Dedicated in 1914, the St. Joseph City Mausoleum is Greek Renaissance Temple in style. Photo by Terri Gordon

Archived Story

Local Treks: A mausoleum’s past

Published 5:42pm Thursday, September 29, 2011

One of the seven wonders of the ancient world was the massive tomb of Persian King Mausolus. The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, as it was called, stood near what is now Bodrum, Turkey. The grave was so unique that all future monumental

Inside St. Joseph's mausoleum, two wings hold banks of vaults, while two shorter wings (not shown) house gated family alcoves. Stained-glass windows at the ends of each long wing feature lit torches turned upside-down. Photo by Terri Gordon

graves were called “mausolea.”
Around the turn of the 20th century, there was a great flourish of mausoleum building across the United States. The above-ground interment building was promoted as a “cleaner” and more dignified way to honor and “bury” the dead.  Many berths were pre-sold. A nice example of such a mausoleum can be found in the city cemetery in St. Joseph.
The mausoleum itself is in the Greek Renaissance Temple style, and its floor plan is “cruciform,” or cross-shaped. The mausoleum is constructed of sandstone blocks on the outside, and the interior walls and floor are finished with white marble.
Engraved into the walls are various scriptural passages. Also adorning the mausoleum — in sculpted concrete, and in its stained-glass windows — is the motif of the down-turned torch — a symbol used as a reminder of mortality. Engraved passages flank the outside doors — the 23rd Psalm to the south, and on the north, Proverbs 27:1, warning: “Boast not thyself of tomorrow for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.”
Former St. Joseph resident Fred L. Logan, who has family in the city mausoleum, compiled a history of the building in a book, “Saint Joseph Mausoleum: A Community Shrine.”     The building of the St. Joseph Mausoleum, as the engraving over the door reads, was started Sept. 15, 1913.
Less than one year later, on Sunday, Aug. 16, 1914 the building was dedicated. An account of the ceremony was printed in the Aug. 17, 1914 issue of the Saint Joseph Daily Press.
According to the excerpts in Logan’s book, “Despite the threatening skies, nearly 300 people congregated before the mausoleum to participate in the exercises.”  The ceremony opened with music, a scriptural reading and prayer.   Dr. D. D. Martin gave the address “couched in the typically flowery prose of the early 20th century.” In closing, Martin commended the mausoleum to “the care and keeping of the people of this community, and to their successors forever.”
Logan reports that Gary A. Van Zante, curator of the Southeastern Architectural Archive at Tulane University in New Orleans, after examining the historical materials on the mausoleum, said that the mausoleum is “unique due to its style, large capacity and many appointments.” He knows of no similar structure and “to duplicate the mausoleum today with the same degree of workmanship and materials would be nearly cost prohibitive.”
Engraving within cites the “faith” of J. O Wells, A. D. Kent Mrs. A. E. Graham, H. C. Ward, C. E. Hoag, E. Aber and W. A. Preston as making the mausoleum’s existence possible as “the better way of caring for the Beloved Dead.”
According to Logan, constructing the mausoleum cost $30,000.
In 1992, the city replaced the fragile, and failing, bronze-framed, stained glass doors with a modern door. The old doors were taken to the old Landmark building where they were stored in a back room, where they miraculously survived the burning down of the Landmark.
Unfortunately, the doors were in delicate condition, even in the protective environment. The “channels” of zinc between the glass panels had weakened over time and had been improperly repaired. Several of the clear glass background panels were broken, or had been poorly replaced. On the left door, the center design, a floral wreath and ribbon with a palm frond hanging down through the middle (representative of “memory”) needed several pieces of broken art glass replaced.
Not long ago, the local chapter of the Questers took it upon themselves to have the doors fixed. The fully restored doors can now be seen on permanent display at the Priscilla U. Byrns Heritage Center in St. Joseph, just inside the entrance to the library on the lower level.
A visit to the mausoleum itself is as easy as a visit to the city cemetery — though to go inside requires getting the key from City Hall first. The outside of the building is interesting on its own, and many old tombstones are scattered throughout the grounds. Signs also point the way to St. Joseph poet Ben King’s gravesite.
The mausoleum itself holds the remains of roughly 250.

The public is welcome to view the doors during normal operating hours. The Center is located at 708 Market St. in St. Joseph. For more information, call (269) 983-1191.

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