Friday, October 17, 2008

Museum of Mourning Art

Undoubtedly, at least once in your life, you sat in your car at an intersection and waited for a long funeral procession to pass. You may have thought, wow, this person must have really been important or was very popular. Recently, large numbers of mourners have gathered together to honor the “last ride” of a soldier who was killed in the mid-eastern wars. However, none of these reasons apply to funeral gatherings which occurred centuries ago. In those days, more mourners meant more prayers beseeching God to save the deceased from Fire and Damnation or Hell, at least according to my tour guide, Elizabeth, at The Museum for Mourning Art.

The museum is located on the grounds of Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill, just southwest of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where a branch of my Russell Sept (family) are also buried. Years ago I requested and received by mail mortuary records for Thomas William Russell, Junior, his wife, the former Mary Edna Ashton, and some of their family who are buried at Drexel Hill. In the return mail was a card from a docent at the Museum. I thought then that I had two reasons to visit Arlington Cemetery: To document the Russell tombstones and to tour this unique museum. I thought with a sort of morbid curiosity what kind of art can be found in dying, death and mourning? I found plenty.

Image: The entrance to Arlington Cemetery, Drexel Hill, PA, includes stone pillars and steel gates. Posters advertise the "Unknown tourist attraction" of the The Museum of Mourning Art, and a website, but wait, read on first.

The cemetery office, a chapel, and The Museum of Mourning Art are housed in a building which is a replica of George Washington's home at Mount Vernon in Virginia. I was told that it was the death of George Washington, our first President who was beloved by all Americans, which started the creation of Mourning Art and its collection. Inside the museum is a trinket in which a lock of former President Washington's grey hair can be seen.

By coincidence, a few days before I visited the offices of the Toppitzer Funeral Home in PA, I toured the real George Washington's home in Mount Vernon. Yes, they do look alike. I visited Mount Vernon with a mission in mind which I will blog about at a latter time.

Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take photographs inside the Museum of Mourning Art, but images do appear on the Museum's informative website (see links at bottom). I did not catch her full name, but a lady named Mrs. Schorsch began years ago to put together this collection of mourning items. I intend to research more information on these items on the Internet. But for starters, I saw and learned a little about:

  • Emblem books- profusely illustrated books about death and dying.
  • Hatchments- diamond-shaped panels, similar to coats of arms, which would be placed on the coffin or horse-drawn hearse; they would give a quick identification of the person inside.
  • A vintage horse-drawn hearse, circa 1890. The driver wore a top hat of felt (matted animal fur) with a black-colored silk band around the brim the width of which symbolized the importance of the deceased. The Toppitzer funeral home owns a replica of the hearse which can be rented for funerals.
  • Funeral Invitations- recall that more mourners meant more prayers for the deceased.
  • Mourning clothes- mostly plain, unadorned, and of course, black-colored. However, more and more frills were added with time and additional colors of clothing, mostly white, were allowed as the family member gradually withdrew from mourning.
  • A dire painting by Albrecht Durer aptly titled “Melancholy”, painted with much symbolism of mourning. For example the woman in the portrait is holding a compass. Sometimes, the one who has passed away had previously been like a compass for the suvivor, who now finds herself direction-less in her lonely world. In the upper right-hand corner is a bell the tolling of which accounced the death of an individual. Note also the hourglass which has run out of sand.
  • Mourning jewelry- Rings, necklaces, bracelets, pendants, broaches, “sliders” (oval medallions which slid onto ribbons), and other items of jewelry. I was particularly impressed by images of the deceased or scenes from their life which were made from the person’s own delicate hair.
  • A coffin, made circa 1610, with a glass window at the head just so you could be quite sure that the deceased person inside was actually who you thought it was.


1. I usually put links at the end of my blog, because I don't want readers to run off looking at other sites until they have had a few minutes to see what's here. So now, you should go to the web site for the Museum of Mourning Art which is included as a sub-site for the Toppitzer Funeral Home. There you will find a virtual tour of the museum and stories of the famous who are buried in the surrounding cemetery. Sorry, my Russell's are not in the famous group. Also, there are life stories of beloved persons who have been memorialized on videos. This would be an excellent way of preserving family histories.

2. Gallery of art by Albrecht Durer including his work, "Melancholy"

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Japanese Cherry Trees around the Washington Tidal Basin

I continue to bicycle around Washington, DC, taking pictures of monuments and tourist sites and matching them to vintage photographs in my grandmother's photo album- the one with the soft leathery, black-colored covers, and black velvety pages, bound together with a string which looks like it came from an old shoe.

The city of Washington, DC, is a beautiful place, especially around Easter time when the Cherry blossoms are in full bloom around the tidal basin. However, the picture below was taken during the second week of October. The blossoms have long past faded, but the leaves are still green, and on the outskirts of the city some of the tops of maples are starting to tinge with the orange and red colors of Fall. In the photo is a monument that might be forgotten during seasons other than the Spring. It is the "Japanese Lantern" gifted to America by Japan as were the cherry trees surrounding the lantern (see below)

Nearby the Lantern is a stone and plaque (image below) dedicating the grove of cherry trees, an old gnarled one of which stands in the background.

The plaque reads:

"The first cherry trees presented to the City of Washington as a gesture of friendship and good will by the city of Tokyo were planted on this site, March 27, 1912."

Sad to say, this was about 30 years before the Japanese bombed and sunk our American battleships and drowned our sailors at Pearl Harbor. This event was followed a few years later by our dropping the Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and annihilating most of each town and thousands of its citizens. Good will? Hardly. However, for a much longer period of time than those horrible events, the beauty of these Cherry trees have been, and are, resurrected each Spring.

It was one of these Springs that my mother's parents and family took a short ride from Alexandria out to the blossoming Cherry trees and thankfully took pictures of the picnic.

Grandpap, Charles A. Gailliot, and Grandma Margaret, born Austel, and their oldest grandchildren under the blossoming Cherry Trees. Bob Kramp (me) is the oldest boy in the center, with brother, Billy, on the left, and our first cousin, Denis Bailey, on the right. He is the son of Joe Bailey and Helen (Gailliot). Taken about 1947. Unfortunately, Grandpap died the next year in February of 1948, aged 54 years.

Under the Cherry Trees in the Spring of 1947: My mother, the former Mary Margaret Gailliot, stands to the left of her sister-in-law, Mrs. Glen Dora (nee. Tracy) Gailliot, and her sister, Mrs. Helen (nee. Gailliot) Bailey. The picture is also a fashion statement of the 1940s. My mother is wearing MY favorite accessory. It was a fur stole made up of 2 or 3 mink skins. The mouth of one animal was a spring-like clasp that grasped onto the tail of the next mink in line and so on. After Mom doffed the furs, I would play with the skins rubbing my hand over the soft, cool hairs and occassionally clipping the "mouth" onto my fingers until the lack of circulation turned them white.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The hand seemed to reach out of the coffin ...

For the 58th edition Carnival of Genealogy, a group of us genealogy bloggers have committed to write a haunting story or weird tale taken from our family's history in honor of Halloweeeeeeen. Also it has been suggested that we keep from naming the subjects of our story so that readers might guess who they are. That would be difficult to do in my case unless the reader is a member of my family who rarely reads this blog. On the other hand, the reader could guess whether this story is fact or fiction, or perhaps creative non-fiction. I do not know if the following story is true or not, but as they say, there is always a grain of truth in family tradition.

Below, on the right, is the subject of my story, and for now, I'll call her simply "Grossmom". She will be identified after the deadline for submissions has passed. As a hint to her identity, she immigrated to this county in early 1900s and settled in Braddock, Pennsylvania. Also, she had converted to Roman Catholicism in order to wed her first husband, Joseph (surname temporarily withheld). Grossmom was Joseph's second wife, and she was married into a family of nine step children, seven of whom were still under the marrying age. As you might know, converts are usually quite zealous about their "new" religion, and Grossmom was indeed a zealous convert. She assumed all of her step-children would marry within the Catholic faith. It was the Eleventh Commandment.

Image: "Grossmom", about 1918, and her niece. For this story, you might take notice of the beaded necklace that Grossmom is wearing.

However, as time progressed, a daughter married a German immigrant who was a Lutheran, and moved to the north end of Pittsburgh. Grossmom showed her disapproval by withholding visits to her daughter's family, essentially disowning her. I think it is interesting that Grossmom's husband's behavior was quite different. He would often take the bus, alone, to his daughter's home for a visit.

I might add that a similar situation grew up in another branch of the family in which the mother seemed to show disdain for any family member who married a non-Catholic. And again, the father of the family showed indifference. Is this because men are just disinterested in a son or daughter's choice of faith, or is it that men believe that some romantic idea takes precedence over religious matters? I wonder what comments will come in response to this rather sexist notion.

In any case, Grossmom soon faced the fact that her step-son fell in love with not only a non Catholic but also a DIVORCED non-catholic with a son from her previous marriage. Oh, Heaven forbid. Despite Grossmom's objections, Frank Joseph Austel married the former Gladys Henshaw around 1924. Joseph was an adventuresome soul who had served two enlistments in the military before finally settling down in marriage. He certainly had a mind of his own. Seeing the beautiful lady he married, I can see why Frank disregarded his step mother's objections.

But here's the weird part of this story. It occurred during the funeral service of Frank Austel who died at the age of 46 years. Grossmom raised enough courage and forgiveness to attend the service. As she kneeled over the coffin, and as she described later in a shaking voice, a hand seemed to rise from the coffin, grab her cultured pearl necklace, and pull her closer. The force was so strong that the necklace broke and pearls darted everywhere across the floor. A granddaughter of Grossmom, Martha Imfang, who was 24 years old at time, told me that she ran after the scattered pearls to retrieve them. The pearls could have been restrung. However, Grossmom refused to have anything more to do with that pearl necklace.

NOTE after submission: Grossmom in the story above is none other than the former Rosa Friedrich, of Canton Thurgau, Switzerland. Rosa was about half the age of Joseph Austel when he took her as his second wife in 1897. Soon after Joseph died in 1924, Rosa remarried the widowed Joseph Poeschl. Joseph Austel and Rosa are buried together under the same tombstone at Braddock Catholic (All Saints) Cemetery, near Pittsburgh, PA.

For other weird and haunting tales submitted by Genealogy Bloggers for the 58th Edition, Carnival of Genealogy go to Jasia's Creative Gene

Statuary (Einstein & Jefferson) of Washington, DC

One thing about coming back home for a visit: this time one comes back as a curious tourist. I was born in Alexandria, VA, and when I was about six years old, my family moved to Bethesda, MD, just about 4 miles north of the District of Columbia city boundary. After I graduated from High School and the University of Maryland around 1964, I left the Metropolitan area, never to return again as a resident. Well, I did return to live for about a year in 1967, after serving my military obligation, but I don't count that.

But now, I come back to visit my family and relatives, with a new passion for gathering family history and learning more about the events of our country's heritage which has influenced us. You see, now I have the time to read and reflect on our national heritage and how it has become entwined with my own, personal "Life's Journey". So, during the last week, I visited several memorials and monuments in the Washington, DC, read the guidebook descriptions, and took pictures. There is not a better place to learn about our national heritage than Washington, DC.

Image above: Do you believe in osmosis? I am laying my head on the lap of the famous Albert Einstein in hopes that some of his intellect might seep into my own brain. Good Luck. This statue is on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences. I noticed that many of the statues and memorials depict their subject in quite formal poses. However, more recent statuary shows the subject in a more relaxed, informal pose such as this one. The statue was sculpted by Robert Berks, and is 21 feet high from head to toe. It was dedicated in June 1979, the centennial of Einstein's birth on 11 Mar 1879. He died 18 Apr 1955, at age 76 years.

The papers in Einstein's left hand shows three equations of his most important scientific discoveries:

  • The Theory of General Relativity
  • The Photoelectric Effect. (Some of my former Health Physics students might be familiar with this equation- unless they weren't paying attention.
  • The equivalency of Energy and Matter. So simple and so elegant- why didn't I think of it first?

Incidentally, Einstein once said, "Politics is for the present, but an equation ... is for an eternity".

Einstein sits on a 3 step bench of white granite quarried from Mt. Airy, NC. On the back of the bench is inscribed a quote attributed to Einstein. Other scientists and genealogists should take note:

"The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true"

And how does one recognize the truth: sources, sources, sources, and if one is lucky, PRIMARY sources. Of course, sometimes family historians might have to be a little discreet- at least for awhile.

Image: Einstein's statue sets on a slap, 28 feet in diameter, of emerald pearl granite from Lavrick, Norway. Embedded in the granite are 2700 stainless steel studs of various diameters which represent the stars in the heavens as positioned at noon on 22 Apr 1979 (dedication day). I'm no Einstein but the architects of this monument most surely were.

In the present campaign for President, both parties have claimed that their group represents CHANGE- as nobody seems to want to be associated with same old, same old, of George W. Bush's administration. However, after I climbed the steps of the Jefferson Memorial and then gazed around the rotunda, I was struck by an inscribed statement attributed to our second President, Thomas Jefferson. See the image below Jefferson's statue and click to enlarge.

Image: Thomas Jefferson in the rotunda of the Jefferson Memorial

What? "Barbarous Ancestors"- Thomas, what are you trying to say? It seems that Jefferson realized that institutions (and laws) must change to reflect and "keep pace" with the progress of man. I guess the question remains whether or not man is progressing.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Trip to Great Falls, Virginia: Then and Now

My maternal grandmother, Mrs. Margaret Gailliot, formerly Margaret Austel, of Burglen, Canton Thurgau, Switzerland. Hand-written caption indicates picture was taken at Great Falls on the Potomac River, on the Virginia shore. Picture taken circa Summer, 1917. Can you imagine crawling over those rocks and water rivulets in a long Victorian dress.

My maternal grandfather, Charles Antony Gailliot, of Braddock, Allegheny County, PA, sits on the rocks of Great Falls, Virginia, circa Summer of 1917 or 1918. Charles and Margaret were married at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, in Braddock, PA, on 6 August 1917. Almost the day after they were married, Charles received his induction notice to report to the Army to serve in WW I. However, he also received at the same time an offer to work as a pattern maker for the Navy Yard in Washington, DC. Thus, Charles and Margaret moved to the District of Columbia. Since his job was a part of the war effort, Charles was not drafted and remained state side. Since Charles' wife, Margaret had their first baby, Helen, in May of 1918, I am certain that these pictures were taken in 1917. Note the trees were in summer foliage.

Image: Bob Kramp, that's me, looks over Great Falls from the Virginia shore, October, 2008, about 90 years after his grandparents visited the same site. The information sign at this overlook is titled, "River of Change", as the area has seen several floods and gone though the process of erosion. But for me, it was certainly a time change, a time warp as they say, since the times of my grandparents.

I grew up in Bethesda, on the Maryland side of the Potomac River. As young kids, the neighborhood boys and I would often come down to Great Falls and climb for hours over the rocks with fishing rods in hand- looking for that special pool where grandfather bass resided. When we got bored of fishing, we could easily switch to catching dozens of water snakes. That was a long time ago. Today, the National Park Service which administers park lands on both shores of the Potomac at Great Falls has posted signs to stay on the approved walk ways and avoid stomping over the sensitive environment off-trail. This is a good idea considering the number of people who visit the park each year and the number of drownings that occur among careless hikers. There are still areas which have been set aside for official rock climbing.

This image of the Great Falls from the Virginia shore was taken with the wide view setting of my digital camera (click to enlarge). I believe my grandparents were probably crawling over the upper rocks of the Falls back in 1917, because it is a long drop to the river where I'm standing to take this photo.

A few days later, I was bicycling the first 11 miles of the former Washington and Old Dominion Railroad which has been converted to the 45 mile-long rail-trail located within the W&OD Regional Park. I suspect my grandparents took the electric car ride out to Great Falls on a side track off the W&OD. Though I don't know for sure, the trip was probably a honeymoon for my grandparents for at the time they visited it was indeed a wonderful resort. The text of this historical marker along the rail trail gives a hint of what it must have been like in the "old days":

The Great Falls Line

The Bluemont Branch of the Washington and Old Dominion was not the railroad's only line. The Great Falls and Old Dominion Rail Road arose in 1906 from the vision of two prominent men. Senator Stephen B. Elkins of West Virginia had prospered through coal, lumber and railroads in his home state. John R. MacLean was involved in several businesses and owned the Washington Post newspaper. Elkins and MacLean bought land on the Virginia side of the Potomac River at Great Falls. They turned it into a resort, complete with a carousel, dance pavilion, and electrified Trolley line to bring the crowds from Washington. The largely undeveloped land along the line was ideal for residential communities including one named for MacLean. [One rides though MacLean and Fairfax City on the trail]

Images of Elkins, on top, and MacLean, are in the upper, right-hand corner of the historical marker.

This trip to Great Falls, Virginia, was made as part of my effort and enjoyment to re-visit sites which were also visited by my ancestors. Previously, I have posted blog entries on my ancestors' trips to the replica of the Lourdes (France) Grotto and the Bartholdi Fountain, both sites being in Washington City, District of Columbia.

How to make a Printer's Hat

I am now thoroughly convinced you can search and find anything on the Internet- even instructions for making a printer's paper hat.

A couple of entries ago, I mentioned that my brother and I, when we were kids, had a quick tour of Dad's workplace at the Washington (DC) Evening Star. Dad was a Linotype operator. I noticed that all the surfaces in the room were black and greasy and there was the omnipresent odor of ink in the air. One could almost see a mist of black ink everywhere. A distinction of every man in the room was that he wore a paper hat so that the ink mist would not coat his hair- whether he had any hair or not. The hats were almost a mark of honor among the union printers.

My father had long ago made a printer's hat for me and taught be how to make one for myself. I had forgotten how to do it, and until I created the recent entry for this blog, I didn't really care. However, I now realized that Printer's Hats are part of my heritage and I had to find someone to teach me again how to make them. But, newspaper companies do not use Linotype machines or operators anymore and most of my father's co-workers have probably past away. So, after some consternation, I turned hopefully, but doubtfully, to a search engine on the Internet and typed, "printer hat". And lo and behold, up came a website called "instructables" that showed how to make any hat there ever was out of newspaper. How about a Pope's miter hat?

I downloaded a pdf file for making a printer's hat and now my heritage has been restored. If you're interested go to:!/

Go to my previous entries for our trip to The Evening Star and Linotype machines. At the former link you can also compare the fashion model above with the same at a much younger and innocent age. It's no wonder I had forgotten.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Who's in Arlington National Cemetery

It's great to come back to Washington, DC, for a visit. I was born and raised in the so-called DC Metropolitan area. I believe most people think of Presidents and Politicians when they hear of Washington, DC. However, it is a city of mostly ordinary "Main Street" characters who were born, grew up, lived and worked here. Like my family. Actually, I was born on Cameron Street in Alexandria, VA, just south of DC. They call it George Washington's home town. One can ride a bicycle from Alexandria City to his former plantation at the end of the Mt. Vernon Trail which runs beside the Purple Heart Highway.

When I was 6 years old we moved to Bethesda, Maryland, on the north side of DC, in Montgomery County. I must mention that Hubert H. Humphrey, Junior, that's the former VP's son, was in my 7th grade class at Kensington Junior High. I wouldn't have even known that, but I recognized his family's portrait in the newspaper one day. I graduated from the University of Maryland in College Park, and afterwards migrated to other parts of the country. However, I never went back to DC except for visits to my family- and research at the National Archives. Now, instead of bedding at relatives and taking the Metro Subway to the National Archives, I can sit in front of my computer and access the U.S. census records on the Internet. But I still miss the real life adventure.

I am visiting my family again in the DC Metro area, and while here, I took a day's tour of the Arlington National Cemetery and took some of the following pictures. I saved my legs and took a tram around the cemetery and listened to some very good and entertaining interpreters. Can I use the word "entertaining" while visiting the resting places of some of the greatest heroes of our country? If you are a genealogist, you'll agree in the affirmative.

I watched the changing of the guard at the tombs of the Unknown Soldiers. Of course the tombs are guarded 24 seven. One is impressed by the precision and dedication of these guards from nearby Fort Myers. When the soldiers halt and do a right face or an about face, they swing out one straight leg and bring it back sharply making a loud clack with their heels. Their shoe heels are built up of several layers of leather on the inside step in order to take this constant pounding. Also, the guards have to be between 5 ft, 8 inches and 6 ft, 2 inches tall, AND be able to fit into a 29 inch belt- it's the only size of belt issued. I meet the first criterion but fall just a tad short of the second.

The four plaques of the Kennedy family and the Eternal Flame is a solemn place. From far corner to your left:

  • "Daughter", August 23, 1956
  • John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1917-1963
  • Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, 1929-1994. I had to check those dates twice, as I didn't realize that Jackie was 11 years younger than her husband.
  • Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, August 7, 1963- August 9, 1963

There is a lengthy list of criteria for burial at Arlington, but only minor children under the age of 21 can be interred next to their parents. That is why JFK's adult children can not be buried here. Son, "John John" Kennedy, was cremated and his ashes strewn off of Martha's vineyard. (Read here the eligibility requirements for ground burial)

Former Senator Robert Kennedy is buried just down the hill from his brother in a very unassuming grave, marked by a flat stone and a simple white cross.

On the hill above the Kennedy's Eternal Flame is the Curtis Lee Manson which is being renovated as a museum. From the mansion, you have a great panoramic view of Washington, DC, on the opposite side of the Potomac river. From the left, if you're somewhat familiar with the city, you can see the Lincoln Memorial, the tall pointed Washington Monument, The Capital, and the Jefferson Memorial.

An urn containing the ashes of my daughter's father-in-law was placed (inurnment) at Arlington Cemetery this past spring, on 8 Apr 2008 (see above image). He was Henry Francis "Bud" Collins, 187th Regional Combat unit, Korean Conflict.

Other members of our extended family buried at Arlington are:

  • Norma Jean HONADLE, nee. KOEHLER, daughter of Robert Koehler and Helen RUSSELL, Section 66, Grave 6920.
  • John Albert HONADLE, Major, USAF, husband of Norma Jean
  • William Lewis KRAMP, Air Police SQ, USAF, Section 41, Grave 1179
  • Doroth Marie PARKE, nee. KRAMP, wife of John.
  • John T. PARKE, TEC 5, US Army, WW II

My last stop at Arlington was the museum inside the Curtis Lee Mansion. On one wall of the mansion were family trees for the Curtis-Lee Family (on left of chart) and the family of George Washington, first president of the United States.

I'm just a little dishevelled and unorganized here on the road, borrowing a friends computer to upload this entry. So, I will finish reading the tourist brochures and add to this entry at a more comfortable time. In the meantime, I found a more complete, interactive presentation of the Family Tree on the Internet here.


Description and pictures of Curtis Lee mansion (Arlington House) by the National Park Service.

The Official web site of Arlington National Cemetery