“The Last Voyage”

Among my cemetery research interests is the study of the Monumental Bronze Company and the “white bronze” monuments they produced. The Last Voyage, one of my favorite motifs, was among many that were used to embellish monuments. Modeled by sculptor Archibald McKellar and finished at the company’s art foundry in February 1881, it was first offered in their 1882 catalog.

The Last Voyage, modeled by Archibald McKellar and
offered in the 1882 catalog of the Monumental Bronze Company.
archive.org/Smithsonian Institution

This motif was taken from A Gentle Wafting to Immortal Life, a bas-relief marble sculpture by Felix M. Miller and a later engraving by William Roffe. As described in The Art Journal (1879), Miller portrayed the elder of two deceased brothers, Herbert Mellor, on the angelic mission of guiding his younger brother, Theodore, on his last voyage over the “sea of bliss.” They were the deceased children of J.J. Mellor, Esq., of the Woodlands, Whitfield, Manchester.

“Killed While Coupling Cars”

There’s no doubt that railroads played a pivotal role in the industrialization of the nation, allowing for unprecedented growth and prosperity. With it, however, came countless train accidents and the eventual call for safety on the rails and the protection of passengers and workers.

“An Act to Promote the Safety of Employees and Travelers upon Railroads by Compelling Common Carriers Engaged in Interstate Commerce to Equip Their Cars with Automatic Couplers and Continuous Brakes and Their Locomotives with Driving-wheel Brakes, and for Other Purposes,” which came to be termed the “Railroad Safety Appliance Act,” was enacted by Congress on March 2, 1893. Key provisions of the act making air brakes and automatic couplers mandatory on all trains were slated to take effect on January 1, 1898, after a five-year grace period.

The link-and-pin coupler then in use required a worker to stand between the cars and guide a link into a coupler pocket as the cars came together. A pin was then inserted to hold the link in place. The process of coupling cars was fraught with danger. Many brakemen lost fingers and entire hands, and still more were crushed to death when the cars came together too quickly.

Jenkintown Station, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, 1892
Library of Congress

On May 15, 1893, while working on the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad at a suburban Philadelphia station, Benjamin D. Simmins (1868-1893), just one month shy of his 25th birthday, was “Killed while coupling cars at Jenkintown, Pa.” as the inscription on his black granite gravemarker records.

The American Elm, or Ulmus americana

“Trees are the best monuments that a man can erect to his own memory. They speak his praises without flattery, and they are blessings to children yet unborn.” That’s what John Boyle, Fifth Earl of Cork and Orrery, said of trees in 1749.

American Elm along Valley Avenue at Riverview Cemetery

Whenever I have the occasion to walk the grounds of historic cemeteries, the mature trees dotting their landscapes bespeak the work of the nation’s earliest horticulturists. The idea of a “rural” cemetery for Trenton was conceived by Jacob M. Taylor in 1857. He introduced his plan to a group of the city’s leading citizens—William M. Force, John K. Smith, Isaac Stephens, David Witherup and William S. Yard—who together founded Riverview Cemetery on January 16, 1858. It was incorporated by an act of the state legislature of New Jersey on February 28, 1858.

The grounds of the then two-and-one-half-acre Cemetery were laid out according to a plan drawn by Smith, but the planting of the trees was tasked to Stephens. Indeed, the Sunday-Times Advertiser of December 12, 1915, described his residence, then owned by Charles S. Van Syckel, and its many specimen trees, noting: “Due to his extensive knowledge in the care of trees, Stephens was given entire charge of the planting of all the trees in Riverview Cemetery, of which he was one of the founders.”