The Monument for Welling G. Sickel

Sickel Monument in Riverview Cemetery, Trenton, N.J.
One of my research interests is the histories of monument companies, and the study of the monuments they created and the individuals that were memorialized.

I recently came across an article in the August 25, 1912, issue of the Trenton Evening Times that described how the well-traveled Welling G. Sickel (1858–1911), a wealthy rubber manufacturer and mayor of Trenton from 1897 to 1899, had visited the Vatican Museum while touring Italy with his wife Margaret (1858–1931) where they both admired the sarcophagus of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus that was on display. After her husband’s death, she decided to commemorate his life with a monument modeled after the sarcophagus they had so admired many years earlier for the family plot in Section U, Lot 81-84, here at Riverview Cemetery.

The monument firm of H.M. Swayze and Son was selected to do the work with the directive that it be done in exacting detail. Hugh M. Sawyze, the company’s proprietor, gave his son Frederick the task of securing a photograph of the sarcophagus from which it was designed and sculpted.

Executed from blue-white granite from Westerly, Rhode Island, the monument weighs slightly over twenty-one tons. It stands five feet ten inches high, and the die is seven feet six inches long by two feet ten inches wide, the cap is eight feet six inches long by three feet ten inches wide. It rests on a two step base, the first is ten feet long by five feet four inches wide, the second is eight feet five inches long by three feet nine inches wide. The family name “Sickel” is centered on the die’s face in raised lettering.

It has the form of an altar with a Doric frieze comprised of alternating triglyphs (a tablet with three vertical grooves) and metopes (square spaces between triglyphs), each of which is decorated with a rosette of varying pattern. There are six rosettes across the front and back, and two on each side, of the monument. Above the frieze is an Ionic cornice on which rests a cushion or roll with volutes (spiral scrolls) at each end.

So who was Scipio Barbatus? And why did the sarcophagus in which he was laid to rest engender such acclaim?

Engraving of the Sarcophagus of Scipio Barbatus
by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, 1756
Wikimedia Commons
A member of the noble Roman family of Scipiones, Scipio Barbatus (died abt. 280 BCE) was a consul in 298 and a censor in 280. He was likely the founder of the Tomb of the Scipiones that was constructed along the Appian Way outside Rome, where he was entombed in its only decorated sarcophagus set in the most preeminent niche at the end of the main corridor from the entryway.

The hillside tomb was eventually abandoned and fell into disrepair, only to be discovered and rediscovered many times over the centuries. In 1756, Giovanni Battista Piranesi made an engraving of the sarcophagus as part of a collection of prints of Roman antiquities, and in 1782 it was removed to the Vatican Museum. Noted for its elegant workmanship, miniature models were soon dispersed throughout Europe and beyond. As well, it was often copied as memorials.

Three monuments at Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut, are the earliest modeled after this sarcophagus in the United States that I am aware of. They are carved from brown sandstone and memorialize Jehudi Ashmun (1794–1828), Nathan Smith (1762–1829), and Eli Whitney (1765–1825).

The design became quite popular at the turn of the last century. Armand H. Griffith, author of “The Sarcophagus of Scipio” in Memorial Art, Ancient and Modern (Bliss 1912) concluded that it was “one of the most dignified and beautiful of all the many forms used [for memorials], requiring of the designer and sculptor a keen appreciation of what is graceful and in good taste, as well as in good proportion.”

Indeed, in addition to the monument for Welling G. Sickel, they are found across the nation, including Alexander Moseley (1822–1899) at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts; George P. Way (1828–1897) at Woodlawn Cemetery in Bronx, New York; Levi L. Barbour (1840-1925) at Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan; Henry S. Frieze (1817-1899) at Forest Hill Cemetery in Ann Arbor, Michigan; Henry C. Payne (1843–1904) at Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Conrad Schweitzer (1855–1939) at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.

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