430 S Quebec St
Denver, CO 80247
Bella Morte Rating: 3 Tombstones
Located near the broad and busy inter- section of Alameda Avenue and Quebec Street, the entrance to Denver's Fair- mount Cemetery is hardly what one might call impressive, and yet, as happens with so many cemeteries of any historic import, the moment one is inside, the rest of the world not only recedes...it vanishes altogether. The sounds of traffic, grating radios, sirens, and all else one associates with modern Western activity is simply silenced.
On the day we visited, summer was at its resplendent best. All around, the blissful sound of birdsong filled the air. Bees bumbled from bloom to bloom as we strolled past myriad redolent flowers laden with pollen and boasting brilliant colour.
And then, of course, there were the graves themselves--that thing which drew us in the first place.
Although Fairmount is far from the loveliest or most remarkable cemetery we have ever visited or reviewed, it is certainly not without its own charms. The flatness of the terrain is easy to overlook since the roadways weave remarkably, keeping one's focus elsewhere. The fact that Fairmount also happens to be Colorado's largest arboretum also insures one's eyes are drawn to the 4,000+ trees which grace the landscape...not to mention the 60 or more varieties of roses, many of which have a "family line" that dates back to the 19th century.
While the lion's share of the graves are rather pedestrian, there are a sufficient number of more remarkable monuments to justify both a listing in Bella Morte's galleries and, more importantly, to warrant The Proprietor's recommendation that those who find themselves in Denver set aside a few hours for exploration. But more on those memorials in a moment.
The major element working against Fairmount lies in the fact that its founders had as their goal the deliberate turning away from what they described as "the mournful effects of the old style cemetery." In other words, taphophiles who share The Proprietor’s love of garden/rural style burying grounds, with their gorgeous Victorian statuary, brooding family plots and foreboding mausoleums, will not find their heart's desire in this, Denver's largest cemetery.
All of this notwithstanding, Fairmount does have some truly lovely features to boast about. One of the first would be the Ivy Chapel, built in 1890. Set, as it is, directly beyond the ornately-engraved Quebec Street gate, the chapel has a distinctly "gem-like" appearance and setting. From the severe gargoyles that ring its soaring central tower to its distinctive flying buttresses, the chapel possesses a simple and elegant beauty. Officially registered as a Denver Landmark, this building is used for many of Fairmount's funeral services. When not thus-engaged, it is open to the public on a daily basis.
Fairmount's public mausoleum (located on the east side of the property) strikes an inarguably impressive pose. With its four, massive two-story columns, ornate roofline, sweeping staircase and over-size doors, anticipation runs high for tomb lovers who approach this stately edifice. Sadly, though, the building's interior is hardly remarkable. Long hallways lined with marble crypt fronts are so identical it is easy to become disoriented. The addition of banks of glass-fronted cremation niches does add some interest, though the largely uninspired collection of urns does little to hold one's interest. Constructed in three large, rectangular buildings, the mausoleum joins each structure through connecting corridors. This, of course, adds to the sense of deja vu. The dark halls and sameness tend to evoke feelings of torpor and disconnection. Note: The mausoleum also features a chapel which seats 50 and is available for memorial services.
Located directly south of the community mausoleum (Section 90) is one of Fairmount's most comely and interesting mausoleums. We here refer to the Temple Hoyne Buell mausoleum which shelters the mortal remains of one of Denver's most famous residents. Buell (1895-1990) was an architect who moved from Chicago to Denver in 1921 in order to seek a cure for the disease from which he suffered--tuberculosis. This diagnosis was made following his exposure to phosgene gas during military service in WWI. Having achieved a cure, he set his considerable talents to work on more than 300 Colorado buildings, including, ultimately...his own mausoleum!
Ironically, Mr. Buell's mausoleum is a one-story rectangular building without a single interesting structural feature! What distinguishes it are the three meticulously-maintained bronze doors, each decorated with a celtic cross at the center of which are the ornately-rendered initials "THB." It is interesting to note there are no visible handles. To either side of the doors stand the mausoleum's real jewels. To the right (if one is facing the building) is the bronze figure of a woman who appears to be of African descent. Draped in classical, flowing garments, head bowed, face set in an expression of resolute contemplation, she holds aloft a torch-like implement atop which rests a coppery globe. The bronze to the left depicts another woman, similarly posed but wearing ancient Egyptian garb. Unlike her more modest counterpart, this woman's clothing is form-fitting, revealing full breasts, a distinctly "hourglass" figure and a sensous, slightly-rounded belly. The overall effect of both figures is that of understated but inarguable elegance. Local "legend" has it that the figures are allegorical and that the woman to the left represents Mrs. Buell while the "other woman" is truly that...Buell's mistress. We have been unable to substantiate this, which may owe to Buell's still-revered status, or simply to its untruth. Either way, it makes for interesting speculation.
Easily the most dramatic and beautiful plot in Fairmount belongs to the Wight family. Two gracefully curved walls which cradle art nouveau benches draw the eye to the central column which features a bronze angel who, clasping a bunch of roses in her left hand, bends slightly earthward as she readies herself to drop the blossom she holds in her extended right hand. An elaborate carved wreath above her bears the monogram FDW for Frederick Dearborn Wight (1837 - 1911) the family's most famous member. A Lieutenant in the Union Army during America's Civil War, Wight fought in the famous Battle of Appomattox. Upon seeing Robert E. Lee's men surrender, he wrote these words:
"I had the pleasure that day, of being in line with my company and witnessing the battered remnant of Lee's veterans stack their arms and deposit their worn and ragged, but cherished banners. The ranks of Lee's army were so decimated that their division and brigade colors were nearer together than our regimental flags. One color bearer, who stood directly before me, hugged closely, with his one remaining arm, his bullet-scarred staff, upon which still remained a piece of a flag. I can see that man now with his old patched, ragged, faded butternut suit, his lank but erect body, his long sandy hair, his pinched, famished face, struggling to restrain his tears. But restrain them he could not; and they were not unmanly tears -- they did him honor."
Following his military service, Wight returned to Colorado where he served as President of the First National Bank of Trinidad.
His grave, a simple ledger, keeps company with several others of the same type--the most poignant, some might argue, being the smallest, which marks the resting place of a child.
Not uncommonly, the graves of those who enjoyed no particular fame have much to offer in the line of eloquence as well as sources of "food for thought." Several cases in point are these quotes, found on tombs amidst Fairmount's environs:
The universe our God
Nature our Temple
Love and Duty our Religion
Knowledge our Happiness
Death the dissolution of the Ego
And the return to Eternity.
~ Thies stone
(this quote also features strange | 0 | 0 | symbols before and after the text which we were and are unable to decipher)
The conclusion is always the same: Love is
the most powerful and still the most unknown energy of the world.
~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
(featured on the grave of James Armonde -- May 8, 1956 - August 21, 1993)
I cannot help but wonder
How I can careless be
Of the swiftly passing moments
That seek oblivion's sea;
Methinks then - how much better
To improve them as they flee.
Though I live but a moment,
My deeds - eternity..."
While we would most-assuredly not recommend that you, Dear Reader, travel any great distance to visit Fairmount, those of you who live in or near Denver (and those who happen to find themselves nearby), should definitely not miss the opportunity to explore Fairmount. Its well-manicured landscape, peaceful ambiance and smattering of remarkable monuments earns it a spot, however humble, amongst the pages of Bella Morte.