Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Adams Memorial

Whereas yesterday's post featured a more joyful headstone at Rock Creek Cemetery, the site is known for a more solemn tribute, the Adams Memorial grave marker. American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens created this bronzed seated figure of a woman cloaked in cloth named The Mystery of the Hereafter and The Peace of God that Passeth Understanding. It was commissioned by historian and author Henry Adams -- a direct descendant of Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams -- as a memorial to his wife, Marian, who by died by completing suicide after suffering from depression following her father's passing.

I first came across this haunting sculpture at the Smithsonian American Art Museum which exhibits a replica of the statue. However, I was unprepared for the emotion of seeing it at Rock Creek. Even before learning the sad story behind its creation, I felt such melancholy reverberating from the memorial. In spite of Saint-Gaudens official title for the work, the gravestone understandably became known as Grief to spectators. At Rock Creek, the statue is seated in front of a granite block surrounded by large hedges and a granite bench. The design sets it apart from the other graves and envelops itself in sorrow. During my visit, I wondered if Adams commissioned the bench for his visits to his wife's grave. Since then, I've read that Adams spent the remaining three decades of his life traveling the world following his wife's death and probably spent little time in Rock Creek. Adams died at the age of 80 and is interred with Marian beneath this statue.

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