Thursday, March 3, 2011

Call Again, He Is Made Of Stone

A contributor to our forum named Dan wrote to us last year to say he was making his way through The Chessmen of Doom for the first time in over a decade. In the early chapters of the novel something “tugged at [his] memory” when he read the description of Peregrine “Perry” Childermass’ tomb:
The massive bronze doors of the tomb were flanked by two Grecian columns, and the Childermass name was chiseled on the cornice. A few feet from the entrance stood a white marble statue of a bearded man in old-fashioned formal dress. He held a top hat and gloves in one hand, and with his other hand he pointed at the tomb [The Chessmen of Doom; 16].

Finally he made the connection: the statue and tomb of Peregrine Childermass strongly recall John P. Bowman and the Laurel Glen Mausoleum, both located in Cuttingsville, Vermont.

John Porter Bowman (1816-91) was a wealthy Vermonter who made his money in the leather goods business during the Civil War. Following the death of his family – wife, Jennie E. Gates (1824-80), and daughters Addie (b.d. 1854) and Ella (1860-1879) – Bowman spent $75,000 on construction of an elaborate marble mausoleum. For over a year, over 100 skilled sculptors, stonecutters, masons, and laborers erected the tomb, designed by New York architect G. B. Croff. Completed in 1881-82, the most notable feature of the tomb is a life-sized white marble sculpture of Bowman himself. The figure is paused on the stone steps of the mausoleum, as though looking in at the tomb of his family. In one hand he holds a funeral wreathe. In the other he carries a key as well as a hat and gloves.

Following the construction of the mausoleum, Bowman then oversaw construction of Laurel Hall, a Queen Anne style mansion directly across the road from the mausoleum grounds. The University of Vermont Historic Preservation Program notes the “large two story house with its three story central tower is a grand building that exudes a secure and gentle grandeur with the wide wrapping porch and conservative use of exterior decoration. Laurel Hall was built to be the summer residence of a man who had no family, yet commissioned a house to have four bedrooms in addition to two separate bedrooms for servants. The interior of the house truly reflects the wealth and social status of Bowman, with sixteen foot ceilings, large formal hallway with polychromatic painted archway, wide cherry Eastlake staircase, and large multi-hued windows in the stairwell.”

The New York Times featured the estate in its travel section in 1974, commenting that it still drew thousands of visitors a year. It was featured in Yankee Magazine in 1960, has appeared in cemetery guides and books of New England ghost stories, and was featured in a 1991 museum exhibition of Vermont history that traveled to Middlebury College, the Bennington Museum, and the Vermont Historical Society.

Dan suggests that even if Bellairs never visited Cuttingsville, “it is possible that he may have read about it in the New York Times or perhaps in the cemetery guides mentioned above. In any case, it does seem to be one of those lovely bits of esoteric knowledge to which Bellairs would have been attracted.”

1 comment:

VR Sword Collector said...

I just started reading Bellairs again--the first time in about 20 years. Luckily I live in Vermont and can make a pilgrimage to a Bellairs-related site! Thank you for the great little article.