Saturday, August 20, 2011

Swan Point Cemetery

Seekonk River from Swan Point Cemetery Providence
Swan Point Cemetery, off Blackstone Boulevard in Providence, is a stunning place of rest.  Occupying 200 acres on the shores of the Seekonk River, it includes driving roads, walking paths, and areas for contemplation.

Swan Point was founded in 1846, and planned as a "garden" cemetery. Winding carriageways and paths were laid out to give the appearance of a park, and shrubs and trees were planted to enhance the natural contours of the land. Today it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and includes family mausoleums, monuments of various sizes, newer areas with ground-level markers, an urn garden, and a chapel.

Blackstone Boulevard, a long and elegant divided road with a central mall, was designed by Horace Cleveland in 1886, at the request of Swan Point, and the cemetery gave 11.5 acres of land to the City of Providence for that purpose.

There are many famous Rhode Islanders buried at Swan Point, including 10 Civil War Generals, and 23 former governors of the state.  General, and later Governor, Ambrose Burnside (perhaps best-known for giving his name to his facial hair decoration--sideburns) falls into both categories.

Gravestones of Sullivan Ballou and Sarah Ballou Swan Point Cemetery
Among the other Civil War veterans buried there is Major Sullivan Ballou, who was one of 847 Union and Confederate soldiers killed in the first major battle of the war, the first battle of Bull Run, on July 21, 1861.

Ballou left behind a letter to his wife Sarah, which was made famous by Ken Burns' Civil War film.

O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night-amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours-always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sullivan and Sarah lie side by side at Swan Point.  My sister-in-law (a professional voice-over artist) read the text of the letter while my brother played the "Ashokan Farewell" on his iPhone.  I had brought along the letter but the performance was spontaneous and extremely moving.

Edgar John Lownes Memorial Monument at Swan Point Cemetery
One of our favorite monuments was the Edgar John Lownes memorial monument,  a bronze sculpture on a marble base located along a path that dips down to the river right around the corner.  It was created in 1924 by Vienna-born Isodore Konti.  (Konti had emigrated to the US in the 1890s to work on sculptural decorations for the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.)

Lownes, who was born Edgar Lowenstein but anglicized his name during a period of anti-German sentiment during WWI, had founded the American Silk Spinning Company in 1908, and was also a local philanthropist.  Among other organizations, he was involved in a volunteer capacity with both Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design.  (Two of his sons graduated from Brown University, and his portrait hangs in the Brown Faculty Club.)  In his will, Lownes had asked that a casting of Konti's Genius of Immortality be placed over his grave.  At the request of Lownes' wife Teresa, Konti added wings to his original design, and two relief plaques of angels.

Gravestone of H. P. Lovecraft Swan Point Cemetery
My final featured grave is that of H.P. Lovecraft, a horror, fantasy, and science fiction author, whose headstone is littered with objets left by admirers--octopi, shells, stones, and little notes and quotes from his writings.  Lovecraft was not very well-known during his lifetime, and was close to poverty by the time of his death.  But there has been a resurgence of interest in the intervening years; Lovecraft's Wikipedia entry states:

According to Joyce Carol Oates, Lovecraft — as with Edgar Allan Poe in the 19th century — has exerted "an incalculable influence on succeeding generations of writers of horror fiction".   Stephen King called Lovecraft "the twentieth century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale." King has even made it clear in his semi-autobiographical non-fiction book Danse Macabre that Lovecraft was responsible for his own fascination with horror and the macabre, and was the single largest figure to influence his fiction writing.

Illustration Credits and References

Photos by Catherine Hurst and Rick Beyer.

The Scultpure of Isodore Konti 1862-1938 by Hudson River Museum.

Swan Point Cemetery Visitor Guide and Map.


  1. I happened upon your blog in a google search for Edgar J. Lowenstein. He is my great-great grandfather :) I truly have enjoyed your blog! What extraordinary information :D I have never been to Rhode Island, but desire to see it in my lifetime due to family relations. I am currently discovering my Lownes relations. Thank you for the post; even though it was unintended for me haha! I have been blessed by it indeed. My grandma is Sylvia (Lownes) Turkington, whom is still living and is the painter of the Albert E. Lownes portrait that also is in the Brown University collection. Sincerely, A. Turkington-Schuetzler of Kenai, AK :)

    1. I'm looking for my former neighbor, Richard Lownes, son of Albert and brother of Sylvia.
      Could you please be of assistance, John Kilborn,

  2. I'm so glad you enjoyed the blog, and especially the Swan Point Cemetery post. It is such a beautiful place--and we were particularly taken with the beautiful monument to your great-great-grandfather. And of course this post was intended for you! My blog audiences have always been widespread and eclectic--and you're not the first family member who has tripped across something in one of my blogs that rang a bell. And Rhode Island is definitely worth a visit--for so many reasons!

  3. Santa Fe Kate, I live not so far from you in Durango, Colorado. I'm enjoying your site. Short of writing to the Swan Point Cemetery in R.I., would you know of an online site that has a list of those interred there? Looking for a relative buried in 1906.

  4. Marti--I'm not aware of anything. I know they have a few lists at the Swan Point site, but it's mostly Civil War veterans and other dignitaries. Good luck with your search!!