Most Victorians preferred granite as the material of choice for a cemetery monument. It was particularly hard and durable. And it could be obtained in a wide variety of colors and crystalline textures to suit individual tastes.
Marble was an important second choice as a cemetery monument material after granite. Marble also comes in a wide range of quality, some are proving to be quite permanent, some not. Acid rain has caused severe damage to the poorer grades of marble. Many of the sculptures atop monuments are carved in marble.
White Bronze - Zinc
There are many monuments in Mt. Hope that appear to be made of a bluish gray stone. These monuments are actually made of molded metal! The material was called White Bronze to make it more appealing to customers, but it is actually pure zinc. Left exposed to the elements the monuments rapidly form a tough and very durable skin of zinc carbonate that protects the underlying metal. The zinc carbonate is what gives the monuments their characteristic bluish gray color. The monuments were erected in cemeteries across the entire United States (including Hawaii) and Canada.
These monuments were ordered from a sales agent with a catalog, and were very inexpensive. The price range for these monuments was from about $6 for a single cast tablet, to as much as $5,000. The White Bronze markers copyied the same shapes and styles as marble and granite monuments, but the stone monument dealers seldom sold the metal monuments. The back of the catalog featured an ad asking people to become sales agents with "No capital investment needed."
The catalogs listed the various shapes, symbols, sculptures, and panels that could be used. The customer would decide on the overall design he wanted, and then pick out the various symbols, and other decorative elements required. Price was based on the over all monument, not the number of images. Customers often ordered several images for each side. The individual pieces were then molded in zinc, and then simply bolted together with screws with decorated heads. Any text required was easily molded in the same fashion. When other family members died at a later date, old decorative panels could be easily removed and replaced with new castings with the updated information.
M.A. Richardson and C.J. Willard perfected the method of casting in 1873, but they did not have the capital that was required for full scale manufacturing, so they sold out to W.W. Evans. Evans also failed to get anything started, and sold the process to the Wilson, Parsons & Company of Bridgeport Connecticut in 1874.
The Monumental Bronze Company made the monuments from untill 1914 when the he government took over the plant for the manufacturing of munitions during World War I. In the post war years the demand for the monuments had faded, so the company turned to making castings for automobiles and radios until it closed in 1939.
Monumental Bronze opened it's first subsidiary in Detroit in 1881. Detroit Bronze operated until 1885. Two more subsidiaries opened in 1886. American Bronze operated in Chicago for twenty-three years, until it closed in 1909. Western White Bronze Company in Des Moines operated for twenty-two years, and closed in 1908. These subsidiaries did not do castings, they were only involved in the final assembly of the pieces . All the original casting took place in Bridgeport Connecticut.
It possiable to find dates of death from both before and after Monumental Bronze made the monuments. The company would produce panels for family members who had died before the monument was ordered, and they continued to make individual panels after they stopped production of complete monuments in 1914.
Wax models were created by an artist, who worked at the plant. His models were then used to create plaster molds for creating the individual pieces. The company used a patented process for fusing the larger pieces together. Zinc was heated to temperatures way above it's melting point, then poured into the joints between individual pieces. This caused the adjoining surfaces to melt together, welding them into a single unit, a much stronger process than soldering.
The company used a patented process for fusing the larger pieces together. Zinc was heated to temperatures way above it's melting point, then poured into the joints between individual pieces. This caused the adjoining surfaces to melt together, welding them into a single unit, a much stronger process than soldering.
The zinc carbonate that gives the monuments their characteristic bluish gray color also creates a hard protective skin so that the castings are still extremely sharp and clear. However, zinc has two unfortunate characteristics. It is quite brittle and may break if hit by a falling branch, and over many years it's unsupported weight will creep and sag, causing some of the larger monuments to bow or crack. Another problem, but one that affects all cemetery monuments, is poor foundations. Crumbling bases, and shifting soil has caused many monuments to lean.
The general rarity of these monuments is due to the fact that they
were only produced for 40 years. This short production was caused by the
fact that the metal monuments were never accepted by the public. Some cemeteries
passed regulations that prohibited the use of metal markers, but it was
mostly because people did not fully accept the claims that these monuments
were superior to stone. Interesting enough time has shown that these inexpensive
zinc monuments have remained in excellent condition for over a century,
with details as fresh and cripp as the day they were cast.
Another uncommon material for cemetery monuments is sandstone. The sandstone used in Mt. Hope Cemetery is the Medina Sandstone, named for the small town about halfway between Rochester and Niagara Falls. The red, or Grimsby Sandstone, is the variant of the Medina used. A very popular building material. It was used on many buildings in downtown Rochester, and for curbing throughout the city. Although harder than some of the local limestones, it is easier to work with. Rubbing your fingers on it's surface gives a gritty feeling, as the stone breaks back down into sand.
There are very few slate monuments in Mount Hope. Slate monuments tend to flake and split destroying their carved inscriptions. The Victorians noted this and changed to the more durable granite.
Fletcher Steele, a Pittsford resident, was a world famous landscape
architect. He designed the four classic shouldered tablet stones that mark
the graves of the members of his family. He chose a black slate of exceptionally
high quality and created four monuments that are typical of the slate headstones
found in his native New England graveyards.
Tablets & Headstones
This type is the most popular and frequently encountered grave memorial found in old cemeteries. A variety of materials have been used for this type of memorial, ranging from wood to stone. While there are many shapes and sizes of tablets and headstones, most exhibit a few common features. First, most are not enormous monuments. They tend to be 80 to 100 centimeters in height and vary in thickness from 8 to 20 centimeters. The headstone may be placed by itself in the ground or may be set on a base or on top of another grave structure such as a ground ledger. The term "headstone" derives from the position of the stone above the interred corpse’s head. Once it was common to use a headstone and a smaller stone a short distance away called the footstone. Footstones were usually made of the same material as the headstone but were much smaller. The footstone was usually inscribed with the initials of the deceased.
Similar to the domed tablet, but the angles along the top of the headstone and the shoulders are steeper. Same styling as the Gothic arches popular in European churches.
Tends to be thicker and more robust than other designs. It is common to see these memorials with a pattern that looks almost like a stone wall. The main inscription face is usually polished and the polished section may be in the shape of a large arrow pointing upward (direct line to heaven). The hymn "Rock of Ages" is said to have inspired the popularity of rustic tablets in the 1920s and 1930s.
This type of grave memorial is also common in old cemeteries, and they can be found set into a base, on a ground ledger or just by themselves. Most markers tend to be thicker than headstones/tablets and lower to the ground. The one exception is the plaque, which is quite thin. Where tablets/headstones are made of almost any material, markers tend to be made from stone, cement or bronze. There are great variations in the sizes of markers, from tiny ones on children’s graves to huge monumental ones on prominent family grave sites.
Because markers are lower to the ground, much bulkier and constructed of more
durable material, little damage has occurred to them over the years.
The following are some of the most common types of markers:
Rectangular block that tends to be quite thick. Usually made of marble or granite.
Tends to be thinner than other markers and lies flat along the ground. May be set into a base or just by itself. Usually these markers have only enough room for a very simple inscription such as name, years of birth and death and a three- or four-word epitaph.
Tends to be very thin and made of either bronze or brass. Can also be found on a slanting, raised foundation. Bronze is cast and shows very little deterioration over time. Lettering is usually in relief. Brass develops a patina with its reaction to the environment and leaves a green-coloured residue when in contact with water. Lettering is usually incised
Comes in a variety of sizes and styles. Main characteristic is the slant of the inscription face, usually at a 40 to 45 degree angle, allowing the inscription to face a certain direction (usually east). This slant in the stone’s face allows for a greater surface area for inscriptions. Most often these markers are made of granite, marble or cement.
Tends to lie flat and is fashioned in the shape of a scroll, seen easily from the sides of the marker. The inscription is always placed on the scroll. The symbolic reference is to "divine law." Most scroll-faced markers are made of granite but there are some examples in marble.
Tends to lie flat and take on the dimensions of an open book (religious symbolism referring to the Bible or the word of God). This type of marker was very popular in the 1920s and 1930s. Almost all open-book markers are made of granite or marble. Very common on husband and wife burials with the husband’s inscription on the left, as in the marriage ceremony.
Vertical-face marker with slant-top
A flat vertical face with inscription on one side and the top of the marker has a sloping cut usually at a 45-degree angle. Generally no inscription is placed on the top. Although these stones are not common in larger city cemeteries, they do exist in moderate numbers in small older cemeteries in rural areas. This type of marker is usually made of white
marble or granite.
Tree-stump tombstones depict a lifelike tree and is traditionally carved out of limestone or marble. This tombstone first appeared in the 1870's and was popular for approximately sixty years. Seen in Europe and the United States, these carvings qualify as folk art. The tree-stump design shows a living tree that has been cut down, suggesting that the individual was also cut down in the prime of life. Branches are also seen to be cut-off close to the stump, symbolising other family members who have died before their time. In some instances the initials of these family members appear to be carved into these cut-off limbs.
Inscriptions are cut into the "wood" where the bark has been cut
away, or more often, a scroll appears to nailed to the stump, or suspended
from a rope hanger. Various flowers and ivy are often carved as offerings
at the base, or growing around the stump. An assortment of items are often
seen on top of the stump, ranging from a cross, bible, anchor, flowers,
or even the name and dates for the individual buried.
Many of the largest, and most spectacular monuments fall into this category. All obelisks and columns borrow heavily from Egyptian, Greek and Roman architectural styles. The original obelisk was square in section, tapering up to a pyramidal capital. During the 1800s, stonemasons used a variety of obelisk types, some with straight shafts and different tops from blunt (truncated Roman influence) to cross-vaulted on the top. Obelisks and columns have three distinct sections: the base (bottom support), the shaft (center column piece) and the capital (the top structure).
The one great advantage of obelisks, pilaster columns and pedestals is the available space for inscriptions. Where headstones and markers only have one inscription face, obelisks, columns and pedestals provide at least four inscription faces. These types of monuments are usually found on family burials or those of people of high social status. Because obelisks, columns and pedestals are higher, they also tend to stand out more in the cemetery and are easily located.
The following are some subtypes in this type:
Truncated or blunt obelisk
Similar shape to the standard obelisk but with a rounded capital (top). Roman in origin, it appears to be a modification of the Egyptian obelisk. Usually made of sandstone, marble or granite.
Shaft is similar to the other obelisk styles but the capital (top) is distinctive. The most common variation is the cross-vaulted obelisk. The cross-vaulted obelisk’s capital peaks cross over, which gives a "+" or cross-vaulted pattern. On some of these vaulted obelisk styles, the capital is designed to look like the vaulted ceilings in churches.
Columns come in a variety of shapes and sizes similar to obelisks.
Tends to have a rounded shaft that does not taper and has no flutes, but a smooth surface running up to the capital, usually with an urn on top. This type of column is usually made of marble, sandstone or granite.
Pilaster columns are a type of column, but are a combination of the obelisk and the column monument. The pilaster column has a square or rectangular shaft and is either flat topped or topped with an urn. The term "pilaster" can also be used to describe a support column protruding from a wall. The terminology is confusing because "pilasters" have been used both in descriptions of single free-standing columns and of eclectic monuments.
Romans appear to have first used this type of column, which was elaborately decorated with acanthus and garlands. The most famous historical pilaster is the "Pilaster from the Severan Basilica" in Italy, which is a rectangular column dating from the 3rd century A.D. and is elaborately carved out of marble. Because of the confusion, it is better to refer to pilasters as either "pilaster columns" (free-standing) or "pilasters" (eclectic memorials). Cemetery pilaster columns tend to be smaller than most other column memorials.
Tends to be large, have four faces for inscriptions and flat vertical sides (tapering or straight) topped either with a flat capital or pediment (triangular roof-like structure). There may also be an urn above the pediment or the capital. The styling is adapted from architectural styles found in ancient Pompeii and usually is enriched with inscriptions, motifs and ornamental styling on four faces. Most often, these monuments are large and made of either granite or marble.
Tends to be large and incorporate two or three styles in one structure. This type of monument is commonly a large flat screen (for inscriptions) topped by either support pilasters or round or standard columns supporting a pediment capital. These monuments are generally massive and made of granite.
The cross can take many forms and the symbolic meanings and history of each type is very complex and elaborate. Many types of crosses are used as cemetery monuments, but the four most often encountered as grave memorials are:
This is a Latin cross mounted on a three-tiered base. The three-block base stands for the Trinity or faith, hope and charity (Protestant) or faith, hope and love (Roman Catholic). A Calvary cross can be made of any material, ranging from wood to stone.
The Celtic cross dates back to the Celtic cultures of England, as early as the 5th century. Very elaborate decoration, highly ornate in styling. The center of the cross has a circular design that represents eternity. Almost always in granite or marble.
This cross was a popular grave memorial in the 1920s and 1930s. The rustic appearance takes a form almost resembling wood. Almost always made of granite or marble, it may have a rough granite base.
The following are some of the most common structures for above-ground
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.
An above-ground burial structure that can be entered like a building. These structures are almost always made of stone and are expensive to construct. Individual burial cells or chambers in a mausoleum are referred to as loculi (from the Latin word loculus, meaning small compartment). Mausoleums usually contain family members and most often have four or more chambers. Mausoleums may contain both bodies and cremated remains. In urban cemeteries, mausoleums are sometimes large buildings containing hundreds of loculi.