A bronze monument unlike anything else old Pa Pitt has seen around here, and he suspects it may have been done by a craftsman more used to architectural ornamentation than to cemetery monuments. Whoever it was created a fine work, however, and the inscriptions are also good pieces of hand lettering.
Bertha Danielis 1880–1923 Alexander Danielis 1875–1949
Magdalen Melling died in 1909; Charles Melling died in 1919. This obelisk was probably put up when Magdalen died, or possibly before, since she was about 79 when she died (Charles died at about 93), and the Mellings might have ordered the obelisk in anticipation of the inevitable, as was common in those days. The monument is a standard pattern, but a tasteful one. There are four faces for inscriptions, none of them used; instead, Charles and Magdalen have headstones next to the obelisk.
Note Charles Melling’s monogram on the obelisk.
We also have an earlier picture of the Melling obelisk, showing the cross and anchor on the front.
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.
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:
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.
Many thanks to Lawrenceville historian James Wudarczyk for pointing out this monument and the story behind it.
A marble obelisk for a family of early settlers in the Chartiers Valley, where the family has taken full advantage of all the surfaces offered for inscription. The cemetery opened in 1861, so it is probable that family members who died before then have not been interred here, but are remembered here as part of family tradition.
Doubtless an armchair psychologist would have something to say about the attraction of big pointy things as a display of wealth. From a practical point of view, however, an obelisk is a very efficient—and, more importantly, traditional—way to achieve height. Finding the family plot in a large cemetery is not always easy, and a landmark like this helps a great deal.