Tag: Epitaphs

  • Bartley Campbell Monument, St. Mary’s Cemetery

    Bartley Campbell monument

    There are many obelisks with crosses in St. Mary’s Cemetery, but this one stands out for its remarkably dramatic epitaph. Bartley Campbell (1843–1888) was, by many accounts, the first American to make his living as a playwright. He was born in Pittsburgh, and began his writing career as a teenage reporter for Pittsburgh newspapers. But a tremendously successful play called Through Fire in 1871 gave him the courage to devote himself to drama exclusively.

    Campbell wrote plays perfectly adapted to the tastes of the middlebrow American public of the 1870s and 1880s—melodramas with sneering villains and virtuous heroines. He gained a national reputation writing for the theaters in Pittsburgh, and let that fact sink in and inspire our current crop of local dramatists.

    Of all his plays, by far the most famous was The White Slave, which was a theatrical staple for decades and still comes up as the premier example of Victorian melodrama. It has a perfect Campbell plot: a woman in the antebellum era is made to believe that she is an “octoroon”—that one of her great-grandparents was Black, so that she has an eighth African blood. By Southern laws, that makes her colored and a slave, and puts her at the mercy of the sneering villain.

    White Slave poster

    Here are the two most famous scenes from the play depicted on a poster. At the top, the heroine responds contemptuously to the villain’s threat to put her with the common slaves unless she consents to be his “favorite”: “Rags are royal raiment when worn for virtue’s sake.” It was one of the most remembered lines in nineteenth-century American theater. Below, the inevitable public shaming of the villain. And here is the epitaph on Campbell’s monument:

    Rags are royal raiment when worn for virtue’s sake

    Anyone strolling through this cemetery in the late 1800s would recognize that line at once, and gratefully say a prayer for Bartley Campbell.

    And how did making his living as a playwright work out for Campbell? He went insane from the stress of it and died in an asylum at the age of 43. So perhaps it was not quite time for American playwrights to give up their day jobs.

    Bartley Campbell monument

    Many thanks to Lawrenceville historian James Wudarczyk for pointing out this monument and the story behind it.

  • Robert Patterson Tombstone, Chartiers Hill Cemetery

    The letters are formed very well, but here (as in many other early-settler tombstones) we see that marking out the inscription in advance was not part of the stonecutter’s method. He runs out of space for the name of the deceased, and then again on the next line for the name of the town Canonsburgh (which we no longer spell with an H). He also left out the R in “MEMORY,” and the heading SACRED to the IN MEMOY OF is very decorative but grammatically nonsense.

    This transcription preserves the eccentric spelling of the original:

    to the

    Merchant of Canonsburgh
    Who departed this life
    January 31st A. D. 1833
    in the 29th year of his age

    He was a man of temperance and moral habits
    as a man of buissness he was unrivell’d
    as a friend he was truly candid and sincere
    as a husband and parent [he was] kind & affec[tionate]

    Father Pitt took this picture in 1999 with an Argus C3. The Chartiers Hill Cemetery is notable for interesting epitaphs.

  • McKee Shaft, Union Dale Cemetery

    McKee shaft

    A tall shaft topped by an urn. The very Victorian design includes elaborate monograms and ample space for inscriptions, but no inscriptions were ever engraved. Instead, the McKees have individual headstones around the monument. Eleanor McKee died in 1877, and that may be the date of the monument as well; but from the style old Pa Pitt might guess that it is later, perhaps from 1892, when Eleanor’s husband John, the family patriarch, was buried. They had two children who died before either of them. All the McKees were buried with sentimentally illiterate rhymed epitaphs. The worst is for Samuel Sterrett McKee, who was born in 1861 and died in 1868:


    Father Pitt counts two bad spellings and one grammatical error; he has given up the punctuation for lost.

  • Elizabeth Henry Tombstone, St. Clair Cemetery

    Elizabeth Henry tombstone

    Broken but still mostly legible, except where the stone has flaked away toward the right. We are almost certain of the surname “Henry,” because the stone lies near several other members of the Henry family. Here is how we reconstruct the inscription:

    Elizabeth Hen[ry]
    who departed t[his life]
    June 10th 1839 in t[he –]
    Year of her a[ge.]

    Esteemed Deaugh[ter,]
    this silent grave
    Love and respect [?]
    shall ever have.

    This epitaph, such as it is, seems to be an original composition; Father Pitt has not found it anywhere else on the Web. The spelling “deaughter” is not unusual for Western Pennsylvania tombstones.

  • Connor Monument, Bethel Cemetery

    A particularly splendid zinc shaft, well preserved even by zinc standards. This is Style no. 234 from the Monumental Bronze Company.