Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Bonaventure Mausoleums

Mausoleums have been in existence for over 3,000 years.  The Taj Mahal, originally constructed as a mausoleum, is the most extraordinary mausoleum in the world.  Bonaventure Cemetery is located in Savannah, Georgia and is a former plantation whose name means good fortune.  Most people are aware of this cemetery due to its prominence in the book and movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  Taphophiles and cemetery explorers know Bonaventure because it is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in America.  Large live oak trees swathed in Spanish moss fill the cemetery giving it that quintessential southern feel.

I made my first visit to Bonaventure last month and was mesmerized.  Sharing all that Bonaventure offers would take a really long blog posting, so for this first one featuring Bonaventure I want to focus on the fabulous mausoleums that dot the landscape throughout the cemetery.  This mausoleum belongs to John Ernst.  The doors are adorned with wreaths, which commonly symbolize victory.  The size of the mausoleum indicates that the Ernst family was well to do.
 This next mausoleum belongs to the Schroder family and is made from an exquisite white marble and is accentuated by what many of the family plots at Bonaventure feature: a distinctive border with a name plate representing an invisible doorway.  What I loved about this mausoleum was a characteristic shared by a couple of other mausoleums and that is an open front with a large stain glassed window in the back of the vault.
 This is the stain glass window found in the Schroder mausoleum:
 This is an incredibly unique mausoleum built in memory of John D. Moncin and has members of the Blodcett-Moncin-Stoddard families interred inside.  The vault seems to be trying to emulate the shape of a pyramid.  At the top is a carving with wings.  I’m not sure what the center circular shape symbolizes, but wings generally symbolize flight of the soul.
 This granite Greek revival style Mausoleum belongs to the Herman family.  It immediately reminds one of the Greek architecture found in Washington, D.C. at the Supreme Court building and of course at the Parthenon in Greece.
 Inside this Mausoleum one can find another beautiful stain glassed window:
Bonaventure Cemetery has some of the most beautiful mausoleums in America.  There are not many of them in Bonaventure as compared to the amount of acreage upon which the cemetery is housed, but they leave an indelible mark on the landscape.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Barbados' Moving Coffins

Imagine opening the family vault to inter the most recently deceased family member and finding that the coffins inside the vault appear to have been moved around.  Not only would this be shocking, but it would be infuriating.  Did grave robbers break in and open up coffins?  How were heavy lead coffins moved around and more importantly, why?  And most importantly, how was the large heavy stone blocking the door moved?  This is what happened to the Chase family of Barbados.

The Chase Vault was located in a West Indian cemetery and was first used in 1807.  Like most vaults, part of the structure was above ground.  It was built from coral, carved stone and concrete walls.  Several family members were placed in the vault without incident, but when the patriarch met his demise things got really weird.  Bereaved friends and family members were stunned to open the Chase family vault and discover that the previous occupants’ coffins had been moved around.  This same discovery was made each and every time the vault was opened.  Examinations were made to the vault door of stone and nothing appeared out of place each and every time.  Nothing was ever stolen from the vault either.
Chase vault
There was one coffin that was different from the other coffins because it was made from wood rather than lead and it belonged to Mrs. Thomasina Goddard.  Eventually this coffin became so damaged that it had to be wrapped in wire to hold it together.  After this was done, that coffin was never out of place again.  A plan was hatched to prove that someone was entering the vault to move the coffins.  Sand was piled on the floor all around the coffins.  To everyone’s shock, when the vault was reopened several months later, the sand had no footprints.  But the coffins were in total disarray and some were even upside down.  What kind of force could be disturbing the Chase Vault of Barbados?  Out of frustration, all the coffins were removed and buried elsewhere.

Earthquakes have been ruled out as a cause for the movement of the coffins because the wooden coffin was not found out of place.  Flooding of the vault was ruled out as well because the sand trap was undisturbed.  Could the lead that the coffins were made from been moved by some magnetic force that had an effect on a metal like lead?  This seems hard to believe.  Particularly since the coffins were not merely shifted slightly, but were actually tossed about in what seemed a violent way.  Some claim the story is just a hoax.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, surmised that restless spirits were to blame be cause several occupants of the vault had not passed in pleasant ways.  Whatever the case may be, the moving coffins of Barbados are an intriguing mystery.