weather had been before, but the sun was out and the air was crisp. A warmer fall jacket did just nicely and the foliage was superb. I had to stop here, not only to enjoy the surrounding hills but to inspect what I thought might be a beaver’s dam.
I couldn’t help stopping to take pictures of some of the most wonderful flaming maples. It was so cool to see colors that went from crimson flame to soft orange all in one tree! I noticed that there weren’t too many scarlet leaves to see as we’d experienced in our first fall ride here. My guess is that those leaves had either lightened in color or fallen.
We ultimately cruised down the hill leading into Adams. I wished I could have taken shots of the dusky green woods and glacier-abandoned boulders on my right or the tumbling river on my left, but there was no stopping on that race down the hill. Just before we entered the town, we stopped to take some shots, with the gold, orange, flame hills shot with evergreen surrounding the town. The pale azure sky forms a complement of color. And here’s a most handsome guy in the foreground!
On the other side of the town, the trail runs along where the river has been channeled into a canal. Again, the hills embracing the town’s valley make you think that it must be glorious to wake up in the morning or return from work in late afternoon to such gorgeous colors surrounding you.
We may have raced down a hill to get into town, but we had to labor up it when we left. I may not be as young as I used to be, but I made it, albeit panting a bit at the end. I didn’t need a sign to tell me to Stop! Luckily, there ‘s a lovely little bridge where you can rest. Nice view, isn’t it?
You can tell by the look on my face that it was a loooong ride up. Thank God for water!
Wouldn’t you know that when we finally got back to the parking lot, it turned out that the restaurant was closed on the only day of the week we were there! We ended up having to forego the rest of the ride and scout out a place to eat in Pittsfield. That’s okay, though. We’d actually conquered the toughest part of the ride. Even better, we found this great little (literally) Italian restaurant in town, Brooklyn’s Best. Later, we took some fun pictures while walking off dinner. We discovered this neat little gargoyle above. I even made a new friend. Do you think Rosie and ‘Tasha will share their litter boxes with him?
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?
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!
Some people head for the Edson Cemetery in Lowell because they want to visit Jack Keruac’s grave. Me, I’m more interested in visiting my own late family’s digs – so to speak. Something else that has always fascinated me about this graveyard are the two bronze (or bronze-coated) statues that dominate the landscape. Ever since I was a kid, when my parents brought me here, I always insisted in checking out the statues of Passaconaway and the giant elk honoring the B.P.O.E.
The day Yang and I took these pictures was really sunny, We found that when we were shooting straight up at the sky, the colors tended to wash out or the darks and lights formed too severe a contrast to capture detail. So, my apologies for those photos that look washed out. You can perceive more detail if you click on the photo to see a larger version of your computer or iPad screen.
The story behind Passaconaway is especially interesting. He was a Sachem of the Penacook tribe in the 16th and 17th centuries who united the Wamesit and Pawtucket tribes in a protective league against the Mohawks, whose territory extended from Western, Mass. His organization of tribes drew on a democratic order that later influenced the establishment of English settlements. He kept peaceful terms with the Europeans immigrants, allowing the them to settle in what is now Chelmsford and Billerica. In fact these immigrants admired his wisdom, honor, and good governance. After his death, sadly, the Europeans proved aggressive and greedy, driving off their predecessors from their rightful lands (Kelley). At least the names Wamesit and Pawtucket remain in circulation in the Merrimack Valley area, as well as other First Nation names. According to marie Donovan, the statue was commissioned by the Improved Order of Red Men in 1899, but had not been kept up over since 1967. I can well remember the changes in its appearacne over the years that I lived in Lowell. In the twenty-first century, the organization turned to “Fred Hein and his students in the metal-fabrication shop at Greater Lowell Technical High School” to do repairs and return the statue to its glory (Donovan).
The Elks Rest Statue is also a monument that intrigued me as a child. I have seen it refurbished over the years, but have not been able to find any background material on the statue other than that it honors deceased members of the B.P.O.E. If anyone could add something, like when it was created and by whom, I’d love to hear. I could incorporate the info into this blog – giving you credit of course!
History of Passaconaway: Michael Kelley, Tewksbury Town Crier, 12/02/2017.http://homenewshere.com/tewksbury_town_crier/news/article_e16632ee-9dbd-11e9-b94c-2b88e245c7a4.html#tncms-source=article-nav-prev
Statue Refurbishment: Marie Donovan, “Refurbished statue of Chief Passaconaway rededicated Sunday in Lowell” The Lowell Sun. 5/20/2011. http://www.lowellsun.com/rss/ci_18103578
I’m heading back to school this week. So before work gets too hot and heavy, I want to post a blog on one of the wonderful short trips Yang and I took when we went away for two days. The first day was a visit to NYC to explore Central Park and have a yummy tea at Alice’s Teacup – another blog on that later! The second day, as we made our way back from where we’d stayed in Milford, brought us to Danbury’s Tarrywile Park and the Hearthstone Castle. If you click here, there’s a wonderful history on this link about the castle.
We walked up a fairly short, but decidedly steep, wooded path to be greeted with this sight. What a pity that the castle has been defaced and let go into such disrepair. Still, it was deliciously eerie, with the afternoon sunlight rising in a clearing amidst the trees. Note the turrets with sharp field stones acting as the crenellation. There in front was the portico where the wealthy would arrive in their carriages to be dropped off at the door for a summer weekend in the country or a formal dinner or ball. They must have had a ballroom! And here I am walking quite determinedly up to get a closer view, braving assault from ticks and poison ivy.
We took some neat shots of the ruins, so you could see the sky pouring blue through a window in the back wall out to you from a smashed window or a broken wall in front of you. Unfortunately, the sun was so bright that it washed the blue right out of most of these shots. I love the gorgeous turret here and wonder what kind of round rooms were inside on each floor. The view must have been a delight. A great place to sit with your tea and a good book. Perhaps a Scarlet Tanager or Rosebreasted Grosbeak might fly by, even perch on the ledge? Looking through the smashed windows, where the boards had been pried away, you could also see the brick that lined or insulated the interior where the material covering the interior walls had been stripped away. I couldn’t help recalling the marvelous ruined abbeys I’d seen on my trip to England – sky gleaming blue through soaring arches and graceful architecture. Of course, this ruin is on a much smaller scale – and more jagged than the medieval constructions. Still, doesn’t the setting lend itself to a novel? Hmm, maybe that’s what I’m working out in my mind here.
Here’s a neat farewell shot of the ruin. I’m not sure if Yang or I took it. I would love to go back in the fall, when the leaves turn gorgeous! You should make a visit, too. And remember that the park has lots of inviting hiking trails. Yeah, I think this place has to make it into a novel. It’s just so Thornfield or Manderly!
P.S. A tip of one of my many hats to Robert Johnson for putting me wise to this site.
The same day that we visited Battleship Cove, we also gave ourselves a walking tour of the older architecture in the downtown section of Providence. Yang and I had come here for a walk once before in the winter and marveled at the beautiful buildings with their ornate decorations. We’ll start with the Shepherd Department Store Building.
The Shepherd Department store was once the largest department store in the country, covering an entire block and consuming three buildings. First built in 1880, the store continued to grow and became a mainstay for about 100 years. Unfortunately, like many of the other big department stores (Bon Marche, Filenes, G. Fox) it was undone by the viral spread of malls. Check out the interesting background info on this store and on it and similar ones. Fortunately, Shepherd’s facade has been preserved, with a major portion of the building serving as campuses for URI and CCRI, as well as offices for the RI Department of Education, making the relief of the owl pictured above both prescient and appropriate!
And of course, you can’t help but admire this fierce lion head decorating the building.
He isn’t the only lion. This building, now a dance club, is protected by a line of threatening Panthera Leo – so you’d darn well better heed the sign warning that the rest rooms are only for patrons!
There are also far less threatening carvings or reliefs. With this building that was once a nineteenth-century performance center, we have musical instruments: mandolin and horn on one side and lyre on the other.
On another building, I found these reliefs: a pilgrim-looking guy and the female head from the old dimes. How wise to pick a relief that has rays coming from her head that can also double as pigeon repellers. Note that anchor relief just around the corner.
Between them was a medallion with this cherub.
I was struck by the Providence Performing Arts Center. This gorgeously ornate building covers an enormous amount of territory. It seems like an entire block. The front is impressive, predominating the view at this end of Weybosset Street. The sides are no less impressive. Originally built as Loewe’s Movie Palace in 1928, the theatre opened to an audience of 14,000. Loewe’s went through some tough times in the latter half of the twentieth century before its redesign as a successful multipurpose performance venue. Click here for background on this magnificent building.
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