Happy Birthday Love

Today is my wife’s birthday. Apart from perhaps a couple of occasions when one or the other of us was away on business it’s the first birthday in 43 years I can remember when she wasn’t around. She passed away last October and I miss her terribly.

Taken with a Konica Minolta Maxxum 500 and 50mm f1.7

Old Grave in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

The face of the red sandstone grave marker may be slowly flaking away, but the memory of Catriena Ecker van Tassel will live forever. In Washington Irving’s short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, hapless schoolmaster Ichabod Crane is smitten by the comely 17 year old Katrina van Tassel, but he must compete with town thug Abraham ‘Brom Bones’ van Brunt. Folklorists say that the character Katrina van Tassel is based on Eleanor van Tassel Brush, although the character’s name is based on Eleanor’s aunt Catriena Ecker van Tassel. Her grave is without a doubt the most visited grave in the Old Dutch Burying Ground. The area around Catriena Ecker van Tassel’s grave is peppered with other members of the van Tassel family. The latin inscription, Mors Vincit Omnia, topping her gravestone translates to “Death Conquers all”. (Stories in Stone New York. A field guide to New York City area Cemeteries and their residents by Douglas Keister)

Irving describes Katrina as follows:

Among the musical disciples who assembled, one evening in each week, to receive his instructions in psalmody, was Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter and only child of a substantial Dutch farmer. She was a blooming lass of fresh eighteen; plump as a partridge; ripe and melting and rosy-cheeked as one of her father’s peaches, and universally famed, not merely for her beauty, but her vast expectations. She was withal a little of a coquette, as might be perceived even in her dress, which was a mixture of ancient and modern fashions, as most suited to set off her charms. She wore the ornaments of pure yellow gold, which her great-great-grandmother had brought over from Saardam; the tempting stomacher of the olden time, and withal a provokingly short petticoat, to display the prettiest foot and ankle in the country round.

Note the winged head on the gravestone. According to Angels and Ghosts:

On the East coast of the United States, skilled artisans were hired by people in the 1600 and 1700s, often before their deaths, to create elaborate gravestone carvings. New England cemeteries, consequently, are reknowned for having an abundance of burial sites with winged cherubs and souls adorning the markers of the deceased.

Prior to winged souls and flying cherubs decorating graveyards, however, morbid ideas of death were carved into markers for about 60 years. These ‘death heads’ were just as significant as the ‘soul effigies’ and ‘winged cherubs’ that would eventually follow; for all of these types of stone carvings reveal a shift in American culture away from dogmatic religious beliefs to more of a free spirit mindset. This change in gravestone carvings began around 1630 and continued through the 18th century. People were moving away from condemning Puritan beliefs that focused more on frightening ideas of eternal suffering, namely Hell. The populous was preferring a non-condemning take on the afterlife, something more spiritual, let’s say.

Early Winged Gravestone Art

The first carvings that were made were not the pleasant winged cherub or human faces. Preceding the lighter, angelic facial expressions were carvings of skulls or even skulls with crossbones. These skull motifs are known as ‘death’s heads’ – non-religious symbols found on the markers that sometimes bore wings. Skulls were prominent on gravestones between 1630-1690. The messages of the skeletal iconography seem to suggest that whatever happens to the soul after death was not known, as far as its journey or fate; but death had come calling for its victim – that was certain. The wings, when used, however, also might have conveyed the hope of rescuing the dead from the earth plane, or even hell, taking them up into the heavens and a higher estate.

Winged Cherubs on Cemetery Stones

Cherubs eventually began to replace the skulls, beginning in the 1690s, as a way to indicate a childlike innocence, a higher wisdom about life, and, of course, the hope of a resurrection and an afterlife. Cherubs with wings, essentially angels, were much more soothing than skulls and bones to say the least. And the new, positive outlook on the afterlife began to show in headstone epitaphs, too. Positive sayings began replacing grim warnings used in the past.

These ‘winged effigies’ might look like angels, but they often were artist depictions of either cherubs or, possibly, the human soul. When we look at the faces between the wings, we might catch the artist imagining the person’s soul (think human face here instead of a chubby little angel face) being lifted upward to the heavens. Along with the carving of the soul, at times, the shape of the stone or the carving itself indicated an archway, or entrance path, into the afterworld.

Taken with an Olympus OM-D EM-10 and Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-42 f3.5-4.6 II

Harley checks out the Henry Villard Monument

One of the more impressive sculptures in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. It’s called The End of the Day’s Work

Henry Villard (born Ferdinand Heinrich Gustav Hilgard) grew up in a well-to-do family in Bavaria. He was a rebellious child, which his father tried to curb by sending him to military school. Then in 1853 and without his parents’ knowledge, he immigrated to the United States. To conceal his identity he changed his name to Villard. In the next few years he took a series of jobs at newspapers as he slowly made his way west. He got as far as Colorado and then took a job with a couple of New York papers following Abraham Lincoln’s campaign and eventual election. After the Civil War he took a series of correspondent jobs in Europe. Because he was fluent in German and English, he was hired as a negotiator of German interests in American railroad securities.

He acquired some German clients and traveled back to the United States. He went to Portland, Oregon, in 1874 and impressed with the natural wealth and transportation, he convinced his clients to invest in building a railroad. That railroad (with Henry Villard as president) eventually became the Northern Pacific Railway. Like many financiers, his interests changed and varied. He acquired the New York Evening Post and The Nation newspapers in 1881. He helped inventor, Thomas Edison merge his companies in the Edison General Electric Company, which became General Electric.

In later life, Villard became involved in philanthropic interests, giving large amounts of money to the University of Oregon, Harvard, Columbia, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the American Museum of Natural History.

Villard’s monument was executed by Vienna-born sculptor Karl Bittner in 1904. Although trained in classical styles, Bittner began to drift toward more modern forms. The Villard Monument was sculpted in 1904, and it exhibits the beginnings of forms that, decades later, would evolve into Art Deco and Moderne. The monument depics a man with a sledgehammer (perhaps a reference to Villard’s position as president of the Northern Pacific Railway) looking towards the stars. (Stories in Stone New York. A field guide to New York City area Cemeteries and their residents by Douglas Keister).

The rear of the monument reads:

HENRY VILLARD

BORN

HEINRICH HILGARD

AT SPEIER

RHENISH BAVARIA

APRIL 10TH 1835

DIED AT

THORNWOOD DOBBS FERRY

ON HUDSON

NOVEMBER 12TH 1900

IN VIEW OF THIS SPOT

JOURNALIST

CIVIL WAR CORRESPONDENT

SOMETIME SECRETARY

OF THE

AMERICAN SOCIAL SCIENCE ASSOCIATION

EARLY PROMOTER OF CIVIL SERVICE REFORM

COMPLETOR OF THE

NORTHERN PACIFIC RAILROAD

FINANCIER

GENEROUS FRIEND

TO LEARNING SCIENCE AND THE ARTS

TO SUFFERING HUMANITY

HIS BOUNTY WAS BOUNDLESS

AS THE SEA

HIS LOVE AS DEEP

Taken with a Sony A6000 and Canon 50mm f1.4 LTM (I think).