An Artistic Treasure – Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery Mausoleum Doors And Gates
Ambrose Bierce in his Devil’s Dictionary defined a mausoleum as “the final and funniest folly of the rich.”
Of course some of the mausoleums at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn are elaborate and cost as much as a nice house back in the day. But regardless of Bierce’s cynicism, many of the wealthy spent large amounts of money hiring top architects to design and build their final resting places in hopes of producing eternal shrines to themselves. While many names emblazoned on the tombs are now forgotten, their inhabitants ended up with some beautiful and memorable architectural work that because of their location, a cemetery, is not seen by many.
Here we are focusing on the doors and gates to these mausoleums which were done by artisans of the highest caliber. Some are ornate, some are ostentatious, and some are simple yet elegant.
While some of the decorations on the doors are purely artistic in form, others display symbols which have deeper meanings. Because these mausoleums were commissioned works, the symbolism displayed on the doors was usually well thought out by their owners.
In the 19th and early 20th century many people who visited cemeteries understood the subtle meanings of the icons. It is now mostly a lost art, with crosses, Stars of David, and other common symbols dominating newer funeral markers.
Let us pause and gaze at a few examples of mausoleum portals featuring old school craftsmanship at fabulous Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. (click any ph0to to enlarge)
The large angel in relief is flanked on top by two smaller angels blowing trumpets representing the Call to the Resurrection.
The upside down torch represents death. The wreath symbolizes victory of the redemption. An ivy wreath connotes someone who was sociable. A laurel wreath signifies someone who attained distinction in the arts, literature, athletics or the military.
The hourglass is an icon you will see on many of the 19th century mausoleums. It represents time’s inevitable passing and the shortness of life.
This padlock is an example of an old lock that remains on a mausoleum. Many of the locks have been replaced by multiple modern locks, some with chains.
The fleur-de-lis is a popular motif /symbol which can represent many things; passion; flame; ardor; female virtue; the Holy Trinity; royalty; knowledge; a love of learning; and the immortality of the spirit. Displayed on many of the mausoleum doors it can be large or small and delicate.
The lyre or harp represents musical or poetic talents. It can also mean love and chastity or divine harmony.
The cherub’s head with wings represents the soul in flight or the Holy Spirit.
The urn is seen representing the body as a vessel for the soul and as a symbol of mourning.
I’m assuming the same artist did all of the following three doors, if not they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (or plagiarism).
The lion symbolizes the power of God and guards the tomb against evil spirits. These handles are actually functioning door knockers, which create an eerie sound when used.
Doors gone and now walled over, there will no new occupants or visitors here for eternity.