Thomas Durant Mausoleum


Thomas Durant Mausoleum
February 26, 1820–October 5, 1885
Green-Wood Cemetery
Brooklyn, New York

Thomas Clark Durant’s mausoleum is slightly tucked into a hillside. A large granite door tells viewers that there is no need to linger, that there is no need to try to peek inside; the mausoleum’s interior is not viewable, not even a peephole view. It is an odd testament to an enthusiastic man who was a master of publicity.

Thomas Durant was born in Lee, Massachusetts. He went to Albany Medical School, obtained a degree, and served for a time as a professor of surgery. But he had his sights set on bigger things. After working for his uncle’s grain exporting company, he realized that there was a great need for a better transportation system that led him into the railroad industry.

He became embroiled in a lawsuit over the construction of a bridge, and hired a young attorney named Abraham Lincoln to defend him. That association became beneficial when Abraham Lincoln became president a few years later, and, in 1862, awarded Durant’s company the Union Pacific a major part of the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. Construction of the railroad was hampered by the Civil War but, never one to miss an opportunity to profit from other’s woes, Durant made a financial killing by smuggling in cotton from the Confederate States.

When railroad construction kicked into high gear after the Civil War, Durant staged a number of publicity events to draw attention to the project and to garner investors. The events culminated with Thomas Durant wielding the sledgehammer that drove the Golden Spike into its resting place at Promontory, Utah, finishing the Transcontinental Railway.

The mausoleum was not completed until almost three years after Durant’s death, and the interior is rarely seen. Rather than the standard utilitarian stone box with crypts, the mausoleum’s interior is an architectural gem. It sports polished granite columns, two rooms, three statues, and a high-relief frieze panel. Art critic Effie Brower, who seemed to have an opinion on most of Green-Wood’s monuments, commented on one of the statues holding a wine goblet in her book Greenwood Leaves, “What does it mean? . . . Can it be that he who lies beneath was a victim [of drinking] or was he saved by faith from the ‘cup.”

Text and copy © Douglas Keister Visit Doug’s Author Page

[address cemetery=”Green-Wood Cemetery” street=”500 25th St ” city=”Brooklyn” state=”New York” zip=”11232″]

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