A Home After The Sunset

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The sun provides for us. Its rays shower us with warmth and allow for the plant and animal life on this planet to survive and to thrive. One person, in particular, credits the sun with his own success in life. Ron Rice, you see, is the founder of the Hawaiian Tropic brand of suntan lotions. And at age 75, he is preparing for the setting of the sun on this life he has led.

Just north of Daytona Beach, Florida is the community of Ormond Beach. It is in this small community that Rice has just completed the construction of his 6 crypt mausoleum for himself, his ex-wife, and his daughter. He explains the three additional crypts are reserved for any future grandchildren provided him by his daughter. 

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The Human Cost of Early Mausolea

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A story came to light earlier this week of a massive find of more than 10,000 skeletons in what is being called the “criminal tombs”, dating back to about 202 BC, during the Chinese Han Dynasty. The name given this macabre find refers to the fact that many of the skeletal remains are bound by shackles and fetters.

As explained at this week’s Symposium for Research on Hanyang Mausoleum and Han Culture, the many remains were of prisoners who had been forced to build the Hanyang Mausoleum, and the tomb where Hanjingdi Liu Qi (188 – 141 DC), the fourth emperor of the Western Han Dynasty, and his wife are buried. There had been reports of an archaeological find of many prisoners as far back as 1972, but that excavation was more than a mile from this most recent discovery. 

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Manhattan Almost Had an Owl Mausoleum on Skyline

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History is fascinating. Learning and researching people, structures, and events helps to bring a better understanding of the time that was. However, not all study of history is of things that came to be. Sometimes the more fascinating stories surround things that never were. One example of this was detailed in a very interesting article recently, involving a wealthy playboy, a philandering architect, and a 200-foot tall, hollowed owl mausoleum. Let us begin.

The story begins almost 110 years ago when, in an attempt to secure immortality, heir to the New York Herald publishing fortune James Bennett Gordon, Jr. commissioned the most sought after architect of the day, Stanford White, to design and build the home for his hereafter.

Mausolea have been constructed throughout time to memorialize the life of a famous individual or prominent family. Design of these structures typically follows a protocol of respectful understatement. Many mausolea incorporate elements of a particular time, be it early Egyptian, Etruscan Italy, or more modern design styles representative of later Anglo-Saxon elements. For this story, however, it is important to know that James Bennett Gordon, Jr. wanted a mausoleum unlike any other constructed before or since.

But who was James Bennett Gordon, Jr., and why would the construction of his mausoleum shock (but not surprise) the New York elite, whose circles he traveled within? To put it bluntly, James Bennett Gordon, Jr. was the original New York bad boy, known simply as “The Commodore”. One oft told story involved this eccentric playboy terrorizing the New York City streets in the middle of the night, commanding his horse drawn carriage at high speeds, all while displaying himself sans clothing. He was the early 20th Century example of privilege run amok.

He was not simply one to exist in New York City, either. His decisions and actions still are stamped on the city geography to this day. Just years before the world rang in the 1900s, Bennett decided his father’s paper, The New York Herald, no longer needed to print side-by-side to the other papers of the day in an area of the city known as “Newspaper Row”. He moved the paper further north and had constructed a new and ornate building bedecked with owls, a bird that apparently held a special place in the heart of Bennett. Though that building no longer exists, the area of Manhattan still does. Today, it is known as Herald Square. (And those owls, with their internally lit green eyes, are there as well.)

With owls in mind, Bennett commissioned White, whose architectural firm was behind the design and construction of many prominent New York City landmarks, such as the New York Public Library building, Columbia University, the second (and subsequent) Madison Square Gardens, and other iconic buildings, to create a mausoleum in the form of a 125-foot hollow owl, within which his sarcophagus would be suspended high above the ground, held by giant steel chains. The owl, perched atop a 75-foot pedestal, and built at one of the highest points on Manhattan would peer over the city at 465-feet above sea level. For comparison, the Statue of Liberty rises 305-feet above sea level. 

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Memorial Monument: An Investment In Self

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Each expenditure of capital, regardless of intent, is a form of investment. Business expenses are often an investment in innovation and progress. Charitable donation, a noble act which also provides a handsome tax deduction is, itself, an investment in humanity. Lastly, earmarking a modicum of your wealth in consideration of end-of-life and afterlife planning is an investment in your own and your family’s legacy.

Through history, monuments have been erected to commemorate important events, groups, and individuals. One’s first visit to our nation’s capital is an awe inspiring experience: traveling past the massive obelisk that is The Washington Monument or reflecting before the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a painstakingly crafted monument that stands as a testament to those soldiers who gave the last full measure of devotion. Monuments also dot the landscape of our nation’s cities and towns, recognizing city fathers and local heroes. There are also self-funded monuments by prominent members of prominent families who want to protect the family name while also seeking to ensure their individuality will forever be recognized.

The single best way to memorialize an important life is with the construction of a family mausoleum. Not only do certain unique and personal design implements herald the remarkable lives of the persons interred, but also the importance of the family name lives on in perpetuity.

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Accessorize, Accessorize

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Although there are a number of architectural and design styles differentiating mausoleums, designers add a little more pizzazz with architectural embellishments and statuary. The statuary can be inside or outside the mausoleum and, unlike mausoleums where granite is the preferred medium, statuary has a wide range of options.

Durable materials such as granite, marble, and bronze all have their attributes for mausoleum design and embellishment. Each material has its own intrinsic appeal, but the choice of material is essentially a matter of personal taste.

Marble, of course, has been long associated with classical ideals. Its inherent translucency exudes a depth not attainable with granite or bronze. It is also softer than granite or bronze and is easier to work with, especially when trying to simulate smooth human skin. But its softness is also a magnet for stains and the ravages of acid rain.

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