Webb Mausoleum


William Webb
June 19, 1816–October 30, 1899

William Henry Webb was a master shipbuilder whose clipper ships set speed records that still stand. He inherited his father’s shipbuilding business in 1840 and proceeded to turn the renamed William H. Webb Company into America’s most prolific shipyard, churning out 133 vessels from 1849 to 1865. So swift were his ships that one advertisement proclaimed, “Flying Craft for San Francisco, Now Up.” In 1853, he launched his last clipper ship, and his personal favorite, Young America, saying to the mate, “Take good care of her, mister, because after she’s gone, there will be no more like her.” She later set a Liverpool–San Francisco speed record for sailing. Fittingly, she did not end her life as a broken-down vessel sold for scrap; rather, Young America was lost at sea in 1886. Webb was realistic and saw steam and steel replacing sail and wood. To that end, he also built a number of steamboats and steamships. He liquidated his company after the close of the Civil War and busied himself with a number of philanthropic works. He used a considerable amount of his fortune to endow the Institute of Naval Architecture.

The Webb Mausoleum is one of those structures that defy coherent explanation. Viewing the bottom half of the structure, one could make a good case for Classical Revival. Its doubled Corinthian columns, the carvings above the door, and the door itself could have come straight from a Roman temple. But from the column capitals on up, the mausoleum begins to look quite different, like some sort of exotic confection rather than architecture.

The odd-looking dome, which seems to be melting and dripping over the edges, can be found on a number of other fanciful mausoleums throughout the country. It’s not hard to imagine this mausoleum appearing in the pages of Alice in Wonderland. All it needs is the White Rabbit with a watch and the Cheshire Cat with a smile.
Text and photo © Douglas Keister Visit Doug’s Author Page

[address cemetery=”The Woodlawn Cemetery” street=”East 233rd Street” city=”Bronx” state=”New York” zip=”10470″]

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