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Mausolus

Mausolus [sounds like a vegetable oil, doesn’t it] was a Persian Satrap, from whose monumental tomb we take the word mausoleum.

The mausoleum is a building type infrequently encountered here in the U.S., and then primarily in the older cemeteries of larger cities, like Graceland in Chicago. And because so many of them coincide with the pre-tax days of the Robber Barons, our mausolea [spellcheck doesn’t like proper Latin plurals] can be found in virtually any of the manifold historically derivative styles of the 19th century. So, today I spent half an hour sleuthing examples from that era, because it will frame the case for one of them at The Shades, Agincourt’s non-sectarian burial ground.

Searching the blog for earlier entries on the life and death of Edmund FitzGerald Flynn, Agincourt’s half-term mayor who died unexpectedly in office, I was surprised to find fifteen entries carrying his name! Frankly, I hadn’t realized that Ed had come to play such a prominent role in local history. The entry for Ed in the “Who’s Who” mentions his death and adds “more than a few people felt this was no bad thing.”

Ed had prepared for the Big Sleep—what Cecil Elliott called “the dirt nap”—by preparing a mausoleum to preserve his remains but really to maintain a prominent presence in the community for a very long time. I think of Hal Holt, former director of the Fennimore Co. Heritage Center, whose ashes are spread at Gnostic Grove and marked only by a natural boulder inscribed “Harold Russell Holt 1920-2008. He taught history and now he has become it.” Such humility was not Ed Flynn’s style.

Scouring the web for inspirational images, I came upon several that may prove helpful. Historically, for example, there is Sir John Soane’s discrete burial place, designed for his wife Elizabeth and their son, who predeceased him:

And though it was not properly a mausoleum, the Roman temple at the gardens of Chiswick House in London is another interesting source:

Closer to home and our own time, there are the three tombs designed by Louis Sullivan. I include here the Wainwright tomb in St Louis, rather than the two more familiar examples in Chicago’s Graceland cemetery, because it gives a tip o’ the hat to both Roman antiquity and to Ottoman Turkey:

Humbler examples might include these two, one in Oakwoods (a Chicago cemetery of less stature than Graceland) and another in the Woodland cemetery in Des Moines (as long as we’re talking about Iowa):

What strikes us squarely between the eyes is Eternity’s claim on symmetry; the Dead apparently require this sort of formal balance until the last trump. [Somehow that phrase, “the last trump”, has taken on special meaning, hasn’t it.]

My initial thoughts on the FitzGerald Flynn mausoleum at The Shades are three:

  1. However lavishly Ed may have entertained—or made us believe it was lavish—he went economy class when preparing for his own entombment: negotiating with the marble works in Omaha, Ed learned that one of a pair of Ionic columns on their way from the quarries in Bedford, Indiana had cracked while in transit, so he got a deal on the survivor.
  2. So, what does one do with a singleton column? Given the symmetry of all these examples (above), how might one lone column achieve the required solemnity?
  3. If this structure is going to have any class whatsoever, it will have come from Ed’s widow Amity Burroughs Flynn, a shadowy figure during his life but one who blossomed as soon as Ed had been safely and ceremoniously shelved.

You can see where this is going, can’t you. But not here….

 


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