Page 34 - Scene Magazine 42-10 October 2017
P. 34

Scene In Time
The first time I taught Michigan History at KCC back in the 1980s, I told my students we were going to the cemetery for our next class. They were skeptical but
said I had to see “Crying Mary,” a stat- ue that cried at midnight. Now I was the skeptical one. When we got there, the first thing I said was, “That is not Mary. That is a classical Greco-Roman matron and it is hollow metal. It’s probably just conden- sation that collects by midnight.” At that point they told me I was no fun at all.
While I was correct about the classical style of the statue, the crying myth comes from streaks on the bronze statute caused by air interacting with bronze. No matter how much this story is debunked, it al- ways comes back especially at Halloween. Apparently the tale dates from the 1940s although I could find no references in the local newspapers. The real story is much more interesting.
The statue which is actually called “Memory” was done by Nellie V. Walker (1874-1973) and put there in 1911 by Mrs. Ruth Decker (1840-1925) in honor of her husband, Johannes Decker (1839-1910). The local newspapers carried many articles about it. Following are excerpts from them.
In the Daily Moon, April 11, 1911: SPLENDID STATUE IS NOW COM- PLETED: ...Located on the Decker Family Lot at Oak Hill – The Work of an Artist – Sculptored [sic] by one of Amer- ica’s most promising workers in bronze
– Miss Nellie B. Walker of Chicago – ...In selecting a sculptor, Mrs. Decker accepted the recommendation of a friend, and de- cided upon Miss Walker, whose work has become prominent in the past few years
– and she made no mistake. Many believe Miss Walker will eventually be rated as American’s foremost woman modeller [sic]...The monument has already attract- ed much attention since its installation Saturday. It was viewed for the first time Sunday by Mrs. Decker, and accepted.
The Evening News, May 10, 1911 had the following story:
What’s in A Name: “Crying Mary”
with two others made by Miss Walker, was awarded first honors at the art exhibit held in the coliseum at Chicago this spring ... It cost approximately $3,000 [$72,429.60 in 2017 dollars] and is the only one of its kind in Battle Creek.
This was quite an expensive statue but in the probating of Mrs. Decker’s will [January 9, 1925, Enquirer and The Eve- ning News], her estate was reported as $45,000 in real and personal property [over $628,000 in 2017 dollars]. She gave large bequests to Nichols Memorial Hospital and the Y.W.C.A.
The Daily Moon of May 30, 1911 featured the first photograph of the work and this headline: THOUSANDS VIEW OAK HILL’S SPLENDID MEMORIAL: ATTRACT- ED TO THE CEMETERY BY MEMO- RIAL DAY, MANY RECEIVE A DIS- TINCT SURPRISE – ...Few of the many who have viewed the monument are aware that the model is a conception of the tender sentiment, ‘Memory,’ ... Miss Nellie V. Walker of Chicago. Miss Walker, a student of the great Taft, has designed and executed many fine works in bronze, but none more handsome or human than the one which now rests in old Oak Hill. The pedestal in granite, which plays an important part in monument’s attractive- ness, was executed by John J. McNaugh- ton, of Battle Creek, but designed by Irving K. Pond of Chicago, president of the National Institute of Architects, who furnished the proportions and exact mea- surements for the stone work. The ideal figure of ‘Memory’ is in a rich bronze, and is an absolutely classical conception, with
lines of grace and beauty. Leaning against a parapet with both arms extended, the suggestion is apparent of hanging wreaths on the corners of the granite, in loving memory.
Wreaths were used by both the Greeks and Romans to symbolize many things. Funeral wreaths were symbolic of the cir- cle of life. Christians later used the wreath as symbolic of God with no beginning or end – eternity.
The second Moon article refers to the “great Taft”: Lorado Taft (1860-1936), a well-known sculptor teaching at the Art Institute of Chicago and University of Il- linois. He studied at the University of Illi- nois and then at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. The Paris school was known for its revival of Greek and Roman styles.
In Volume 22 of Park and Cemetery and Landscape Gardening, p. 283 (1913), Walker’s “Memory” is described as an ex- ample of “rare sculptural workmanship and the face is one of unusual expression and beauty.” The face, according to Debra Stanley, the cemetery’s general manager, is reminiscent of the Greek goddess Thalia. If you look at Greek statues of Thalia, Walker was obviously inspired by them. Her mentor, Taft, was also known for this. Go to MousaThaleia.html and look at the Gre- co-Roman marble statue of Muse Thalia from about the 2nd Century A.D. We know about most Greek statues thanks to Roman copies.
Walker’s father was a stone carver and monument maker and she was taught by him. At the age of 18, her first sculpture, one of Abraham Lincoln, was part of the Iowa Building exhibit at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. She saved enough money through her job as a legal secretary to move to Chicago in 1900 and work with Taft. He readily accepted her as a student. When he died in 1936, she helped finish his commissions. For a list of her awards and exhibitions, see the Illinois Women Artists Project -- http://iwa.brad-
For more, read pp. 120-122 in the book, Beyond These Gates, 1844-2014.This is an updated edition by the Oak Hill Cemetery Company. For a brief history of Oak Hill by Martin Ashley, go to http://www.her- and as well as Scene 3801, p. 22.

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