Thursday, January 30, 2014

John McCullough and Edwin Adams at Mount Moriah Cemetery

John McCullough
This is a continuation of last week’s Cemetery Traveler blog, a fine piece guest-written by my friend Julie Esty, entitled, “Death’s Playhouse” (a link to that blog is provided at the end). It is a brief account of the friendship between two celebrated thespians from nineteenth century America, John McCullough and Edwin Adams, who are buried in Philadelphia’s Mount Moriah Cemetery. In the present article, I’d like to give you some “behind the scenes” information on their monuments and their grave sites.

McCullough monument, c. 1888 (ref.)
The McCullough monument is a grand affair, a large and ornate tower of Quincy granite rising 36 feet off the ground. It rests over the McCullough family plot in Section 122, on the Yeadon side of the cemetery, behind the hilly section where all the mausoleums are. The Adams monument is much smaller, and is on the Philadelphia side of the cemetery. While McCullough was likely held in greater esteem by many more people than was Adams, it is interesting to note that theatrical actors in general found greater favor with the American public as time marched on past 1865. Edwin Adams died in 1877, whereas McCullough died in 1885. With the assassination in 1865 of President Abraham Lincoln by the actor John Wilkes Booth, the American public, for a time, held actors in great disdain. (Edwin Booth, John Wilkes' brother, is considered by many historians to be the greatest American actor of the nineteenth century. Both John McCullough and Edwin Adams were members of Edwin Booth's acting company.)

Like the bond of friendship shared by Adams and McCullough, their graves are similarly forgotten and overgrown. The grave sites of these two celebrated stage actors, being inaccessible to the public, do nothing, currently, to help keep them in our memory. The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc., will undoubtedly do something about that.

Regardless of the size and fanciness of one memorial relative to the other, both are hidden by the densely overgrown foliage. You would never find either grave without very specific directions. The McCullough monument, aside from having the large bronze bust of John McCullough removed, is in relatively good condition. It is fairly easy to discern through the Japanese knotweed in the winter time. In summer, the dense trees and other growth hide most of it, save its ascending granite flame, "typical of the aspiring soul in its escape from mortal encasement" (ref.).

Edwin Adams' grave site, Mount Moriah Cemetery, Philadelphia

I’ve known of the existence of the McCullough monument for some time now. With the help of the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc., I located Adams’ grave a couple weeks ago. It is in Section 203, in as much of a jungle of dense woods as is McCullough’s. Deer are probably the most frequent visitors to his grave, evidenced by the numerous beds and runs. The Friends’ group has not yet gotten back to this area to do any weed or tree cutting, but that’s just a matter of time. There is, however, work being done to access the area around the McCullough monument.

“The massive base from which it springs is adorned on its front face with a design of crossed foils, and the fasces of the Roman lictors, flanked on either side by the masks of Tragedy and Comedy, and crowned by the Scotch thistle.” (ref.)
Center pedestal where bust originally sat
 The McCullough monument is quite impressive for its sheer grandeur. When it was created in 1888, it cost $9300.00 (which equates to $232,000 in 2014 terms based on the Consumer Price Index). At this point the monument is easily accessible via the roadway behind the hill atop which the mausolea reside. The monument is actually situated at the highest elevation within the cemetery’s 240 acres (ref.). “Late in the summer of 1888 the granite monument, with a massive and splendid bronze bust of John McCullough, was placed at the actor's grave …,” so says William Winter in his 1889 book, “In memory of John McCullough ....” A cursory glance will show the bust to be gone – removed or perhaps stolen somewhere along the line. The bust appears to be very similar to the image at the very beginning of this article. A fascinating point that makes the McCullough memorial unique and notable is that “it is the first monument ever raised to the memory of an actor in this country, if not in the world (ref.)”

Following the death of his good friend Edwin Adams in 1877, McCullough was asked to supply an inscription for the late thespian’s memorial in Mount Moriah Cemetery.  McCullough selected this line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act 5, Scene 5 –

Inscription on John McCullough's monument

His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, “This was a man.”

Edwin Adams (ref.)
John McCullough's own memorial, incidentally, bears the same quotation (which appears in the photo above). My principal reason for trying to locate Adams’ memorial was to see this Shakespearean inscription reputed to be on his stone. Unfortunately and after much searching, I discovered that the black marble Adams monument had fallen, and was being eaten by the earth. It appears to be about four feet long and about twenty inches square. Only about an inch of the stone’s back is visible, meaning that the inscription lies buried face down.

Edwin Adams' grave site, Mount Moriah Cemetery
With ground subsidence and maybe a little help from vandals, this small, yet elegant memorial has all but disappeared. The only thing left to be readily seen are the twin granite entry posts to the plot. Sometimes the family name is engraved on the steps leading up to the plot, but this does not seem to be the case here. All in all, this presents itself as a springtime project, i.e. excavating Adams’ monument so the inscription can be read. It will be another in a steadily progressing series of notables being brought to light in Mount Moriah, as Pennsylvania’s largest Victorian-era cemetery continues its renaissance under the direction of the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc.

Front of McCullough family plot, Mount Moriah Cemetery
John McCullough was a serious actor, a tragedian, whereas Edwin Adams was a comedian. The former attained greater notoriety, and apparently, wealthier friends. McCullough’s friends’ names appear on the rear of the monument [most notably William M. Conner, who suggested having the monument built as a lasting tribute to his friend, shortly after McCullough’s death]. McCullough was something of a superstar in his own time. “Genial” John Edward McCullough “was one of the most popular and successful actors on the American stage, earning an average of $50,000 a year” (ref.). In the late 1800s, this was obviously an enormous sum of money.

“When the superintendent of Mount Moriah Cemetery, where rests the dust his great spirit once vitalized, could express profound surprise at the enduring longevity of the affection this man inspired, since the tomb of none other among the many silent occupants of his vast city of the dead, is ever sought out and inquired for with such abiding interest, such pathos of tender memory, as is that of the great actor today [in 1905, twenty years after McCullough’s death], a tribute is thereby paid to the majesty of a soul, which, in its passage through this world, briefly ‘pressed the earth but stained it not.’”                                                                                                                              -From the book, John McCullough as man, actor and spirit, by Susie Champney Clark, 1905.

John McCullough as Virginius
William Winter, in his book, In Memory of John McCullough ..., states:
“The McCullough monument stands at the head of the grave, over which the bust of the actor, in his favorite [Shakespearean] character [the ill-fated Roman centurion] Virginius, seems an image of perfect and noble repose, as calm and majestic as the day that it greets at its coming. The main fabric of the monument, imposed upon a commodious pedestal, is a huge block of polished granite. On this are reared four pillars, which support a stone canopy surmounted by an urn. Beneath the canopy stands the bust, which is of colossal size. The pillars are sculptured with vines of ivy. The top of the urn is thirty-six feet from the ground.”

The formal dedication of John McCullough’s memorial occurred on November 27, 1888:

"The scene at McCullough's grave when his monument was dedicated lacked no element of impressive simplicity. The day was somber and chill. A sad, gray sky brooded, as if in sorrow, over the still and melancholy landscape — of withered lawn and leafless trees, with, all around, the cold memorials of the dead. It was one of those pensive, soundless days when Nature seems to sympathize with the grief, the perplexities, the wistful anxiety of man." (Ref.)

William F. Johnson’s introductory address at the dedication:

"Heroes have had their last resting-places marked with imperishable marble, in admiration of their power to slaughter men and wreak misery upon their fellow-creatures; poets for the sweetness of their songs; rulers for their excellence in statecraft; but few are honored, as our dead friend is to-day, for personal worth, unostentatious charities, and a beneficent life." (Ref.)

McCullough family crypt cover
John Edward McCullough enjoyed national renown, having made his professional debut at the Arch Street Theatre, Philadelphia, in 1857. He became more famous than his good friend Edwin Adams, both during and after his lifetime. McCullough’s ghost supposedly haunts the National Theatre in Washington, D.C, where he was shot and killed by a fellow stage performer in 1885. Maybe he hangs around there looking for his head. His wife Letitia had it autopsied after he died so maybe it’s not buried with the rest of him at Mount Moriah! Letitia is buried in the family plot with John; a large black marble crypt cover lies in front of the monument, on which are inscribed the names of later burials of the McCullough family.

References and Further Reading:
John McCullough as man, actor and spirit by Susie Champney Clark 1905
In memory of John McCullough ..., by William Winter, 1889, De Vinne press 
The Last Days of John McCullough, by Joseph Haworth, 1894
JohnMcCullough — The Ghost of the National Theatre? 

Death's Playhouse (Part one of the McCullough/Adams story on the Cemetery Traveler)
Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Death's Playhouse

John McCullough
This week's Cemetery Traveler blog was written at my invitation by my good friend and historical interpreter, Julie Esty. She is the artistic director for the Dunmore (Pennsylvania) Cemetery Tour/Dearly Departed Players and is the author of the books: Stories in Stone, Tales of Life from the Dunmore Cemetery, Murder in Scranton, and recently with daughter Megan, the one act play "An Evening at Ford's Theatre."

The majority of the public has at least once in their life experienced a stage performance, be it a Broadway performance or a local theatrical. Audiences see what is presented to them superficially – the lines, lights, props, costumes, entrances and exits. What most viewers rarely see are the bonds of friendship that are formed between the actors and crew while working on a stage production. My daughter Megan and I have had the good fortune of working on theatricals regularly and experiencing what we refer to as “the camaraderie of the stage.” Two men at rest in Philadelphia’s Mount Moriah Cemetery, both with stellar theatrical careers, experienced this camaraderie of the stage. They shared a bond of friendship in life which was formed in playhouses across the country and in death they share an unbreakable bond etched in stone.

Front of John McCullough's monument depicting sculpted masks of Tragedy and Comedy

American born actor Edwin “Ned” Adams began his theatrical career in the early 1850’s.  By the mid 1860’s he was a member of the famed Edwin Booth’s theatrical company. Gifted at comedic performances, Adams was also quite successful with Shakespearian roles as well.

McCullough family crypt cover
British born “Genial” John McCullough came to the United States in 1848.   Like Adams, McCullough also began his stage career in the 1850’s.  At the age of twenty five McCullough began appearing in theatrical roles on stages in Philadelphia.  Again, like his contemporary, Edwin Adams, McCullough also played the stage with Edwin Booth and was noted for his Shakespearean portrayals. [Ed. note: Photo of  John McCullough at top is from the book, In Memory of John McCullough ... by William Winter, 1889.]

"Manliness and meekness in him were so allied that they who judged him by his strength or weakness saw but a single side." (The quote is from the John Greenleaf Whittier poem, In Remembrance of Joseph Sturge.)

John McCullough (ref.)
During the course of their careers Adams and McCullough crossed paths regularly. There are at least two instances of the actors working together in the summer of 1871, which can easily be found.  In June of that year, both men appeared in Wine Works Wonders at the California Theatre in San Francisco (Ref. 1). The following month they acted together appearing in what was deemed “legitimate” or Shakespearean roles at the Salt Lake Theatre in Utah (Ref. 2).Working, and most likely traveling together, the two thespians developed a great friendship. In describing the relationship between Adams and McCullough, drama critic, poet and author William Winter stated in his Sketch of the Life of John McCullough, “a close friendship had for many years subsisted between Adams and himself (McCullough), and indeed it would be difficult to imagine two human beings more accordant in generosity of temperament and gentleness of life” (Ref. 3).

"The Eminent Tragedian, John McCullough"

In the mid 1870’s Edwin Adams' health declined due to consumption. Unable to perform or travel, this left Adams without an income.  A number of benefit performances were held to raise funds to aid the ailing actor.  On October 12, 1877, benefit performances were held at the Academy of Music in New York. John McCullough participated in support of his dear friend and colleague. Less than two weeks later, Edwin Adams was dead.

Edwin Adams' grave, Mount Moriah Cemetery, Philadelphia
Following the death of Adams, McCullough was asked to supply an inscription for the late thespian’s memorial stone in Mt. Moriah Cemetery.  McCullough selected the following line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act 5, Scene 5 –

His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, “This was a man.”

McCullough monument, 1888, Mt. Moriah Cemetery
[Photo from the book, In Memory of John McCullough ... by William Winter, 1889.]
John McCullough continued his stage career but by the mid 1880’s his stage performances took a severe decline due to failing health.  McCullough began to experience increased memory loss which made him unable to render his lines on stage. This memory loss was possibly due to advanced syphilitic infection. He died in November 1885.

After the death of John McCullough, a memorial was erected to his memory in Mount Moriah Cemetery.  This substantial monument at one time housed a sizable bronze bust of the late actor as he appeared in his favorite role of Virginius. The south side of the monument bears a quote from the John G. Whittier poem, In Remembrance of Joseph Sturge. The east side of the monument appropriately bears the masks of comedy and tragedy.  The north side bears an inscription that links McCullough to his dear friend Edwin Adams. The McCullough memorial bears the same line from Julius Caesar, Act 5, Scene 5 that appears on the memorial to Edwin Adams ---

His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, “This was a man.”

Two men, not only players on stages across the United States, but also on the stage of life are linked together – etched in stone in Death’s playhouse in Philadelphia’s Mt. Moriah Cemetery.

References and Further Reading:
(Ref. 1) “Amusements,” Daily Alta California, June 22, 1871, p.4. 
(Ref. 2)  “Amusements,” The Sunday Morning Appeal, July 30, 1871, p.4. 
(Ref. 3)  In Memory of John McCullough, The DeVinne Press, New York, 1889, p. 21

In Memory of John McCullough ... by William Winter, 1889
John McCullough as Man, Actor and Spirit by Susie Champney Clark, 1905

Julie Esty on Facebook  
The Dunmore Cemetery Tour on Facebook
The Dearly Departed Players on Facebook 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Elysian Fields – The Second Coming

As you may recall from our last episode, I spent some time photographing an abandoned cemetery and had a bit of a challenge getting out afterwards. So when the opportunity arose to return to the same site two days later, I licked my wounds, cuts, scrapes, and bruises and jumped at the opportunity. You know what they say about lost opportunity: “a squandered gift, a wasted day, time chases life away” (at least the band Slaid Cleaves says so in their song, “Sinner’s Prayer”).

How did this come about? Well, some friends of mine expressed interest in photographing this same site, folks who like me, appreciate the beauty in entropy. It was such an amazing place, that I could not resist a second visit. I was to meet them nearby and we would all climb the fence into the graveyard. We met at the appointed hour; however, I misjudged the expected activity at the site next door. This had been staid on my last visit; now, it was now teeming with activity. Backhoes digging, pickup trucks zooming around. So we found a climbable section of the fence, out of view of the construction people. My companions, who were much younger and more limber than I, had no difficulty getting up the fence and down the vine-covered tree on the other side. I had some difficulty, the final portion of my trip culminating with a slide down yonder which scraped a few inches of skin on my forearm. But hey, no guts, no glory. 

Off we trudged into the old, gnarly graveyard. Sky was clear, weather was cold. This particular area was easy to walk through, but just ahead we could see hillocks of invasive mile-a-minute weeds engulfing monuments, headstones, and everything else in its path. Looked like a lunar landscape of dead farmland, or something. The cemetery is preserved, but not in a way that it was intended. Trees, growing at odd angles, their crooked branches strangled by vines, are so huge that they dwarf and enshroud thirty-foot tall obelisks. You wonder if old cemetery trees look as they do partly because of the arsenic and other nasty embalming chemicals in the soil.

While my prior visit to Elysian Fields (not its real name, as you may have guessed) offered a splendid opportunity for independent study, this visit would be otherwise. Shooting with others forces you to see things differently, sometimes to see things their way. It’s also safer if you’re not by yourself – who knows what you’d come upon in such a place - thieves stealing bronze doors off mausoleums, animals, or worse. I pointed out some familiar locations to my fellow photographers. At least one member of the party had never been in here, and it’s interesting to see that look of wide-eyed wonder on someone when you know they appreciate the initial experience as much as you did. Kind of like when a friend took me to the movies when Jaws was first released. He had seen the film a couple days before and knew when all the scary parts would happen. Instead of watching the movie at those times, he watched me to see my reaction!

I can describe this old graveyard to the best of my ability, but it really is not something that can be adequately expropriated by word or even image (though I am satisfied with the images I made). On a smaller scale, it would be akin to me describing or photographing the Grand Canyon and expecting you to appreciate it as if you were there. 

This was the type of day that achieves meteorological perfection, photography-wise. During my visit two days before, I must admit I was rather in a fugue state: kind of an altered state of consciousness in which you move about purposely but are not fully aware. Almost like the Stendhal Syndrome. The place has that kind of effect on you. Even with four of us moving around making photographs, reading epitaphs, little was spoken. There was little interaction as each individual took in the scene though his own filter.

Did it seem anti-climactic for me to be here a second time just days after my last visit? I might say that I wasn’t filled to the brim with a sense of purpose, though such photographic plentitude allowed me to concentrate on more detail than before. I made better and closer photographs of the monuments, I went inside the mausoleums whose doors were ajar. True, I was familiar with the terrain and locations of certain monuments, but repeatedly walking through a cemetery does not repeat the experience. You can never step into the same river twice. The weather changes, the lighting changes – even if you are there at the same time of day as I was two days before!

Though it was a sunny day, it was again cold – in the forties. Tomorrow it would rain, the next day it would turn sharply colder and snow. The angels and mourning women care not, as they commune in the shadows of giant obelisks and monuments. The famous and not so famous comingle throughout this vast sculpture garden, the tangles of foliage giving evidence of Nature trying to reclaim her territory.

As we enter beckoning mausoleums with their missing stained glass windows, it is evident that theft occurs. No one legitimately comes in here, save the very occasional descendant. I notice a couple of fresh Christmas wreaths lying at the base of two headstones, their dried-up predecessors lying outside the plot area. Weird. Aside from this, everything looks as if in suspended animation, but from what year? 1970? 1940? 1910? Difficult to say. In its present state, this place has an immense amount of character, and is one of the most photographically interesting abandoned sites in the history of history.

Typically cemeteries offer distinct boundaries between the sacred and the profane, but this place is quite the opposite. There is memory preservation here, and that’s good. But perpetual care? Not so much. The child buried beneath the statue (in the photo below) will always be a child. John Barrymore’s legend will live through the ages, but who visits and honors his grave? A cemetery is a way of preserving things. Not necessarily the past, more like the present. This forsaken old Victorian graveyard is not just who we were, it is also who we are. However, I’ve learned to keep an open mind about such abandoned sites as this – just because it is not kept up does not mean people don’t care about it. 

All the while I was at Elysian Fields I was getting texts and cell phone calls. Rather annoying and couldn’t concentrate. So I decided to leave before the others were done. I had an ulterior motive, I must confess: I was not keen on having witnesses to my expected ungraceful exit over the fence! So I made my way through the weeds, back behind the beyond where I expected to find safe passage home. 

Unfortunately, the backhoes were now digging right there! Second best, I would attempt to climb the tree where we had come in, and hop the fence at that point. I managed to get to the top of the barbed-wire fence by pulling myself up the tree like freaking George of the Jungle when – a pickup truck zoomed into view! I did not want anyone to see me, though I wasn’t at all sure they would even care, so I loosened my gloved grip and the vines gave way! The only thing that broke my six-foot fall were all the dry-rotted tree branches lying on the ground. They say our physical senses reflect our current belief system. If that is indeed the case, I believe I just fell out of a tree. But they also say that the responsibility for our pain is our own.

After checking to make sure nothing else was broken, I got pissed off and grabbed the nearest vine and pulled myself up to the top off the fence, damn the pickup trucks. I got to the top, saw no one in site and made a break for it. I dropped down the opposite side, grabbed my photography gear, and walked nonchalantly across the grounds to my car. As nonchalantly as I could with torn pants and sticks and leaves sticking out of my hair.

Creating abandoned site photographs is exhilarating. The danger is evident in every picture. This is probably why I enjoy similar work by others – I know how difficult it is to gain access to these places. I appreciate others’ work, when it is something that I myself may be too scared to attempt.

Please click here to read part one of this story:
A New Year - A New Abandoned Cemetery