1599 S Dallas Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15217
Bella Morte Rating: 5 Tombstones
Believe it or not...Pittsburgh, the steel town once described as "hell with the lid off" by journalist Lincoln Steffens, is the location of a 5 Tombstone-rated Bella Morte cemetery: Homewood.
Located in the Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburgh, Homewood Cemetery is a fine example of the early years of the "Lawn Park" style of design. While we at Bella Morte prefer the drama and often barely checked chaos of the "Garden Style," (a/k/a "Rural," though we eschew that term as being misleading--it sounds almost "agricultural") there is something to be said for the restraint and cleaner lines of Lawn Parks as they provide more open vistas in which to relish the eternal views.
Let's pause for a quick lesson in the difference between Garden and Lawn Park designs. While the Garden Cemetery emphasized a natural look, leaving terrain untouched as much as possible and encouraging lot owners to erect dramatic monuments within that topography, the idea behind the Lawn Park was to allow for the same type of memorialization (though, in most cases, the tendency was towards less drama) while arranging the plots in a highly organized fashion. This meant indigenous plants were often removed and only later reintroduced within the constraints of the predetermined layout of the cemetery. What does this boil down to? Basically, the Garden Cemetery is frequently more "disorganized" and less manicured than the Lawn Park. But, while early Lawn Parks can be quite lovely (case in point, Homewood), the style has evolved into today's spirit-draining monstrosities which resemble nothing more than golf courses. Unlike golf courses, however, they are not painstakingly maintained with regard to keeping the lawns lush and jealousy-green. This means a summer with little rain often results in vast stretches of scorched, dormant grass--the monotony broken by not even a single raised marker or monument. Alas, in the name of "convenience," many contemporary cemetery administrators are more interested in getting their damnable six-highway-lane-size mowers over as much grass as possible...in as little time as possible. Zeus forbid they have to pay employees to take the time to trim around a marvelous pleurant or ascending angel!
One more thing, if you're visiting Homewood, you might want to take the time to travel to nearby Allegheny to get an idea of the difference between Garden and Lawn Park Cemeteries. For those of you not yet to your first cup of coffee, Homewood is a Lawn Park Cemetery, Allegheny is a Garden Cemetery...though it isn't a prime example of the glory of the form. Some of the most beauteous examples in the continental U.S. can found at Spring Grove, Cincinnati, Ohio; Bellefontaine, St. Louis, MO.; and Calvary, St. Louis, MO. Note: some cemeteries, including Spring Grove, began "life" in the Garden Style, but as trends and preferences changed, they were switched over to the then-new Lawn Style--with varying degrees of success.
All right then... enough of this. Let's go have some fun, shall we?
Homewood is an inspiring cemetery deserving of any taphophile's attention. It's gently rolling hills, proliferation of trees, shrubs and flowers, several water features, community mausoleums (more on these later) and impressive Section 14 (where the wealthy go to decompose) all work in concert to play, if you'll forgive the pun, a symphony of splendour. There are many truly remarkable monuments and we'll leave it to you to discover most for yourself. But here are a few tidbits from Section 14 to give you a little push.
Having written about "clean lines," we'll mention the William Harry Brown (1856 - 1921) Mausoleum. Brown's money was made in the coal-shipping business and he spent part of his fortune touring Egypt and collecting no small amount of her treasured art. In 1898, his future permanent residence (a/k/a mausoleum) was begun under his direction. Completed in 1899, the tomb is pyramidal (witnessing Brown's love of Egypt) and rises to a height of 35 feet. Though this is the only pyramid-shaped mausoleum in Homewood, the Egyptian motif is one that is echoed in numerous monuments in Homewood and elsewhere. It speaks to the Victorian love of the "exotic" as well as the broader desire for eternal life...or, if not life...at least a monument that would last through many ages.
The elegant Heinz Mausoleum sits in the shadow of the Brown pyramid. With its Renaissance cathedral design and resplendent white marble walls, it is a study in understated grace. The bronze doors are meticulously maintained so they retain their original finish. Generally speaking, cemetery bronze has been left to go the way of verdigris, but at Homewood, this is often not so. A case in point is the memorial (entitled "Motherless") that is, quite literally, seated before the Mellon (yes, those Mellons!) Mausoleum. Glimmering in its original golden-brown splendour under the Pennsylvanian sun, it depicts a man seated in a sturdy chair, shoulders sagging under the weight of his own grief. In his arms, he clasps his tiny daughter who has gone totally limp--though whether from grief or sleep we cannot say. Her delicately-rendered shoes and socks lay beneath her.
'Tis a pity the father and child are so overcome. If not, they might well turn their gaze in the opposite direction to behold the mighty strength and awesome beauty of the Schoonmaker angel. Clasping in one hand a bouquet of poppies (symbol of death's eternal sleep) and, in the other, a palm frond (symbol of victory), the faintest hint of a smile plays at the corners of her mouth. The suggestion of a slight breeze can be seen in the way her veil is swept back and over one shoulder. Her eyes are turned downward towards the stone crypt she guards. In truth, the crypt is merely symbolic, for the man it honours is inhumed directly in front of the sculpture with an unassuming stone to denote his presence. He was Colonel James Martinu Schoonmaker (1842 - 1927). At the age of 20, having served in the army barely over one year, he achieved the rank of Colonel. At the time, he was believed to be the youngest man holding that post. Part of the First Brigade, First Averill's Calvary Division, he led a charge during the Battle of Star Fort, Virginia. His courage was a key to victory and for his valour he was awarded the Medal of Honour. He went on to become a successful railroad tycoon and, after his death from appendicitis on 11 October, 1927, he was buried at Homewood with honorary pallbearers such as Howard Heinz (founder of the Heinz Company) and William M. Mellon in attendance.
The tomb of Alexander Rowland Peacock, built to resemble the Parthenon is another delightful bit of "eye candy." It's interesting to ponder, when studying this structure, that Mr. Peacock, one time President of Sales for U.S. Steel, began his working career selling women's undergarments. He then rose to the aforementioned position where he made his millions. Unfortunately, Mr. Peacock was not as good at holding on to his money as he had been at making it. By the end of his life he was practically destitute. Fortunately for us (and him), he had his mausoleum built long before he took his financial tumble. In death, he rests in a home he would no longer have been able to afford in life.
One of the more intriguing tales from Homewood is actually a love story. It seems one Daniel Clemson, Vice President of U.S. Steel, attended, in 1919, the funeral of Henry Clay Frick (business entrepreneur, millionaire and patron of the arts). As the choir sang its dirges, Clemson was smitten by the ethereal voice of 43 year old mezzo-soprano Christine Miller. Without revealing his identity, he paid full tuition for her to study at a conservatory of music. Some years later, Clemson and Miller were married. The marriage transpired following Clemson's revelation to Miller of his prior benefaction. Today, stained glass bathes their tombs in rainbowed light as they sleep within their hilltop mausoleum.
Should you wish to learn more about the fascinating history of those interred in Section 14, you would do well to arrange attendance at Homewood's hour-long "Taking it With You" tour. Another tour, "Angels and Obelisks," focuses on memorial art symbolism as found within the wrought iron borders of Homewood.
Now, a bit about the older community mausoleums. On the visits Bella Morte proprietors made, two were in a state beyond reprehensible. It seems the doors were not secured, or else animals found (or made) other ways in. Some stairways were nearly impassable owing to the amount of animal waste...and the smell was utterly appalling. This was most unfortunate as the buildings (which stand side by side) were at one time quite lovely. The ground level entrance of each leads to a columbarium. These feature both glass and solid-fronted niches. The most unusual, however, are freestanding constructs with little brass (?) doors engraved with the names and dates belonging to their occupants. They bear an uncanny resemblance to post office boxes! So much so that one might absently remove a postcard from his jacket pocket, or a letter from a handbag before realizing there will be no 3:00 pick-up here! The upper floors, should one be brave enough to explore them, feature private crypt rooms with natural light provided by windows in various locations.
NOTE: A recent visit on 24 June, 2006 revealed these two mausoleums are now locked. Both have signs indicating visitors should inquire at the office for admittance. It seems there is an effort toward clean-up and renovation underway and that is very good news indeed!
The other old mausoleum is spotlessly-clean and well-maintained. It is a two-story building; however, visitors must access each level via different doors on different levels of the cemetery grounds. There is no connecting stairway. Of the two floors, the lower is slightly less "sophisticated" than the upper. It consists of two hallways with private family crypts and a larger room in the back with vaults for the community at-large. This floor is illuminated with lovely indirect light fixtures placed at evenly-spaced intervals along the corridors. Additional light pours in through the pastel windows located in each private crypt. The upper floor of the mausoleum features larger private crypts which bear the family name followed by room number e.g. Benedum, Room Three. These are located on one side of the floor only and many are as yet unsold. The remainder of the mausoleum is community space referred to as "alcoves," each bearing its own number.
In August, 2004, Homewood dedicated its newest mausoleum, Quiet Reflections Chapel. At a cost of $1 million dollars, the building is light-filled and graced with Italian granite and marble floors and ceilings. The air-conditioned structure also boasts a fountain, though, sadly, some of its beauty is detracted from by the unfortunate decision to fill the lower basin with vases of garish, artificial flowers. Modern, clean and open, the chapel area (accessed through the front doors) is set-up so that mourners face a wall of glass which looks out to the green lawns of Homewood.
Plans are underway to restore the main office building, which dates to 1924. In addition, the pond will be dredged, trees replanted and roads repaved. These efforts are being made in an attempt to restore the cemetery to its original beauty in the finest Lawn Park tradition. Doubtless, the 70,000+ souls who lie there would be pleased to hear this. We certainly were!