2219 Lincoln Road Northeast
Washington, DC 20002
Bella Morte Rating: 3 Tombstones
Glenwood in the largest of a trilogy of Victorian-Era cemeteries that almost literally share the same borders. Her sister cemeteries are Prospect Hill and St. Mary’s (see separate reviews).
George F. de la Roche was the man responsible for the design of Glenwood. Learning this came as somewhat of a surprise to us as de la Roche was also the man whose inspiration gave us Georgetown’s 5 Tombstone-Rated beauty, Oak Hill. Those who travel to both will soon realize the disparity and wonder why one is so resplendently beautiful while the other is not.
The first thing visitors to Glenwood will notice is a curiosity that stands directly inside the entrance where a grassy circle is surrounded by a series of two different styles of larger-than-life white resin angels. The effect, rather than the intended sense hoped of drama and beauty, is sadly merely clumsy, kitschy and anachronistic.
The larger figure, with its uplifted trumpet, was probably designed to represent the Archangel Gabriel announcing Christ’s return to earth, however, the cemetery Powers That Be have pressed each of the identical figures into service as The Seven Angels of Revelation. This "inspired" choice is made apparent by unseemly labels at the base of each indicating "Angel 5 of Apocalypse" or some equally silly and ungrammatical appellation. Interspersed amongst these titans are clones of the same incongruously serene angel who seems as removed from the allegedly-imminent Apocalypse as democracy is from socialism.
This is certainly a bad way to begin a tour of a Victorian cemetery. The imposition of the modern forms, with their lack of attention to detail, is the antithesis of what one would expect from a burial ground established in 1854.
Equally unappealing is the use made of several nearby trees that have died. While some points may be awarded for creativity, most would have to be taken away for execution. We refer to the carvings of clunky angels (what is it with angels here, anyway?) coaxed from the aforementioned woody remains of oaks. These feathered beings stand and observe the largest sculpture which features a rather exquisitely rendered dragon twining up the massive tree trunk. Unfortunately, its beauty is marred by the addition of a boxy tiger standing on hind legs (at ground level) trying to maul the fleeing creature.
Glenwood also has a “scattering garden.” The appellation, however, is more than misleading. In truth, it is more like a warming track at a baseball field. The area is desolate and littered with trash in certain spots. The concept is good, but the execution, as with the aforementioned tree sculpture, is quite dreadful. Sadly, it seems Glenwood allows anyone to simply come along and scatter cremains in this “garden.” If they so choose, they can have the deceased’s name inscribed on a memorial stone—if not—there will simply be no record of them and their cremains will be unceremoniously raked into the cinder “track” by cemetery staff who come along at regular intervals to do just that. Signage was also insufficient, so it wasn’t until we’d been strolling over cremains for some minutes that we came upon a posting indicating our error. Of course, we were mortified by our inadvertent transgression and immediately moved onto the paving stones. So, fellow taphophiles, take heed and stay on the path when walking in the scattering garden lest you, too, trample the remains of the beloved dead!
With all of this in mind, be assured Glenwood is not without her own taphophilic charms.
If one takes the main roadway s/he will soon encounter the Glenwood Mortuary Chapel. This Romanesque Revival structure, designed by Glenn Brown, is positioned so that it rests in a circle which can be accessed by six of Glenwood’s main roadways…a sensible plan for the years when it was in use, to be sure. Today, it is boarded and apparently abandoned, despite the fact it is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places. Although not terribly remarkable, the Mortuary Chapel is worth a passing glance.
Among the more interesting burials at Glenwood, we note the following:
▪ Clark Mills (sculptor) [1810 - 1883] ~ Mr. Mills’ claim to fame is the invention of the free-standing bronze equestrian statue. Two examples of his work are the statue of Andrew Jackson on horseback which stands in Washington, DC’s Lafayette Park and the statue of George Washington upon his steed which is on display in Washington Circle. Also of note is the fact that the Statue of Freedom which perches atop the U.S. Capitol building is the work of Mills’ hands. His sarcophagus is engraved with these words…”Creator of the first self-balanced rampant equestrian statue in the World [sic].”
▪ Emanuel Leutze (painter) [1816 - 1868] ~ Best known for his painting, “Washington Crossing the Delaware.”
▪ Constantino Brumidi (painter) [1805 - 1880] ~ Mr. Brumidi was known as the “Michelangelo of the Capitol.” Brumidi’s frescoes can be see everywhere in the Capitol building. One of his most notable pieces is the “Apotheosis of George Washington” which graces the interior dome of the Rotunda. Though born in Rome, Brumidi fell in love with America and was quoted as saying, “I have no longer any desire for fame and fortune. My one ambition and my daily prayer is that I may live long enough to make beautiful the Capitol of the one country on earth in which there is liberty." Tragically, Brumidi was buried in an unmarked grave and remained in that thankless condition for 72 years when, at last, it was located by those who recognized his contribution to our great nation, and, on 19 February, 1952, a bronze plaque was placed there in his honour. It includes the aforementioned, laudable, quote.
Among the graves of the not-so-famous, but also worthy of note, is that of little Teresina Vasco whose entombed remains are watched over by a life-size figure of the child herself, sculpted by Andrea Sichi. Rendered in marble, she sits in a diminutive rocking chair, her feet nestled on a bouquet of flowers. She wears a delicate dress, complete with lace collar. Her tombstone is inscribed with these touching words from the lips of her grieving parents:
Born May 12, 1911
Died July 19, 1913
Also on our list of favorites is Glenwood’s “Mausoleum Row.” The two gems among these mouldering structures are the old Receiving Vault and the Allen Mausoleum. The first is unmarked but can be easily distinguished by its rather large size as well as the barrel roof carved into an artificially constructed hillside. Iron grates keep visitors out, however, those intrepid enough to do so may climb the bars to peer in either of the two open portals cut into the heavy gates. Inside, a series of six double doors (three to a side) some standing tantalizingly ajar, beckon, but do not allow more satisfaction to the curious than a glimpse of the their dim interiors.
The Allen Mausoleum is clearly marked as such and boasts a gorgeous round doorway with bronze gating. On a sunny day (as it was when we visited) it can cause a start when looking inside for, as one’s eyes adjust to the blackness, the distinct figure of a woman, standing to the left, will slowly take shape. This ethereal form serves as a sentinel before an altar upon which rests a reclining babe. The ceiling of the mausoleum is grey mosaic bordered by a golden tiled fleur de lis pattern.
In closing, we will say again that Glenwood is clearly the best of the three cemeteries in this little grouping, followed by St. Mary’s. While none are worthy of Bella Morte’s coveted 5 Tombstone Rating, it would be poor cemetery form to exclude Glenwood from one’s itinerary should you happen to be in the area.