Wednesday, December 17, 2008

not goth, gothic

Gothic Revival is the house style of Forest Hills Cemetery; its examples and influence multiply beyond computation. The main entrance itself consists of a gate rich with arches, encrusted with crenellations and acanthus ornaments (the vestibules at either end are restrooms).
The gothic theme continues with the rest of the framing architecture, including the headquarters building with its wonderful Forsyth Chapel (today the scene of poetry readings and concerts as well as memorial services). Primarily, though, it's found throughout the grounds in the form of imposing mausoleums and memorials like those below.

(In the background above, the cemetery's gothic belltower, which was chiming "How Great Thou Art" at the time I was shooting these pictures).

The Chadwick Mausoleum, above, was designed by William Preston for the Chadwicks, a family of lead magnates. Facing Lake Hibiscus, it's one of the most picturesque edifices in the cemetery. But the gothic building that first caught my eye is the pavilion below, which stands with pines and weeping beeches near the entrance gate.

The crypt itself reaches deep into the hillside, lit by domed skylights that pop out among the pine needles. The porch is ornately tiled, and roofed in wooden vaults:

The gothic style isn't only represented by crypts. The Carney family plot below makes for a churchyard's worth of gothic stones, with Andrew Carney's maiden-in-the-spire at the center:

Nor is the gothic restricted to brahmin magnates and benefactors; simple stones abound:

...and yes, that is an anchor on the grave above. Mother was no sailor; iconologists will tell you the anchor is a symbol of constancy and surety.

A survey of the gothic wouldn't be complete without mentioning the Irish or "high" crosses found throughout the grounds, relics of the Celtic revival that combined Ruskinian medievalism with Irish nationalist aspirations. Of the numerous cruciform stones in Forest Hills, these are among the most richly figured.

Why such a madness for the gothic at the end of the nineteenth century? It was part of the Arts & Crafts reaction against the machine, of course, harkening back to an imagined utopia of guilds and craftwork, of labor in harmony with life. Arch-goth John Ruskin championed the gothic because he thought it not only the product of harmonious labor, but an exercise in formal harmony as well—harmony with Nature, resonance with the Creator's ultimate plans. He especially celebrated the formal flexibility of the gothic—the way a pillar could uncurl itself into a staircase, or contract itself into a spire, thickening to bear weight and throwing out buttresses like the knees of great trees. An unintentionally Darwinian manner of seeing architecture, in a way—forms subtending forms in ceaseless cycles of change. Whether as theology or biology, it puts you in your place.

Ruskin would have choked at the profusion of styles in the Forest Hills Cemetery of today—not the archaic resonance of gothic plainchant reverberating on stone, but a polyphonic chorus of intertwining strains from the neoclassical to the neopuritanical, with hints of chinoiserie, modernity, and 21st-century sentimental evangelism. A tangle of forms—which is very gothic, actually.

1 comment:

'Whalehead' King said...

Really nice work. This boneyard is a little out of the way for me but when I'm feeling mortal in warmer weather, I try to make a visit. I was last there in autumn to take pictures of my motorcyle in front of the crypt you feature today as well as of Eugene O'Neil's grave which took me a long time to find. Then I finally located e.e. cummings' final resting place. Though I'm not a fan of his, the hunt was enjoyable.

Keep up this fine reportage. You are capturing the cemetery very nicely.