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White Bronze Cemetery Monuments














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Parker Family Plot

The Pittsfield Cemetery in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, has numerous monuments dating prior to 1900.  Many of the stones from this period are severely weathered and in many cases unreadable.  Lichen and moss cover some.  However, dotting Pittsfield Cemetery are some markers that have resisted the ravages of time.  They are a beautiful blue-grey color with the texture of granite.  The inscriptions are as clear and readable as the day they were produced.  Knock on one and you will be surprised.  They are hollow.  These amazing "stones" are metal.  They are made from what was then called white bronze, which was really a misnomer, as these monuments are made from pure zinc.

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Kendall Family Plot

M.A. Richardson is credited with inventing the means of creating these zinc monuments in 1873.  He soon took C.J. Willard as his partner in the endeavor.  Lacking funds, they contracted with William Walter Evans, who soon gave up and sold the rights to Wilson, Parsons and Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  The company was officially incorporated as the Monumental Bronze Company in 1879.  The company was located on the corner of Hallett and Barnum Streets until 1892, when it relocated into a large factory complex at Howard and Cherry Streets.

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The Monumental Bronze Company produced these monuments for just forty years, from 1874 to 1914.  Peak sales occurred in the late 1880s.  Subsidiaries were eventually opened in Detroit, Chicago, Des Moines, Philadelphia, St. Thomas, Canada, and perhaps New Orleans.  The subsidiaries did final assembly work.  Most, if not all of the original casting was done in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

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In its heyday, Monumental Bronze Company produced thousands of markers, custom effigies of the deceased, and stock statues of Faith, Hope, and Charity.  Hundreds of white bronze memorials featuring statues of Union or Confederate soldiers were erected in parks and town squares in over thirty US states.  World War One intervened and the government took over the factory to produce gun mounts and munitions. The entire supply of zinc was required for the war effort.  The Monumental Bronze Company never fully recovered after the war, though they continued to produce name panels well after they stopped producing the actual monuments.

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Bull Family Plot

To create a white bronze monument, artists first created wax models.  The markers used similar designs to those used for marble and granite monuments.  From the wax model, an exact copy in plaster was produced.  Finally, a sand mold was made to form the monuments.  The zinc castings were produced in pieces and fused together utilizing molten zinc at temperatures far beyond its melting point.  This process fused the pieces far better than simple soldering would have done.  The piece was then sandblasted and chemically oxidized to produce its granite appearance.  Over time, a thin protective skin of zinc carbonate develops which gives the monuments their characteristic color.  This naturally protective patina is the key to the long-term corrosion resistance of the monuments.

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Hemenway Family Plot

Custom name panels were produced and attached with screws with special ornamental heads. Stock panels were also available with inspirational quotes, various flowers, crosses, and other popular symbols and religious motifs.  The name panels could be replaced when additional members of the family died.

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Milliman Family Plot

Monumental Bronze Company produced most of their white bronze monuments in sizes from just a few inches tall to nearly fifteen feet high. Many are in the shape of a four sided pillar that gradually tapers in towards the top. The seams run vertically along the edges. The base is often finished to resemble rough rock. The family name is often found molded into the base.  An enormous white bronze is the Soldiers' Monument in Schoharie, New York's Old Stone Fort Cemetery.  It commemorates Jacob A. L. Fisher, a Union soldier, and at one time stood an incredible twenty-seven feet tall.

Click here to view the white bronze monument of Jacob A. L. Fisher

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Hemenway Family Plot

The monuments were sold primarily through catalogs and sales agents at prices ranging from under $2 to $5000. This was less than the prices of comparable stone monuments and the shipping costs were significantly reduced due to the lower weight. These white bronze monuments were erected in limited numbers across the entire United States and Canada.

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Parsons Family Plot

With over one hundred years of exposure to the harsh New England weather, the white bronze monuments in Pittsfield Cemetery have remained for the most part in superb condition.  It should be noted that the material is susceptible to creeping (permanent deformation over time), seam separation,  and breakage caused by an object striking the monument.

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Parker Family Plot

It is unusual to find a cemetery with more than a dozen white bronze monuments.  Most have far less, if any at all.  A cemetery that has more than a few may signify that a very successful sales agent served the area.  The Pittsfield Cemetery contains just nine examples of white bronze, in contrast to thousands of traditional stone monuments. The rarity of these white bronze monuments is reflective of their brief forty year production run.  Many people of the late Victorian era regarded the monuments as cheap imitations of stone monuments.  A few cemeteries even banned them.  While these people did not accept the original claims that these monuments were superior to stone, in reality, they have withstood the test of time.

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Bull Family Plot

The next time you are in the older part of your local cemetery, look for a bright clean stone of a beautiful blue-grey color.  Give it a knock...you might be surprised at what you find!

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Hemenway Family Plot




























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GPS Coordinates:
 
Bull Family Plot:
N 42 28.127'  W 073 15.589'
 
Hemenway Family Plot:
N 42 28.125'  W 073 15.597'
 
Kendall Family Plot:
N 42 28.120'  W 073 15.607'
 
Milliman Family Plot:
N 42 28.046'  W 073 15.589'
 
Parker Family Plot:
N 42 28.038'  W 073 15.584'
 
Parsons Family Plot:
N 42 28.120'  W 073 15.646'

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The one hundred and sixty acre Pittsfield Cemetery is located at 203 Wahconah Street in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  It opened in 1850,  but also contains the remains of many of the areas earliest settlers, dating back to the 1700s.  Seventy-two Revolutionary War veterans are buried beneath its grounds.  The cemetery, with close to twenty-eight thousand burials, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Examples of white bronze monuments can be found in the West Lawn and High Grove sections of the cemetery.
 
 
Click photos to enlarge.

 
For further reference:
Rotundo, Barbara.  Monumental Bronze: A Representative American Company.  In Cemeteries and Gravemarkers: Voices of American Culture, ed. R.E. Meyer. 
Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1989




Frank J. Leskovitz
1995-2017

fleskovitz@aol.com