Author: Carol Guzman

Representing the Union

From a distance the Richmond National Cemetery consists of rows upon rows of perfection. All the identical white headstones are lined up, making differences difficult to spot. However those small differences that can be seen upon close inspection should be considered significantly more important. Within the same row of graves there are contrasts between inscriptions on graves. While it is evident that American perception of death changes gradually, the difference between the graves of John Burns and Henry Frank must be in regard to something different than changes in time.

Both Frank and Burns and were buried in 1864, approximately one month apart. Both their graves are made of white marble, the slabs are about four inches thick, 10 inches wide and less than two feet above the ground. Both men have the same depressed shield with their burial date right under it. It is only with the information inside the shields that the graves differ. Frank’s slab only has his name, Henry Frank, in simple block lettering. John Burns shield is inscribed with the abbreviations, one on top of the other; Co D (Company D), 1 REGT (First Regiment), and KY INF (Kentucky Infantry) in block lettering.

These men were originally buried on Belle Isle and then reburied in Richmond National Cemetery. During the Civil War, Belle Isle was a Civil War Prison that held many Union Soldiers. It is difficult to understand why there were great records kept on Burns while Frank is identified by his name, which forms a simple semi-circle.

The government tried to recognize Frank as best they could with the only information of his they had. Frank’s grave consists of many of the same aspects that John Burns has, he is recognized as a vital part of the Union’s fight against slavery. Rather than focus on his specific rank he is devoid of rank, he is a representation of all soldiers fighting on the Union fronts. The simplicity of Frank’s grave makes his contribution even greater. Rather than pin him to a specific infantry or regiment he transcends these boundaries. Instead of being tied to specific battles and groups his modest grave elevates him as a symbol of all Union soldiers.

The government tried to recognize Frank as best they could with the only information they had. Frank’s grave consists of many of the same aspects that John Burns has, he is recognized as a vital part of the Union’s fight against slavery just as Frank is. Rather than focus on his specific titles he is devoid of rank, he is a representation of all soldiers fighting on the Union fronts. The simplicity of Frank’s grave makes his contribution seem that much greater. Rather than pinning him to a specific infantry or regiment he transcends these boundaries. Instead of being tied to specific battles and groups his modest grave elevates him as a symbol of all Union soldiers.

 

Henry FrankJohn Burns

Ascending Soul

Overlooking the James River, Hollywood Cemetery is a series of green hills and winding roads. The English landscaping and picturesque burial grounds allow a visitor to take a break from the bustling city and appreciate the cemetery’s park-like atmosphere. While allowing myself to get lost along the contours of Hollywood’s natural beauty, I stumbled upon Hiram H. Powell’s towering stone. The gravestone is an obelisk-shaped memorial made of white stone inscribed with Powell’s name, date of birth, date of death, along with the message “Lost to sight, but not forgotten.” On the same side of the column, above Powell’s information, there is a dove that looks as though it is flying towards heaven with an olive branch in its beak and a three linked chain directly engraved below.

The obelisk is made up of four rectangular sides that taper towards each other at a slight angle topped by a pyramid. The monument looks clean, stately, powerful, and strong with uplifting lines shooting towards the sky. Both the pointed top as well as the memorial’s height act as guides for Powell’s soul to ascend towards heaven. The large heavy base beneath the elegant pillar gives a sense of permanence, which is in agreement with the notion that Powell’s memory, will never be “forgotten” by his loved ones.

The Christian association with the white dove identifies Powell as an observant Christian that seeks his soul to ascend to heaven as depicted by the dove’s upward orientation. White doves also signify purity; the notion that Powell was a righteous person whose soul belongs in heaven is augmented by both the depiction of the white dove and his white stone monument.

The three linked chain under the dove opposes the dove’s purity and light-heartedness. A chain is heavy; typically used for mechanical restriction. While Powell’s soul cannot continue to be on earth, his memory remains, like chains, intertwined and interconnected with the memories of his dear ones.

In Keister’s Stories in Stone the obelisk shows the emergence of Egyptian Revival styles in America after the Civil War. To soften the pagan demeanor Christian symbols, such as white doves, were placed on the tomb. White doves are universal symbols of peace, during the Great Flood; Noah sends a white dove off to find land, the dove returns with an olive branch, marking God’s peace with man. The three linked chain is a widely used symbol Odd Fellows have become known as “Three Link Fraternity.” The three rings symbolize the chain that binds fraternity brothers together.

The end of the 17th century marks the emergence of cremation, as the Christian church separates and individual’s body from one’s soul. The iconography and monument depict the importance of Powell’s soul ascending toward heaven while his human memories remain on Earth along with his loved ones and fraternity brothers.

Hiram H. Powell

Field Report #1: Mourning Coin Purse

Our class was given an inside look at the American Civil War Museum’s collection of mourning garb during the Victorian era. Among the elaborate pieces of various forms of hair jewelry, pieces of Varina Davis’s half-mourning outfit, and multiple black parasols, a single mourning coin purse, the length of my arm, stood out from all other artifacts. The black crocheted bag is comprised of a rounded side that is adorned with a simple silver beaded pattern and a square side encircled with multiple silver crosses. Each side has a beaded silver fringe on the edge while the slit at the center has two metal rings on either side.

In Western Attitudes toward Death, Ariès describes mourning traditions at the turn of the nineteenth century as “hysterical mourning”. There are no longer social restrictions on the grief displayed by the living after the death of a loved one. As a result, manufactured mourning goods increase in availability for women who whished to morn the death of their loved ones for the remainder of their lives. The mass production of black silk, cotton, crepe, and Henrietta cloth for mourning dresses, parasols, and veils occurred alongside the fabrication of black utilitarian coin purses.

The quotidian use of a coin purses juxtaposes the distinctive use of veils or hair jewelry after the death of a loved one. A widow would have continued to engage in mundane businesses, such as buying items, while submitting to her mourning process. The design of the mourning purse conveniently allows the woman to easily attach the purse to her body allowing it to lifelessly dangle alongside her. The metal fringes on either side of the purse would continually chime as the user went along with her day. These sounds mirror the act of ululation; while women were permitted to mourn excessively the purse personifies her strong, emotional grief. The black coin purse is an extension of the mourning woman, as it too appears to be in hysterical mourning. Everything a woman wore and used on a daily basis, such as a simple coin purse, is deliberately changed to allow her to entirely submit into her mourning process.

As the nineteenth century marks the emergence of hysterical mourning, women needed to make everyday items reflect their grief. While veils, hair jewelry, and dresses are decorative forms of mourning attire, this black coin purse shows that mourning items are an extension of a woman’s personal mourning process.

Mourning Coin Purse

 

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