Letter To Achilles- excerpt from THRIP by J.D.Brayton

Aiai! My name is a lament!
Who would have thought it would fit
so well with my misfortunes!
Now truly I can cry out — aiai! —
two and three times in my agony.

Aiee, Ajax! My name says what I feel;
who’d have believed that pain and I’d be one;
Aiee, Ajax! I say it twice,
and then again, aiee, for what is happening.

~Ajax by Sophocles

 

He sat in the deer stand high in an oak tree as the last light of day bathed the tops of the trees in an electric apricot orange. In the distance he heard thunder, if it rained, he didn’t care. The cold rain would help him feel something, even if cold meant alive. He wore layers of camouflage, it could be Noah’s down-pour, he would abide, sit out here all night, until the time was right, staring at the spots of dried blood on his pants from last month’s kill. Rain would never wash it out, neither would washing powder or the oily sweat of a night terror. Sitting, his back against the tree, holding his rifle, barrel aloft; the rest of his guns and knives stowed underneath him in an earthen pit reinforced with slats of old barn lumber salvaged over time, camouflaged so well that it was undiscernible as ground scrub. He built it over the past two years, a place to keep his hunting equipment and rustic gear on those long nights spent away from Deidra – an elision, an escape from routine posing as a fake- normal man, clawing through a fraud-normal existence in abnormal circumstance punctuated, linear, prevarication. Since her cancer returned, he spent far less time out here; sometimes he came out for a few hours in the day while she was working, just to smell the open woods, listen to small sounds of twee night creatures, squirrels, field-mice, wild dogs, birds, hawks or anything imminently more trustworthy than any human being. He kept his hunting license current in  rarest chance a Game Warden happened upon his makeshift stand out in this desolate stand of trees;  he rarely discharged his firearm. He usually kept his rifle un-loaded. A six-pack of Budweiser, a few joints, a couple juice-boxes and cinnamon graham crackers could hold him for 12 hours if necessary, not that he had any real appetite on this, his last twilight on Earth. He smoked a lot more weed now, since the V.A. stopped his meds because he piss-tested positive for marijuana. Government policy. Weed and beer calmed his anxiety, eased his painful headaches – maybe not as succinctly as the oxycodone, Risperidone, Xanax, Ambien, Ativan – but at least he could get up and down his deer stand without nodding out or losing balance. At least he could feel – back when he was loaded on the V.A. cocktail, before Deidra’s cancer returned, he would leave for days at a time, would always bring a strap and buckle himself to the trunk of the oak in case he passed out while perched above terra firma. The silence of the woods eased the pain in his head and the metal plate they used to rebuild his skull. The alloy didn’t vibrate or hum as badly as it did around the city –all the cars, televisions, buses, street-lamps and radios. Worst of all, he hated supermarkets. The lard cans, mush vegetables, scented deodorant soaps and candy all vibrated with the same frequency of the florescent lights. Reverse magnets. He could never focus for more than five minutes at a time. It drove him batshit. How do you explain to a V.A. shrink or a civie or your wife that you could smell and taste light? That you can hear skin? That computers and cell-phones made your skin itch like poison ivy? Beer and weed, clamped jaw and solitary hours were enough. They slowed the static hum to a passive trill. He decided long ago that he would die here when the time came. And he was here waiting for that one last sure sign that this was the moment. Maybe a hawk would circle and sound, maybe the cicadas would speak directly to him. Maybe the ghost of his parents. Maybe the ghosts of his interpreter Mazzo, Wally-O and Frany and Paunter. Hale Brook – war hero, vibrating. Magnetized. This was the night he would reflect ALL. This was the night he would review every scintilla of eidetic fear, love, anguish, pride, terror, brutality and gentle flora –the way his new shoes smelled when he was ten years old, the jack-knife Uncle Terry gave him, the teachers who spanked him, the horse that threw him, the fish he caught gutted ate. The hot orange Georgia sun slaking the salt from his skin, and the breeze after a rain that came in answer to a prayer. The scent of his wife’s skin after sex, the taste of her lips and her concupiscent breath. Also, her breasts, her stomach flat, heaving from the remains of culpable lust. DEIDRA- MY TECMESSA. Scars. Ribs. Also, his beloved dog, Commotion, a funny-ass mixture of hunting breeds, a cur with razor sharp ears and a four-mile nose, kept everyone awake all night, baying at the moon-shadows, deep into the night, hearing and sensing phantoms only dogs can understand. Commotion taught him everything about the stillness between bays, barks and whimpers – because it was in those fleet moments life was an enveloping breath, a wise silent and recondite symphony, a tease from beyond the grave that we all share just by blinking, chasing blood, shitting, laughing, touching wet air, breathing out.

Those fake people. Their guns. Their clubs. Their pretension.

None of them will ever know how close he came. Slaughter them all.

Their cows. Their sheep. Their dogs, concubines and horses.

One. Last. Time. I. Am. Ajax.

When all this was done he would whisper his love for Deidra, ask her forgiveness for his cowardice, my dearest Tecmessa; the Lord’s forgiveness for murdering his fellow man on orders of a malicious corrupt government, the creatures he killed to assuage his appetite, offer the gift his remains to carrion crows and fishing worms, stick the barrel of his rifle in his mouth and pull the silence right out of the first gentle morning star.

My dearest Tecmessa, forgive me.

It’s better this way.Abstract1

Thrip’s Sermon

Dear God, I stand here before you, shoulders hunched, a rack of bones grappling sin everlasting. Reciting chapter and verse. Make my heart contrite, Oh Lord. Maketh me drown in the still waters.

Passionate, dedicated, correct, soulful and attired in clunky → Awkward puce.

And our children, having been beautifully born, begin to ripen and die slowly before our eyes. They osculate, perpetrate an unnecessary discalced pink rabble, unable to hesitate or move forward without base sustenance regurgitating rote glory. Bought and sold dancing in tandem sung in a happy thundering hundreds, bringing twee jingle music to accompany the restless slaughter of human-cousinkind. Pithy. Oozing.

To some, a reward. Toast and jam. To others, pestilence and worms. I doubt The Supreme Creator is much more than a spent deity with a nearly empty bourbon bottle, tending a roulette wheel, his only begotten Son a 2000 year old blind piano player, nimble still, with only the black keys to pixilate.

Fact → Flat the third and you are left with the unknowable blues.

Hungry congregations. Eyes shining with purpose. Passing aghast.

A meme. A black and white photo of death-by-other. Tears. Emaciated, ribs clearly visible. Palm out-stretched, pooling acid rain. Be humble. Have gratitude. 

Or simply eat, sleep, fuck, shit and respect the repeating pattern of a wallpaper horizon.

Be genuine.

The conductor will be along directly to punch your gnarly ticket.

And yer little dog too.

Excerpt from upcoming novel: THRIP by J.D. Brayton

THRIPIG1

Friday. It was to be a day of doctors with prognoses; some good, some less than optimistic.

Deidra Brook sat in the waiting room holding hands with Hale at the Stropshrift Cancer Center waiting for her doctor to call her back. Before she stepped through the door, she knew that the results from the tests were not good. Her body told her so. Her bones spoke to her at night.

She moved closer to his ear and half-whispered; “Hale honey: now you did remember to tell the folks at the V.A. that you don’t want any more of the Ativan.  It makes you feel wrong all day,” She squeezed his hand twice to get his attention. He had been staring at the ceiling instead of the other patients sitting across from them – his way of being polite. A fluorescent bulb was flickering out of phase. She could tell it was starting to drive him crazy.

“You assume anyone ever listens over there.”

“One would hope.”

“Yuh, hope is what we need more of darlin’”

“You shouldn’t drink with it.”

“A beer or two ain’t a thing.”

Deidra decided to drop it, this was not the place to rekindle arguments about mixing his anxiety meds with alcohol. Never went well. He always gives a flip answer, clams right up. Be lucky to speak the rest of the day. She tried to stay positive before trips to the V.A. office in Columbus, a two-hour drive. It was the nearest facility capable of serving combat Vets suffering from P.T.S.D. and traumatic brain injury. It took up an entire day to travel just to be seen by a doctor or case-worker. The backlog was purely shameful. Deidra and Hale decided to make a full day of it, a Friday date to kick off a long weekend – first the Cancer Center, lunch on the road to Columbus, then the V.A. where the wait could be three hours.

As long as we’re together, he’ll be alright. On the way back we’ll stop at the Rib Shack.  Fresh Hush Puppies. Warm cornbread.

That always cheers him up.

“Yuh think I could reach that fixture if I stood on this chair?”

“They have janitors for that sort of thing, Hale.”

      He sat there a few more minutes. He still had the Gun and Ammo magazine he’d picked up from the stack on the table when they first arrived; hadn’t even opened it.  In an effort to make the waiting room more cheerful, someone painted a scene of pus green trees and bile yellow flowers being carried aloft by peace doves that resembled clumsy duck-chickens. There was a message of hope rendered above in a neo-biblical version of calligraphy.

GOD’S PLANS ARE BETTER THAN  OUR OWN PETTY CONTRIVANCES

   Deidra always had to force herself not to laugh. The script was barely readable. A cynical sense of humor seemed out of place in a cancer treatment facility; mordant humor, part of her secret nature, amplified now by her esoteric correspondences with Thrip, made her see suffering less as a result of the grueling courses of chemo, but of good intentions of those trying to soften the blow by hiding their personal relief that it was your suffering, not theirs. Kindness offered up by endless guilt pie, baked sugar shame cookies, bargained bible quotes and penurious art. It was an extreme sense of personal ascesis keeping her from tumbling off the precipice of humility and mocking the absurdity. Ah, the shambolic and well-intentioned candy-stripers of humanity. They are just trying their best to help me die with a smile on my face.

   “Well, hell…let’s see…”

   “Hale! Don’t you dare!”

   Hale broke free of her grip, pulled the chipped waiting room chair with into the middle of the floor and stood on it at full height, arm outstretched, hiking himself the few inches higher by putting his boot on the arm rest, trying to reach the receptacle with the improperly cycling bulb.

“Hale, you get down this instant!” hissed Deidra, trying not to laugh at his random acrobatics. He was being comedic- the quiet clown, the dry practical joker. He is so rarely like this anymore. Falluja baked the childishness right out of him. Madcap veniality – the very character trait she loved most of all about him, practically nonexistent since coming home, being wounded. If anyone could pull off harmless dead-panning, it was Hale. Before he went to war. Before the plate in his head caused the massive migraines. Before he went dust devil.

   “Al-most… got… it…” He was straining more than necessary just to crack her up. He tilted his head and grit his teeth like a charging boar. His face was turning red and the veins in his neck bulging out with his piercing blue eyes. The other patients in the room weren’t sure whether to laugh, offer to help or call security. They sat and looked up at Hale who had pulled an ink-pen from his pocket, adding the two inches necessary to reach the light cover, began to pry it upwards.

   “Sir? Sir! Can I help you? What chawl doing?” A receptionist with a blonde puffed out helmet hair-doo stood holding a clipboard looking up at him. He paused and looked down on her. Clearly, she wasn’t amused. He looks at her, wide eyes; mocks her rural Jawja accent.

   “This’n blankin’ light is fitt’n to make me fall faward in an epilepsy. Yawl gotta taller ink-peen?”

   “No, no, no…please don’t worry. Yawl get down please. I’ll call the building engineer directly. It woont dyew for yawl to get bad hurt doing sometheen that ain’t your job.”

   He stares back. “Too late.” He says, cryptically.

   “Sir, yawl please get down. Insurance regulations, you understand?”

   Hale smiled slightly, put away his ink pen, got down off the chair and pushed it back into place, right next to Deidra, whose eyes were beginning to tear up from repressed laughter. He sits back down, splays both feet out like a drunk on a prison bench, resumes his staring at the blinking bulb.

“Never volunteer for anything.”

 

Excerpt from EYE SKIN-

dscf0040~ * ~

The face, without question, her face. Small, puckish, beautiful—small sparkling eyes of new genius, love, brown like Africa. In her pupils his reflection; himself within a sphere, they created, co-joined and …perfect. A chocolate doll. Milk awaits, sugar succumbs. Tiny hands, palms outstretched, gesturing—the faintest of life-lines melting into warm rays of magnolia sun. The smell of her. The smell of her. The smell of them both together like warm rich cloying honey dripping off rose petals and jasmine cake- my loves, my loves. She has a Polaroid. Here Daddy. Thank You Precious. She took it herself, John—Africa’s voice from beyond the Soul Kitchen. She has a dozen to show you. They are all of people you’ve butchered and left as shadows. Here’s one of a Christmas tree, Daddy— because it wasn’t all bad. How can an infant speak so? Fresh cornbread anyone? Africa stands holding a pan of fresh steaming ocher, the bottom of the pan red-hot, supporting the treat without burning her hands. I’m not hungry, Affie…I’m starving… but nothing can go down my throat because I reckon…all… I’ll… do is… choke. Oh John, she says —Choking to survive is the story of our lives. Africa smiles, lifts the pan of cornbread above her shoulder with one hand. Baa-Baa black sheep sings half baby whitebread— Speak. John. Daddy…with straight hair. Reckon. You. Should. Have. Fought. Harder. John. In a blaze blue white star flash she the Baby-Mama smashes the pan of hot southern confection against his face. HARD. So HARD. HARDER than any one pan could impossibly smash. Pain. And good-bye.

The Taphophile Chronicles #5- The Frasers

Rock 7 ages childhood

The Frasers-

The Husband and Wife Sculptors of Rock Creek Cemetery

James Earle Fraser  –Frederick Keep Monument. 1920

Laura Gardin Fraser Hitt Memorial, 1931

 

The world renown sculptor James Earle Fraser, and his wife, Laura Gardin Fraser, a great sculptor in her own right, are an interesting study in how marriage and the arts can co-exist and even flourish in the spirit of collaboration.

James Earle Fraser was a student of Augustus Saint Gaudens; his best known works in Washington, D.C. are:

  • “Music & Harvest” “Aspiration & Literature”(The Arts of Peace) – on the Arlington Memorial Bridge.
  • The John Ericsson Memorial, in East Potomac Park near The Lincoln Memorial- comemorating the Swedish-American inventor of the screw-type propellor and designer of the USS Monitor Iron ship.
  • The Alexander Hamilton statue at the Commerce Department.
  • The Second Division Memorial, The Ellipse.
  • The Robert Todd Lincoln sarcophagus in Arlington Cemetery and a score more installations in the National Capitol area.

His best known sculpture-The End Of The Trail-an evocative and graceful statue of a Native American brave slouched on horseback wearied by war and loss, holding a battle lance is one of the most copied pieces of “Western Frontier” art. Fraser himself complained that he should have gotten a copyright on the image, as everyone who used it for calendars and reproductions have made more money off this work than he ever did. Still, if counterfeit exposure is any corelation to the axiom ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’— this piece serves as an illustration. Because of wartime scarcity of bronze this great piece was never actually cast from the plaster in Fraser’s lifetime. It began to degrade and was saved and is now being preserved and exhibited in the entrance of the Oklahoma Museum.

Fraser’s famous design of the so-called ‘Indian Head-Buffalo Nickel’ is iconic. Fraser’s father—an executive in the trans-continental railroad—was one of the party sent to The Black Hills of Dakota to find and bury the remains of George Armstrong Custer’s 7th calvary after the military disaster at the Little Big Horn. Fraser was exposed to the terrible consequences of the Native American wars, as his art illustrated.  This great drama still remains unresolved, if not largely forgotten, in the history taught in the United States today.

His internship to Augustus Saint Gaudens is yet another example of how a pupil can flourish and indeed stand shoulder to shoulder with a former mentor. Augustus Saint Gaudens (sculptor of the Adams Memorial in Rock Creek Cemetery) was so sought after that he couldn’t fill all his orders or requests— hence all the commissions he was unable to complete he handed to James E. Fraser, his brightest pupil.

Laura Gardin Fraser was James Fraser’s student at The Art Students League in New York City, where they met and later married. All great artists have mentors – in this case the love, talent and mutual respect grew into a lifelong love and commitment to the art of neo-classical sculpture. She gained much, both by her time as Fraser’s student, and by Augustus Saint Gauden’s mentorship. Their marriage was indeed a mutual collaboration, though James E. Fraser may have attained greater stature in the decidedly male dominated world, Laura worked as an artist worthy of respect and and merit. The Frasers remained a truly great creative couple for life. By the efforts of Laura Gardin Fraser, and the many great female sculptors and artists of the late 19th and early 20th century, the social barriers have all but been eliminated in the world of art—where true equality has always been at the avant-gaarde of  history.

 

 

 

Scenes from STORMY-The Movie

treefrogpillow1

(Pan Camera- interior, luxury suite-soft focus slowly sharpens.)

“Where are your tax returns, honey?” she whispered in his ear, slowly, suggestively, while spanking him with a Forbes magazine. He tittered like a little boy, wiggling his bum in pleasure. In the background-We Are Family played on the cassette player, smothered with chicken grease. Outside, a crow romps with a tattered golf ball in its beak, mocking a fat beached dispirited gator, prostrate on the green lawn, belly full of discarded prophylactic wrappers, moaning reflexively like a beached Republican at sunset. A swarthy Mexican waiter hides beside a dumpster, smoking a cigarette, humming a snippet of the ‘Battle Hymn Of The Republic’, scratching his nuts. The Florida sky above, straight across to the horizon, looks like a melted box of crayons. A tree full of exhausted Mockingbirds, fighting sleep, observe the dying gator on the chemical lawn, weighing the benefits of flesh—eating, warbling the words Mar-A-Lago, Mar-A-Lago. The waiter flicks his cigarette onto the parking lot, the sparks explode into a blue-collar fireworks display. 10 miles distant, The Everglades are still in flames. The waiter pushes an audible poot, smiles with sullen pleasure, and returns to the hot, steaming sink full of political germs, and diplomatic bacteria.

No one has signed the paychecks. The spoons remain unwashed.

Stormy-The Movie) End Credits-voice over.

Another Dreamer hoping for a spare piece of chocolate cake in the land of the Free, Home of the Brave.

Walk-Out Music- The Doobies- Jesus Is Just Alright With Me.

The Taphophile Chronicles # 4 Vinnie Ream- Lincoln’s Sculptor

vrlbust

Lavinia Ellen Ream (Vinnie Ream) (1847–1914), whose work in Rock Creek cemetery is represented by her Edwin B. Hay Monument, (completed in 1906), was a sculptor of rare distinction in the history of Washington,D.C.

She was the first (and youngest) female sculptor to be awarded a $10,000.00 commission by an act of congress—chosen at the age of 18 to complete a full size marble statue of President Abraham Lincoln. There was a good deal of grumbling by many in power that such a young inexperienced girl did not deserve such a prestigious commission. It was rumored that the president’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, strongly disapproved of Vinnie Ream— one look at Vinnie’s photograph may give a clue as to the true reason for Mrs. Lincoln’s motives in criticizing the young and beautiful artist. It was said that Lincoln was not enthusiastic about sitting for Vinnie, or any other artist, until he heard of her humble beginnings in a frontier cabin in Wisconsin. Lincoln decided, based on their shared origins in poverty, to give the young artist a chance. Lincoln sat for Vinnie for several months in 1864 for a half hour daily as she worked on the clay bust of the great man. She mentioned to her friends that being in such close proximity to Lincoln for all those hours helped her capture the emotion in his face and the weight of his duties in his posture. Her bust would become a life-sized statue after Lincoln’s assassination. In 1865 Vinnie was given the clothing that Lincoln wore the night of his assassination so that her likeness of the martyred president could be portrayed as accurately as possible.

Vinnie Ream’s story is an inspiration to women, past and present. Born in a tiny cabin near the frontier town of Madison Wisconsin, her parents ran a stagecoach stop, and later one of the first hotels in town. Her father was a surveyor and civil servant. In 1861 the Ream family moved to Washington to take advantage of the many positions available at the start of the Civil War. Vinnie was only a teenager when she became the first woman to be hired by the Federal Government, as a clerk in the Dead Letter Office, in the main post office in Washington, D.C. She held that position from 1861 until 1866. She met several congressmen and civil servants while employed there, and by happenstance, met a sculptor named Clark Mills as she accompanied Missouri Congressman James Rollins on a tour of sculptor’s studios in the city. She showed such promise as an artist and sculptor that Mills agreed to take her on as an apprentice. Her energy, talent, and coquettish demeanor won her support of the many political figures and congressman. She created medallions and statues of many important people and it was this support and acclaim that gained her access to the White House.

Vinnie Ream became one of the most famous women in America in January 1871, when her life-sized statue of Lincoln was unveiled in United States Capitol. She was only 23 years old. She had spent two years in Rome turning her plaster model of Abraham Lincoln into an exquisite work of pure Cararra marble. While in Rome, she also completed a bust of the composer Franz Liszt. Her career as a sculptor and demand for her work caused her to quit her job in the Dead Letter Office to work as an artist full time. She received a commission for $20,000.00 to create a bronze statue for Admiral David Farragut— the first U.S. Naval Officer monument—which is now in Farragut Square in the District of Columbia. She used bronze from the propeller of Farragut’s ship for his statue.

Other famous persons who had medallions and busts made by Vinnie Reams were General Ulysses Grant, General Custer, General George McClellan, Fredrick Douglas, General Frémont; Senator Sherman, Peter Cooper, Ezra Cornell, and Horace Greeley.

She continued to work until her marriage to Lieutenant Richard Leveridge Hoxie who was stationed in the capitol in the United States army. He was an officer in the Engineer corps, and later became a Brigadier General and an expert in constructing military fortifications. She stopped work as an artist after marrying Hoxie, had a son and lived as a popular Washington hostess for many years. Eventually, she came out of retirement and resumed her work as an artist— Her last work was designing a full-size statue of the Cherokee chief Sequoyah, the first statue of a Native American to be placed in the Statuary Hall at the Capitol Building. Ream died in 1914 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery at Section South, site Lot 1876, with her husband and his second wife.

A list of the work of this prolific, beautiful and gifted sculptor can be viewed here:

http://vinnieream.com/referenc.htm

http://vinnieream.com/index.htm

 

The Taphophile Chronicles #3 -GUTZON BORGLUM

Gutzon Borglum- Enigmatic Sculptor of Mountains

How could an artist responsible for two of the most iconic and massive works of art also be a member of the K.K.K.? His mountain sculptures at Stone Mountain and Mt. Rushmore are achievements worthy of the same timelessness as the pyramids or Stonehenge when considering the possibility that once our civilization has been all but forgotten- these images will be forever carved into the mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota and the granite of Stone Mountain, Georgia. Gutzon Borglum is a study in the dichotomy of human contradiction and understanding; as in all things human, there is more to the story of this irrascable genius who pioneered the procedures and concepts of engineering necessary to accomplish such an amazing work of art and the mastering of  two mountains that will ultimately trancend time.

Gutzon Borglum (March 25, 1867 – March 6, 1941) and his younger brother, Solon, also a sculptor of renown, were born to Danish immigrants in Idaho Territory. Gutzon’s early experiences with horses made him a master of equine sculpture. He is represented in Washington, D.C. by a magnificent sculpture of General Phillip Sheridan placed in Sheridan Circle (Mass. Ave and 23rd St N.W. W.D.C.). Borglum was understandably quite proud of the statue— he had beaten a score of better known sculptors and won the commission. Teddy Roosevelt declared it a masterpiece; but it was his giant sculpture of Lincoln’s head—now in the Capitol Rotunda, that led him –ironically- to his first mountain. The Atlanta Chapter of the Daughters Of The Confederacy contacted Borglum and offered him a challenge never before attempted in the United States or Europe. The proposition was this: come to Georgia to the Stone Mountain and figure out how to carve a sheer granite cliff and adorn it with the portraits of Gereral Robert E. Lee, General “Stonewall” Jackson, and President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. The Daughters Of The Confederacy had less than two thousand dollars to offer, (minus Borglum’s travel expenses to Atlanta from his home in Stamford Connecticut.) The first meeting did not go well.

Borglum summarily dashed the hopes of the DOC by declaring that a 20 ft. head of Gen. Robert E. Lee would look like “a postage stamp on a barn door.” Seeing that he had deeply disappointed the committee he relented and asked for 3 more days to reconsider the mountain before giving his final answer.

A quote by Borglum, upon his first trip to Stone Mountain to consider the project of The Confederate Memorial.:

‘The thought of drawing upon its face was linked with a terror I think all men must feel who are about to do something which probably will destroy them.’

With the invaluable assistance of J.G. Tucker, his fearless assistant, his crew of brave African-American workers— and the equally fearless Cliff Davis, his explosives expert— Gutzon Borglum began an engineering marvel that had never been attempted in North America. (It must be noted that not one life was lost in this endeavor.) Borglum, Tucker and Cliff laid out and completed the head of Robert E. Lee and much of T.J.“Stonewall” Jackson’s head until a 4 -foot fissure in the otherwise perfect granite face was discovered precisely where Thomas J. Jackson’s nose would be carved. Borglum hastily reworked the granite face and began the needed revision.

The monument was not to be completed, reportedly due to a mounting corruption within the DOC committee; accusations of pilfering from the massive influx of funds  raised by the sale of a commemorative coin minted halted the project — it got ugly-before taking flight with his assistant, J.G. Tucker to avoid being jailed for a trumped up charge of felony- Borglum smashed his model—not out of spite, but because he knew any sculptor who replaced him would refer to the model and carve Stonewall Jackson’s nose over the fissure and ultimately destroy either the granite face or his sculpture.

The entire debacle is chronicled by author Gerald W. Johnson in his book about The Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial – The Undefeated published in 1927—

‘WHETHER or not Borglum could ever have interpreted this dream in stone, can only be conjectured. It is to be assumed that he would have failed in part, for the artist never lived who made his work as great as his dream. As long as the spirit is greater than the flesh, every masterpiece must be a partial failure in that it does not, and can not, express all that the artist felt. But when an artist goes further toward expressing his dream than others have succeeded in going, that artist becomes from our point of view a master, although he may be far indeed from mastering his ideal.’

~ Gerald W. Johnson

As to the undeniable fact that Borglum was an avowed white supremacist and member of The Ku Klux Klan: his business connections and the funds raised within such an organization at this time in American history seemed entirely justified in his world view. The K.K.K. was becoming increasingly powerful in American politics, reaching an apex with the shameful display of August 9, 1925 when 30,000 members marched down Pennsylvania Ave. in the nation’s capital. This is particularly shameful and ironic considering most of the brave men who labored faithfully and courageously to sculpt this granite mountain were African American.

It must be assumed, therefore, that genius- no matter how audacious and formidable- is by no means synonymous with perfection, or morality.

Borglum and his son, Lincoln, began work on Mt. Rushmore in 1927. It was completed by Lincoln Borglum after his father’s death in 1941. One of the most comprehensive books on the man and his projects is: Great White Fathers: The True Story of Gutzon Borglum and His Obsessive Quest to Create the Mt. Rushmore National Monument-by John Taliaferro.

Borglum has several sculptures on display in Washington, D.C.- his sculpture- Rabboni was created as a grave site for the Ffoulke family at Rock Creek Cemetery.

Rock Creek RABBONI G BORGLUM1

 

The Taphophile Chronicles #2: Rock Creek Cemetery

DSCF0054

Rock Creek Cemetery

On September 18, 1719, Colonel John Bradford, a Maryland planter donated a glebe-or approximately 100 acres- to the St. Paul’s Church vestry.  The chapel and surrounding land became the Rock Creek Cemetery. This is probably one the most beautiful and compelling cemeteries in what would soon become the District of Columbia. An Act of Congress in 1840 established the cemetery as a public burial place, and since that time The Rock Creek Cemetery has become the final resting place for many of the famous people who shaped the political, social and business history of the United States.

Situated at Rock Creek Church Rd and Webster St. NW and bordered by New Hampshire Avenue to the East; The Rock Creek Cemetery is also not far from President Abraham Lincoln’s retreat home located on the grounds of the Soldier’s Home just south down North Capitol Street, NW.

Such luminaries as Abraham Baldwin (Signer of the U.S. Constitution), Montgomery Blair (Postmaster General in Lincoln’s Cabinet), Charles Corby (Baking Innovator “Wonderbread”), Julius Garfinckel (Founder, Garfinckel’s Department Store), Gilbert H. Grosvenor (Chairman, National Geographic Society), Patricia Roberts Harris (Secretary Health/Human Services in Carter’s Cabinet) Alice Roosevelt Longworth (President’s Daughter), George Washington Riggs (Founder of Riggs Bank), Harlon Fiske Stone (Chief Justice of the U.S.), and Sumner Welles (Under Secretary of State for FDR). 

The writer Gore Vidal, a long- time resident of Washington, DC, has had a plot purchased and monument placed for him by his long—time companion Howard Austen. Austen died in November 2003 and, in February 2005, was buried in Rock Creek cemetery. When the author Gore Vidal died on July 31st, 2012, his resting place was assured.  

Visitors frequent sculptures, such as the Adams Memorial by Augustus St. Gaudens, for it’s expressive and somber countenance. The sad story of Adam’s wife, Marian “Clover” Adams and her suicide are a part of Washington society lore. Henry Adams, the grandson of President John Quincy Adams, commissioned the bronze statue and had it placed on his beloved wife’s grave. Over the years the statue by Saint-Gaudens has incorrectly been referred to as  “Grief” by visitors and the press . Saint-Gaudens called it The Mystery of the Hereafter and The Peace of God that Passeth Understanding.

It is interesting to note that a famous statue that once was placed in Pikesville’s Druid Ridge Cemetery –also named Grief- was almost an exact copy of Saint-Gaudens statue by a sculpter named Eduard Pausch. Lawsuits and countersuits of the widow of Saint-Gaudens (who denounced at as a barbaric forgery) ensued and though the purchaser of the counterfeit bronze casting, Union General Felix Angus, won the lawsuit against Pausch the sculptor, he kept the statue in place. This counterfeit casting was named “Black Aggie” in popular Baltimore lore for it’s dark powers and tarnish by thrill seekers and frat boys who used the statue as a hazing rite. Over the years “Black Aggie” was imbued with mystical powers by the highly imaginative residents of Baltimore.  In 1967, after vandals had constantly defaced the statue, Black Aggie was moved to the courtyard of the Dolly Madison house at Madison and H st NW. (This story will be covered in a future column.)

Other incredible sites, such as the Kauffman Monument, known as The Seven Ages of Memory, the Sherwood Mausoleum Door, and the Thompson-Harding Monument are just a few of the examples of great and influential art that grace the gently rolling hills of this breath-taking landscape. A visit in Spring when all the trees and plants are flowering will be a memorable experience.

On August 12, 1977, Rock Creek Cemetery and the adjacent church grounds were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

  The Rock Creek Cemetery grounds are open to visitors daily. For more information please call:

(202) 829-0585.

The Taphophile Chronicles- 1. Places Of Repose

Rock 7 ages childhood

Places Of Repose

First a short explanation of the authors’ predilection for loitering in places that few visit voluntarily:

   Cemeteries have always had a strange sort of allure in human imagination. There is the schlock Hollywood version of cemeteries, the version that heightens our fears and exploits our confusion about the nature of death. There are the deeply personal places of eternal rest that have a better basis in reality, both inferred and emotional, to those of us who still exist.

   These places stand as a tangible testament of love, of remembrance and longing for those known lost and gone from us. Here also is a place to honor our ancestors and the great and small who made differences in our lives – even if indirectly. These graves and gravestones, by and through which we make our love and respect known, have marked the spots on earth we view as sacred by construct-  tangible monuments seem to express our collective helplessness in the face of the inevitable- and, strangely, the hope of avoiding of the condition of non-existence altogether.

   Oddly cemeteries are the only place where Cemetery Humor is considered to be of questionable taste. The deceased father of one of my best friends had a marker placed that reads:

“ THIS IS BORING”

He wasn’t the brooding type of Hibernian.

   Cemeteries are a place of contemplation, reflection and peace. They are a physical reminder of those who came before us, and a reminder of that which inevitably awaits us all regardless of fame, creed, deed and self-image. Cemeteries are the physical affirmation of the great Mystery.

   Upside: cemeteries are one of the only places where one might openly have extended conversations with the dearly Departed. Even Psychiatrists approve of this activity…but only on a limited time basis.

   Cemeteries, and the monuments erected to the dearest departed, are a primal affirmation of the final equality of all human beings. In life it is important to affirm the things that set us apart as individuals- but Death is a sort of biological democracy, where-upon, after a lifetime of conjecture, debate, opinions and votes, none of your bargaining will matter. King, Queen, Hilton or Crack addict- your inevitable end will come. Corruptible flesh to dust shall return.

(Amen, baby.)

   After all: Death is nature’s way of ‘REPURPOSING’ humanity. (Purpose– now there’s a philosophical conundrum to consider standing in the shadow of a bier.)

   Cemeteries define the primal need to mark the spot of love, grief, deep loss, and in the context of erected monuments of marble and polished stone, our  last token of respect for a life lost, and a focus for the contemplation of a silence that somehow takes us all by surprise, no matter how forewarned we may be.

   These gardens of stone are, to the historian, to the bereaved, the philosopher and the poet- quite indispensable. They are also a nice quiet place to eat lunch, sit under a blooming magnolia tree, hide from the dispatcher and sketch in pencil. This is how I came to love cemeteries as a young man and hooky playing taxi driver- first in Miami, Florida- and later in Washington, DC.

   There is logic in this. Few taxi drivers are robbed in cemeteries. Few taxi drivers get walk-up fares in cemeteries. Few annoying dispatchers, road raging maniacs, or repressed skin-flint non-tipping passengers will follow you into a cemetery to harass you. Other than the whirring of a weed-whacker, or the steady drone of a lawnmower- there is silence. There is little to interrupt a train of thought. No one taps you on the shoulder to ask you for directions or spare change.

   I may be considered a bit eccentric by some, but rest assured, my dear reader- I am not a ghoul, a professional or obsessive mourner, clinically depressed(usually), in a Goth band or writing a spin -off of an Anne Rice novel. Lets be clear on one point- just because I love cemeteries doesn’t mean I’m in a hurry to take up permanent residence in one. And while we’re clarifying points let me add that I dislike the modern mall mentality of the “Memorial Garden” in which the slightly sunken bronze plaques facilitate the efficient mowing of the grass in what might be just as well a football field or Frisbee preserve. There is little drama in such places.  If this is the definition of Perpetual Care I prefer tall grass.

   ( BTW: It takes REAL skill to play Frisbee in a Victorian Cemetery. I speak from experience.)

   I will openly admit a fascination for cemetery and funerary rites and rituals. I am mesmerized by the architecture, and horticulture employed in cemeteries. I am fascinated by the individual stories of those buried and gone, who no longer have the ability to tell their own tales, but who leave clues in a few simple sentences chipped in stone or carved into elaborate mausoleums in the old-style graveyards. I am amazed at how one’s imagination can bestow attributes and empathy on a stone marker of a deceased person, unknown and unseen, and wonder at the characters who once walked, laughed, cursed, cried, spit, shat, prayed, sung, swum, procreated, sacrificed, begged, lied and cooked breakfast among us. Now they are merely names and dates chipped in granite for our assumed sense of security and universal order. Markers, some plain and forthright- others beautiful and sublime works of art stand only to be visited in cycles of longing by survivors, until they too become dates chipped in stone.

   These are places of faded glory. Simple lives. Great achievements. Broken hearts. Lives of duty and humility. Unfinished business. Raw ambition interrupted. Lives lost too soon. Those now perished who lived lives of grace, or lives of brutality, or in supreme sacrifice to mankind. Sometimes the aforementioned, having achieved all of these things and more in just a few years, will perish and by some strange twist of fate, having made massive changes to humanity, become re-known after death. Some markers are just too plaintively heartbreaking to recount- the stillborn, or infants lost- some with only a few days on Earth.

   For these reasons, by virtue of the persons of power and motivation who have lived and died here, Washington D.C.’s cemeteries are a subject of great immersion, study, and spiritual rubber-necking.

   Cemeteries are less about death than the way to live life. Cemeteries show how surely Spring will come and flowers can bloom, wrap around and crack cold granite, and tarnish polished bronze. Cemeteries teach you how not to waste time. Cemeteries are wisdom in stone.

There are stories here.