Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Empty Tomb and the Lost Monument

Gathland State Park, on the top of South Mountain near Burkittsville, Maryland


George Alfred Townsend called himself "Gath."  The journalist, novelist and poet added an "h" to his initials to make an obscure reference to the Second Book of Samuel (1:20) where it says "Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askalon."

This mixture of playfulness and arcane allusion seems to epitomize Townsend's work.  He was a young war correspondent during the Civil War. In 1884, when he was 43, after reporting on the Austro-Prussian War, he bought land in Crampton's Gap on South Mountain near the Antietam Battlefield.  He called his retreat "Gapland" and/or "Gathland."

This metal map of the battle of South Mountain shows Crampton's Gap in the Blue Ridge.

Mary-Carter Roberts describes the scope of Townsend's estate on South Mountain:
It was not a house, or even a mansion, but an arrangement of houses, half a dozen or so. There was a lodge, a hall, a library, a huge guest home, servants' quarters, stables. All but one were of stone, most were spacious - a single wing of the hall contained ten rooms. Finally there was a tomb. The builder, satisfied with what he had built, had clearly decided to lie down at the end in the midst of his creation. So he erected a mausoleum on which he had carved the epitaph, "Good Night, Gath." A statement of acceptance and fulfillment.
Gapland Hall is the main building at Gathland. Gath engraved his name and the date on a large stone in the front wall.

Gapland Lodge is another building on the Gathland estate.

He honored his wife Bess, nee Elizabeth Evans Rhodes, with an inscribed stone over the front window of Gapland Lodge. 

The Empty Tomb

The mausoleum in the burial ground at Gathland is empty. When Gath died nearly penniless in 1914, he was buried in Philadelphia.

This state park walking tour sign tells the story.

Townsend regarded Gapland as a lasting monument to himself and his craft and wanted to rest here for all time. Townsend designed and erected his Mausoleum in 1895. Its four vaults were intended to house his remains and those of his wife and parents. A large iron likeness of his pet Great Dane, which Townsend sketched while staying at The Warldorf Hotel, was placed atop the tomb to keep vigil in his afterlife. But fate would not have it so. Townsend died at his daughter's home in New York City on April 15, 1914 and was buried alongside {his wife} Bessie in Philadelphia. The Gapland Mausoleum was never occupied, the sculpture of his dog was stolen, and the glory that was Gapland faded into ruin and indifference. But the spirit of this  romantic journalist speaks out still in the epitaph above his tomb: Good Night - Gath.

The door of the tomb is flanked by these terra cotta tiles.

Here's the epitaph carved in sandstone over the tomb door.
Peaking inside we can see that the tomb really is empty:

The Lost Monument

The most conspicuous structure at Gathland is the War Correspondents' Memorial Arch.

In 1895, Gath decided that he would construct a Civil War monument to commemorate the battle that took place here. Grampton's Gap played an important part in the run up to the battle of Antietam. Townsend imagined an avenue marking the battle line separating Union and Confederate forces. But on a trip to Hagerstown he changed his mind. As Mary-Carter Roberts tells it in her 1959 book, The Case of the Lost Monument:
... He had been in Hagerstown, he wrote, and had noticed some men working with stone near the B & 0 railroad station, from which commonplace street scene he had derived an entirely new plan. His memorial would not take the form of an avenue, nor would it belong to any single field of battle, or even to the soldiers, who were already being widely honored. He, the correspondent, the reporter, the working newspaperman, would erect a monument to commemorate the writers who had covered the war, men who had been in the thick of the fighting and to whom no one was giving a thought. A great and enduring monument too. A towering arch of stone. That was the flash of inspiration he had drawn from the sight of some village masons at work.
This prospective drawing of the proposed monument appeared in the Washington Star on Feb. 22, 1896.

This NPS photo shows the monument under construction.

Ruthanne Hindes described the monument he built in 1896 this way:
In appearance the monument is quite odd. It is fifty feet high and forty feet broad. Above a Moorish arch sixteen feet high built of Hummelstown purple stone are super-imposed three Roman arches. These are flanked on one side with a square crenellated tower, producing a bizarre and picturesque effect. Niches in different places shelter the carving of two horses' heads, and symbolic terra cotta statuettes of Mercury, Electricity and Poetry. Tables under the horses' heads bear the suggestive words " Speed" and "Heed": the heads are over the roman arches. The three roman arches are made of limestone from Creek Battlefield, Virginia, and each nine feet high and six feet wide. These arches represent Description, Depiction and Photography. The aforementioned tower contains a statue of Pan with the traditional pipes, and he is either half drawing or sheathing a roman sword. Over a small turret on the opposite side of the tower is a gold vane of a pen bending a sword. (Note: A replica of the weather vane may be seen in the Park Museum.) At various places on the monument are quotations appropriate to the art of war correspondence. These are from a great variety of sources beginning with the Old Testament verses. Perhaps the most striking feature of all are the tablets inscribed with the names of 157 correspondents and war artists who saw and described in narrative and picture almost all the events of the four years of the war. 
For Gath's own description see his poem, War Correspondents' Memorial.

These lines from Gath's poem, Building, identify his architecture as an extention of his writing.
The bookman's art is left behind
And letters only vex.
Write then in stone, ye minds of men!
And live as architects!
The monument is richly covered with symbolic architectural detail.

A statue of Pheidippides playing the pan pipes, handling a sword and wearing Mercury's helmet, sits in a niche in the tower portion of the monument. Pheidippides is the hero who brought the news to Athens of the victory at Marathon and died crying "Joy to you, we've won!" with his last breath.

On each side of the main arch are structures denominated Speed and Heed, personified by heads representing electricity and poetry, respectively.





And above the three small arches are a pair of horse heads. I don't know what they represent.


Gath refers to the small arches as windows in his poem.

Windows stand triple, each of them typal,
Each an evangel's page white;
One is Depiction, one is Description,
One is Photography's light.

This corner stone indicates that the monument dedicated in September 14, 1896 commemorates the Battle of South Mountain on September 14, 1862.

Sept. 14, 62 - 96

The monument is dedicated on this tablet with a poem.

To The
Army Correspondents
1861 - 65
whose Toils
Cheered the Camps
Thrilled the Fireside
Educated Provinces of Rustics
into a Bright Nation
and Gave Incentive
To Narrate Distant Wars
And Explore Dark Lands
Erected by Subscription
O wondrous youth
Through this grand ruth
Runs my boy's life, its thread
The General's fame, the battle's name
The rolls of maimed and dead
I bear with my thrilled soul astir
And lonely thoughts and fears
And am but history's courier
To bind the conquering years
A battle's ray, through ages gray
To light to deeds sublime
And flash the lustre of my day
Down all the aisles of time
War Correspondents' Ballad 1865

But perhaps the central feature of the monument are the lists of war correspondents (and friends and contributors) that decorate it.

The whole list of names can be found on this NPS page.

Roberts continues her story:
On October 16, 1896, there was a dedication. So great was the general interest, the governor of Maryland, Lloyd Lowndes, consented to deliver the address. The New York World and Post sent reporters. So did the Baltimore and Washington papers. Crowds came out from the cities. There was a great spread of publicity.
And then the curious, the unbelievable thing happened. This utterly unique monument got lost. There is no other way to put it.
In 1904, Bessie Townsend died and George stopped visiting Gathland as often as he had been accustomed to doing. In 1906, he deeded the monument to the U.S. Government.  Gath died in 1914, and his heirs sold the estate for $95,000 in 1920. By 1938, the property was sold for $750 in back taxes.

When Mary-Carter Roberts became interested in the old monument, the U.S. Government had lost track of it. The old monument was not on the list of National Park areas. No one in the Park Service knew anything about it. Miss Roberts contacted William Bayless of the Maryland Board of Natural Resouces and he managed to get the U.S. Government to admit that it owned the monument and considered it part of Antietam National Battlefield Park.  We can almost hear the tone of Roberts' voice when she writes:
Lost indeed. Not only is it absent from the records. There are no signs directing one to it, no explanation of its history when one gets there. One comes along the road to the top of the mountain, and there it is. Alone among the trees. An unidentified phenomenon, save as the names of great writers utter their silent shout from the stone face. This, after more than half a century of federal ownership.
A group of "never-to-be-sufficiently-praised gentlemen in Frederick" bought the monument and gave it to the state of Maryland on May 13, 1949. Today it's Gathland State Park.

I'll give Gath the last word:

Good Night -- Gath

1 comment:

  1. We stopped by Gath's empty tomb today and felt very sad that he has not been reinterred there. He really is a cool guy.
    Someone should get up a fund to pay for it.
    Thank you for this fine blog.