Pittsburgh Cemeteries

The Art and Architecture of Death

St. Clair Cemetery

Originally a churchyard where early settlers were buried, and worth visiting for their locally cut stones. Later it expanded (though it is still quite small) into something of a proper nineteenth-century cemetery, with family burial plots and elegant monuments.

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Wise monument

A typical zinc monument, as usual still almost as fresh as when it was installed—except that one panel is missing on one side, leaving the hollow interior open.

Henry shaft

If an illustrator wanted to draw a typical cemetery monument of the middle 1800s, it would look like this. Rich but not extravagantly ornate, these shafts were popular because they easily direct the family to the plot, and they have abundant surface for inscriptions, meaning that one expensive monument can take the place of any number of tombstones, an expense that adds up over the years as scarlet fever and cholera take their toll.

Unfortunately, the material—limestone or marble—erodes over the decades, so that the inscriptions become illegible after a while. Our readers are welcome to try their hands at reading the inscription for James M. Henry below, but poor old Pa Pitt gave up. The inscription may remember a child who was born in 1831 and died in 1837, but Father Pitt is not willing to stand by that reading.


Adamson monument

It is hard to pick a name for this style: it is almost machine-age modern, and it is both romantic and modernist in its deliberate break from any recognizable style of the past. The etched floral decorations soften what might otherwise be a forbiddingly severe composition.

Martha Boyd grave

Two women in the Boyd family were given these bed-like romantic graves; the one for Irene Boyd is grander and more ornate, but this one is perhaps in better taste.


Rear of the headstone

Irene Boyd grave

A particularly florid example of the romantic style that was popular in the middle 1800s. In its current state, it does not seem to have any dates for Irene Boyd: the name “Boyd” is on the back, and the name “Irene” on the front, with the rest of the stone given over to decorative elements. The footstone remembers a child, A. E. Boyd, who was born in 1855 and died in 1872.

A. E. Boyd

Inscription on the footstone.

Back of the Irene Boyd monument

The back of the headstone.

Irene Boyd grave

Elizabeth Henry tombstone

Broken but still mostly legible, except where the stone has flaked away toward the right. We are almost certain of the surname “Henry,” because the stone lies near several other members of the Henry family. Here is how we reconstruct the inscription:

Elizabeth Hen[ry]
who departed t[his life]
June 10th 1839 in t[he --]
Year of her a[ge.]

Esteemed Deaugh[ter,]
this silent grave
Love and respect [?]
shall ever have.

This epitaph, such as it is, seems to be an original composition; Father Pitt has not found it anywhere else on the Web. The spelling “deaughter” is not unusual for Western Pennsylvania tombstones.

Illegible monument

Old Pa Pitt hates to throw up his hands and declare a monument “illegible.” It is especially frustrating with this monument, where on one side he can read almost everything but the last name—John something, who died August 16, 1847. That date seems about right for this style of monument, which was quite fashionably artistic for its time. On another face is an even more eroded inscription for someone whose given name was Lizzie, and another name that Father Pitt has not been able to decipher. Perhaps in different light the inscriptions will become clear, and Father Pitt promises to update this article if he succeeds in reading them.

Illegible momnument

Gutbub monument

A typical Victorian shaft topped with equally typical shrouded urn. The name Gutbub is unusual, but we have run across it elsewhere: in Zion Cemetery, on a very similar (but not quite identical) monument. That family later changed its name to Goodboy, which is even more unusual.

A well-preserved tombstone in the “poster style,” as Father Pitt calls it, that was popular in the 1840s and 1850s. This one adds a very woodcutty weeping willow.

In memory of
Who departed this life
August 22, 1844
In the 51 Year
of his age

This eroded tombstone in the mid-nineteenth-century poster style is almost illegible most of the day; but if you catch it just as the sun is hitting at its most oblique angle, you can just about read the inscription.