Sunday, February 28, 2016

History Amongst the Tombs: Forest Home Cemetery

You may not know this about me: I love taking photos at cemeteries.  I still get creeped out walking on top of someone who is buried six feet under.  However, the sculptures dedicated to the departed are some of the best art you can find for free.  Today, since it was an unusual 60 degrees in Milwaukee for a February, I went down to Forest Home Cemetery, a place I've wanted to photograph for a long time.  This cemetery, the largest in Wisconsin and home to many prominent residents, is located south of I-94 near a vastly Latino community, but has been around since 1850. 

The claim-to-fame of Forest Home Cemetery is that a lot of Milwaukee's founders are buried there.  More specifically, our beer barons.  Pabst, Schlitz and Blatz, the names that built Milwaukee into what it is today, have grave markers or mausoleums on the grounds.

The Blatz Mausoleum

The Schlitz grave marker

The Pabst family grave marker

In addition to the beer barons, many other famous names have made the cemetery their final resting place.  Names such as Arthur Davidson (Harley-Davidson):

Guido and Charles Pfitster (owners of the Pfister Hotel):

Frederick Vogel, a tanner and State Assemblyman.  Vogel Hall in the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre is named after him:

Fredrick Usinger, creator of the best sausage/bratwurst in America:

Charles Allis, founder of Allis-Chalmers and whom the city of West Allis is named for:

And Alfred Lunt & Lynn Fontanne, a very famous theatre couple who resided in Genesee, Wisconsin.  I have visited Ten Chimneys, their primary residence, which reminded me a lot of Graceland.  I will do a blog post on my visit later this year, when tours are available, around May.

Besides the famous grave stones, there are a lot of interesting markers that are artistic in nature.  I think it's great that the departed (or their relatives) have endowed these amazing sculptures as their markers.  More common is the obelisk, a marker that goes back to the ancient Egyptians and symbolizes the sun God Ra.  I know they became popular after Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in the 1700's, but why have they sustained such popularity prior to the Civil War and afterward?  If anyone knows the reason, feel free to post in the comments.

In addition to the famous residents and the obelisk markers, many of the departed had sculptures created for their final resting place.  I find those the most interesting.  I have never been to the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, but it is a dream of mine (and not just to see Jim Morrison's final resting place).  This cemetery had a lot of interesting sculptures to celebrate the lives of their departed family members.

Last, but not least, there is the grave marker of Henry Clay Payne, Postmaster General from 1902 to 1904 when Theodore Roosevelt was president.  From the very nice words on his grave marker, he was not only a statesman but a "kindly neighbor", a "loyal friend" and a "benefactor of the deserving."  Basically, an all-around good guy.

For more information on the Forest Home Cemetery, click here.


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