Granite Sculptures of Hope Cemetery
Once you're dead, will anyone remember you?
For most of us, our life's accomplishments dissipate even before we kick -- degrees and awards, careers and pursuits. Paper grows brittle, photos fade. Our web sites and blogs are only a hosting payment from oblivion.
The stone carvers of Barre, Vermont -- "Granite Capital of the World" -- don't worry about such things. For them, immortality is a job perk.
Most of the granite for America's headstones comes from this part of Vermont. The master artisans of Barre, many Italians who immigrated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, worked the Barre Gray granite blocks into poignant memorial designs. We've visited ostentatious examples in other parts of the country, such as the full-size Mercedes Benz in New Jersey.
Local cemeteries are models of memorial design, with custom figures, bas-reliefs and ornate crypts. The greatest concentration can be found in Barre, where many of the stone carvers and their families are buried.
Hope Cemetery, first opened in 1895, is 85-acres spread across a hillock of well-manicured grass. Despite the variety of memorial design, there is a uniformity not seen in other cemeteries. That's because every one of the 10,000+ monuments is made of Barre Gray granite.
The cemetery is a popular tourist destination, oft bundled with Rock of Ages quarry tours. Visitors can stroll the grounds and pay their respects to older sculptures, or ponder more contemporary works, such as an enigmatic cube balanced on one corner
Commissioning a custom monument is expensive, even if you're buddies with someone over at the stone carvers' shack -- hence, most of the Hope Cemetery gravestones are standard issue. But as you wander the grounds, you'll spot plenty of unusual monuments:
- One carving depicts William and Gwendolyn Halvosa sitting up in "marriage bed" in pajamas, holding hands, their tombs stretched out before them. Inscription: "Set me as a seal upon thine heart for love is strong as death" - Song of Solomon 8:6
- On the Giuseppe Donati stone, a bas-relief of a soldier smoking a cigarette; a portrait of his wife or girlfriend floats in a curl of smoke.
- A half-size replica of race car #61 celebrates local driver Joey Laquerre, Jr, who died in a 1991 snowmobile mishap.
- Hobbies of the dead are remembered, with a soccer ball, a relief of an older man on a motorcycle, a baseball player.
- A biplane banks on its way to Cloud Nine.
- A bay window of a home (that which one could not have in life?).
- Bas-relief of an 18-wheel truck.
- Carved family portrait based on a group snapshot.
- Bored Angel (aka "Sitting Angel"), the work of carver Louis Brusa, sits between columns, legs crossed, head balanced on chin, as if she's thinking: "C'mon -- die already!"
Brusa's own grave features a strange sculpture of "The Dying Man," slipping away, held by his wife. Brusa succumbed in 1937 to a common stone carver's ailment, silicosis, from a lifetime of sucking in airborne stone particles. Ventilation equipment added to the stone carving buildings in the mid-1930s eliminated the hazard.