Pittsburgh Cemeteries

The Art and Architecture of Death

A New Address

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Lina B. Nickel mourner

A family plot of matching graves that is missing one important tenant, or at least the inscription for him.

Nickel family plot

Lina B. Nickel

Lina B. Nickel, who died in 1916 at the age of 29 or 30, is buried here under an inscription identifying her as “MY WIFE.” But the matching headstone is blank, suggesting that Mr. Nickel (whose name was almost certainly William; see below) is not buried here. A husband in mourning might think that of course he would never marry again and would be buried next to his late wife when he died, but a year or two or five go by, and he begins to take a more realistic view of the rest of his life. Or it is quite possible that the whole matching set was ordered when the two sons died in 1912.


A standard flower-dropping mourner. The wrists are always a weak point in this design.

William and John Nickel

Two young sons, William Jr. and John, died in 1912, very probably of the same childhood disease. From the name William Jr. we can deduce the father’s name.


This angel might also have been dropping flowers, as we can guess from its downward gaze and the eroded bouquet.

Face and wings

Hugh H. Wallace stump

A stump with scroll inscription marking the grave of a member of the Improved Order of Heptasophs, which probably entitled him to this stump.


Seiferth monument

A prominent granite monument in this German Lutheran cemetery. John and Elizabeth are identified as “Uncle” and “Aunt,” suggesting that they had no children of their own.


Hector McFadden tombstone

An unusually elaborate stone by a talented local artisan whose talents would soon be rendered irrelevant by the growth of a more centralized monument industry.

Who departed
this life Decr 12th
1834 aged 65

He was just
And honest
And a friend
To the poor.

No Christian could ask for a finer epitaph than that.

Robert Patterson tombstone

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:


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.

Nancy Marshall tombstone

Who died July 2nd 1833
aged 40 years
Her equal is gone before her but her superior will never follow as a WIFE MOTHER and FRIEND.

My flesh shall slumber in the ground,
Till the last trumpet’s joyful sound,
Then burst the chains with sweet surprise
And in my SAVIOURS image rise.

This epitaph is the last stanza of Isaac Watts’ metrical version of Psalm 17.

Old Pa Pitt took this picture on black-and-white film in 1999 with an Argus C3, which captured a very legible image in spite of strong backlighting.

Dreyfuss–Benswanger Monument

A particularly fine example of Art Deco as applied to cemetery monuments. It may date from 1931; that seems to be the earliest of several Dreyfuss burials marked by separate stones in front of the monument.

Frank-Klee Mausoleum

The extra width gives the mausoleum room for more inmates, but it does not seem to have been worked into the design well. It looks as though the Franks and Klees ordered a standard Doric temple, quite correct in its proportions, and then as an afterthought added wings.

The stained glass is very pretty.

Stained glass in the Frank-Klee mausoleum