Dying To Get In: The Mid-Century Mausoleum at Penn Lincoln Memorial Park

Penn Lincoln Memorial Park mausoleum and chapel, c. 1960, North Huntingdon

The unusual roofline, viewed from either end, has the perfect semi-circular curves of a series of long sheets of paper, each arched gracefully to bend back in on itself. Across the front of the big building are evenly-spaced openings echoing the same design motif. The big spaces are filled with aluminum grids and stained glass windows that echo the fantastically frenetic line drawings of Ben Shahn or Paul Klee.

In fact, one can imagine the entire structure modeled in miniature, constructed from simple cardboard tubes, thick paper stock, and colored gels. You can almost see the architects–’50s beatnik-meets-big city corporate; all cigarette ash, turtlenecks, and horn rims–as they talk the wary customer through an unexpected design laid out before them in the firm’s big conference room.

Penn Lincoln Memorial Park mausoleum and chapel, North Huntingdon, PA

Appearing like a retro-futuristic science-fiction film set, the mausoleum at Penn Lincoln Memorial Park rests atop a gentle hill along Route 30, east of Pittsburgh. Driving by–one would have no good reason to walk or bicycle this stretch of highway–it may not even be obvious what you’re seeing as the big building flashes past the driver’s side window at 45 MPH.

An industrial R&D laboratory? Experimental school? A sneaker preacher’s mega-church? Heck, maybe even some crackpot millionaire’s attempt at an ex-urban Utopia. Any of these seem as plausible as something this designy winding up as an “above-ground burial” for Westmoreland County’s deceased moderne.

CMS East, Inc., the parent company that owns Penn Lincoln Memorial Park, along with 22 other cemeteries across five states, declined to provide The Orbit with any information on the architect who designed the mausoleum or any history of the design. CMS didn’t even respond to our request so it’s safe to say we do not recommend having any organization this rude turn your lifeless body to cinder!

The Google Machine offers no more information, so we’re left to wonder and speculate.

chapel interior

And that’s a shame. Not the wonder part, mind you, but the complete lack of recognition this remarkable construction seems to have received.

I’m no architect, but the artful curved concrete pours, the clean lines with no square corners, and the New Age yoga camp-meets-abandoned spaceport atmosphere all feel like ample source material for some academic’s Ph.D. thesis or a full-color spread in a glossy design magazine. At the very minimum, it’s worth pulling over to take a walk around the next time you’re headed east, toward Jeannette or Greensburg.

Most of metro Pittsburgh was constructed in a relatively short period of the city’s great industrial build-up–say, from the 1880s to the start of the Great Depression. So the prevailing design heritage here is curlicued Victorian filigree and blunt worker efficiency. The modernism of mid-century American design–so prevalent in breezy West Coast cities and Sun Belt oases–largely passed us by.

There are some notable exceptions, of course–Gateway Center’s gleaming aluminum cladding, Pitt’s brutalist expansions throughout Oakland, and (sigh) the old Civic Arena’s extraterrestrial colony come to mind.

But the lovely mausoleum at Penn Lincoln Memorial Park reminds us that the brilliant ambition of post-war America extended everywhere–to gasoline stations and dry cleaners, ice cream stands and car dealerships. It even came out here, to the distant suburbs of Pittsburgh, as a place one might entomb their loved-ones forever … in the future.

“above-ground burial” plots


Getting there: Penn Lincoln Memorial Park is on Rt. 30, half way between East McKeesport and North Huntingdon. It’s about a half hour’s drive from downtown Pittsburgh.

James P. Leaf Mausoleum, Beaver Cemetery

James P. Leaf mausoleum in Beaver Cemetery, Beaver, PA

James P. Leaf mausoleum, 1949. Beaver Cemetery.

This blogger has spent a lot of time in the boneyard. So much time, we dare say, that we’ve hung out more than some cemeteries’ (newer) full-time residents. To visit one is a whole enchilada experience: you get to be outside in the introvert’s version of Kennywood–usually alone, in near silence, on beautifully-cared-for grounds that feel like a wild city park. Often there are the deer and crows and opossums to back it up. But it’s a park alive (ironically) with stories and history, carved images and statuary. Any cemetery has way too much to take in for just a single visit.

James P. Leaf mausoleum in Beaver Cemetery, Beaver, PA

Have you seen the back? Large boulders embedded in the Leaf mausoleum.

What these hallowed grounds don’t tend to feature so often is the touch of the human hand. Typically, gravestones are professionally-cut, perfectly-engraved, production line affairs. They’re marvels of precision stone-cutting and restrained grace, symmetry and classical iconography.

Rarely, however, does one encounter a grave marker that was hand made by the grieving family. [An obvious exception to this is the “DIY gravestones of Highwood Cemetery” (Pittsburgh Orbit, Oct. 30 and Nov. 1, 2015).] It is especially rare to see a stone or tomb that looks like his or her bats-in-the-belfry aunt or brown bottle flu uncle would have built it.

large stone blocking entry to mausoleum entry, Beaver Cemetery, Beaver, PA

Leaf mausoleum, entry (detail)

That, however, is exactly what Beaver Cemetery’s James P. Leaf mausoleum looks like. At approximately the size of a one-car alley garage, it’s definitely the right scale for your typical double-crypt couple’s tomb–but it sure doesn’t look like one. There are none of the straight lines, white stone, or classical features we normally see. Mr. Leaf didn’t even receive the customary stained glass rear windows like we peeked in on in Allegheny Cemetery.

Instead, the monument has clearly been constructed by hand, from an oddball collection of irregular stones. These range from the size of a cantaloupe to huge boulders that would crush a house in their falling path. One of these massive rocks has been set to entirely block the front entrance to the tomb, leaving only an oxidized copper Leaf nameplate visible awkwardly above. Water-smoothed river pebbles have been used to create decorative features within the mortar walls and vertically-places stones sit on top to resemble crude castle battlements.

There is a maybe too-good-to-be-true story that the mausoleum was built with stones pulled from each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties that appears in several sources, all unsubstantiated.

mosaic detail made from pebbles, James P. Leaf mausoleum in Beaver Cemetery, Beaver, PA

Detail: pebble mosaic

James Pinney Leaf (1866-1949) seems an unlikely soul to spend eternity in such a ramshackle final resting place. The son of an engineer, Leaf followed in his father’s footsteps, earning a degree in engineering, serving in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War I, and working on projects and surveys in Rochester, PA, the Ohio canals, Pymatuning Reservoir, on Lake Erie, and along the Ohio River.[1]

So how did a lifelong builder and engineer end up in a cattywumpus backyard barbeque of a crypt like this one? There’s got to be a great explanation here.

view into crypt interior, James P. Leaf mausoleum in Beaver Cemetery, Beaver, PA

View into crypt interior

Spoiler Alert: We don’t know! The Orbit sat on this story for an entire year, dug into the books with the crew at the Carnegie Library’s Pennsylvania Room, consulted professional archivists, talked to Beaver Cemetery staff, and … Zilch. Goose egg. Bubkes. “Nothing burger”.

Who James P. Leaf was is well documented–Hillman Library has a huge collection of family papers–but it’s a total mystery how such an esteemed veteran, builder, and prominent community member ended up with this pile-of-rocks mausoleum.

James P. Leaf mausoleum in Beaver Cemetery, Beaver, PA

One of these memorials is not like the rest. Leaf mausoleum, Beaver Cemetery.

It was a rough week–emotionally and physically. Nobody wants to hear about all that, but you’ll no doubt respect the need to just move on and let a mystery be its own mysterious self. Maybe by having this story out there someone who actually knows what’s up with the Leaf tomb can enlighten us and we can finally set the record straight.

Currently, we’re in the apex of leaf-changing glory. If you’re looking for a destination to get your fall colors on, you could do a lot worse than the fun drive out Route 65, past Punks Ice Cream and the murals of the Sewickley Speakeasy, to lovely little Beaver Cemetery. See what you can find out for ol’ Orbit, will you?


[1] University of Pittsburgh Library System, Leaf family papers.

All the Way: The Arthur and Alfreda Antignani Mausoleum

Arthur and Alfreda Antignani mausoleum, Allegheny County Memorial Park, Allison Park, PA

Arthur and Alfreda Antignani mausoleum, Allegheny County Memorial Park, Allison Park

The granite mausoleum stands alone inside a marquee plot surrounded by a thin circular cemetery road. A long stretch of musical staff wraps the perimeter with twenty-some bars of melody notation spelled-out; vertical fence posts serve double-duty as measure lines.

Two six-foot-tall ornamental saxophones flank the doorway; a third marks the crest of the roof. Palm to forehead, one can squint through the gauzy haze inside to the mausoleum’s stained glass window. There, a backlit treble clef symbol glows where one might normally expect the image of an angel or flowers[1]. The footpath out front is yet another gigantic saxophone, this one rendered minimally in two dimensions on red-brown granite tile. The entrance step is engraved “All the Way”.

detail of giant saxophone ornament on the Arthur and Alfreda Antignani mausoleum, Allegheny County Memorial Park, Allison Park, PA

Saxophone ornament, Antignani mausoleum

All the Way could–and should–be the title of Arthur and Alfreda Antignani‘s bio-pic. The couple lived large in a Hampton hilltop property they built for themselves and named Skyvue Estate. Our story on what remained of that shag-carpeted, double-bedazzled, rhinestone-encrusted, tchotchke-strewn, twenty-four hour party palace and its grounds [Graceland North: The Antignani Estate Sale, 4 Nov. 2015] is one of the most-read Orbit stories of all time. Though the Antignanis have left this particular stage, we thought it was high time to call for an encore and visit this fascinating couple in their final resting place.

stained glass window with treble clef symbol, Arthur and Alfreda Antignani mausoleum, Allegheny County Memorial Park, Allison Park, PA

Mausoleum stained glass window

That the Antignanis loved music should come as no surprise. Every inch of Skyvue Estate–from the guitar-shaped patio to the band of frog figurines jamming on the credenza–confirmed as much. So it is fitting that as Alfreda spent the very the last years of her life designing and planning the memorial[2], she’d want the imagery of music–especially Arthur’s tenor saxophone–featured prominently.

The touch to include actual musical notation on the small fence–as opposed to any old clip art approximation of stray notes on a staff–was an inspired design decision. If you haven’t guessed by now, the melody is, of course, “All the Way”.

detail of saxophone-shaped tile walkway at the Arthur and Alfreda Antignani mausoleum, Allegheny County Memorial Park, Allison Park, PA

Saxophone-shaped tile walkway

“All the Way”, the Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen standard made famous by Ol’ Blue Eyes (among many others) is a classic tear-jerking ballad of life-long love. It may be a songwriting cliché, but a lyric like “Through the good or lean years, And for all the in between years” speaks not to the eros of so many pop songs and rom coms, but to the pragma and philia of a couple that spent over half a century together[3] in what we can only imagine as one of the great eccentric long run romances of our time.

To Arthur and Alfreda Antignani, may you rest in peace, all the way.

Arthur and Alfreda Antignani mausoleum, Allegheny County Memorial Park, Allison Park, PA

Art & Al, R.I.P.

Getting there: The Antignani mausoleum is in Allegheny County Memorial Park, 1600 Duncan Ave., Allison Park. The cemetery has very few above-ground average-sized headstones (possibly none?) so the handful of large memorials/mausoleums stand out really easily–you won’t miss it.

[1] For comparison, see Allegheny Cemetery: Mausoleum Stained Glass, Pittsburgh Orbit, Oct. 12, 2016.
[2] “In life and death, eccentric Hampton couple makes beautiful music together”, TribLive.com, Dec. 5, 2015.
[3] The Antignanis were married and 1959 and Arthur died (first) in 2011.

 

Allegheny Cemetery: Mausoleum Stained Glass

mausoleum stained glass with pentagram, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Sproal-Splane

Seeing the world through the Orbit eye. Those words came to us a while back from superfan Lee, and we accept it as the ultimate compliment. Lee still requires corrective eyewear–so be warned that Pittsburgh Orbit is no substitute for Lasik–but we think we know what he was getting at.

If Orbit “reporting” has taught us anything at all, it’s to always take another look. Lose the expectations and open up the senses. Point those peepers everywhere you can: down the alley, around the corner, on the pavement, up in the telephone wires, and through the crack in the window. Like Irene Cara said: take your pants off and make it happen. What a feeling, indeed.

broken mausoleum stained glass with sitting woman and field of flowers, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

James M. Miller

mausoleum stained glass of oil lamp hanging in arched window with columns, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Unknown (possibly Krey, based on nearby cenotaph)

One of those spots, attentive Orbit readers will have anticipated by now, is through the thick barred grates, cobwebbed glass, and musky air of the ornate mausoleums at our historic cemeteries. Pittsburgh is sitting on a bunch of these.

This blogger has walked through, bicycled around, picnicked in, and shutterbugged Allegheny Cemetery literally hundreds of times over the last couple decades. Allegheny’s collection of mausoleums isn’t quite as spectacular as the rock star ones we toured with Jennie Benford last year at Homewood, but it’s nothing to scoff at.

The mausoleums act as both beacons and exclamation points on the rolling landscape and much of the art deco and faux-Egyptian architecture is really astounding. But for whatever reason, we rarely ever took the opportunity to shade the eyes and poke the schnoz in to check out the interior spaces.

mausoleum stained glass with angel, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Unknown (detail)

mausoleum shelves with trophies in front of colored glass, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Sheets

I’ll tell you: it’s not an easy thing to do. The average mausoleum–in Allegheny Cemetery, at least–seems to have a pair of thin, highly-decorated entry doors, each behind some version of vertical iron bars or decorative scrolled metalwork. Half the time, the original door locks are still in use, if not, there’s an awkward after-market steel chain and padlock lashed around whatever it can grab ahold of.

If you can see much inside, it’s typically a narrow passage, just wide enough for a person to turn around in, flanked by the celebrated residents’ crypts. Sometimes there’s just one of these on either side; others are stacked floor to ceiling. At the rear of almost every mausoleum is a stained glass window providing the only natural light outside of the shaded entry doors.

So to look inside a mausoleum is to peer through several layers of obfuscation, from the outside daylight into a darkened interior that may have had a hundred years since its last human visitor.

broken mausoleum stained glass with architectural design, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

King

mausoleum stained glass with angel in green tunic, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Wettengel (detail)

And what do we get to see in the stained glass? In a word: flowers–lots and lots of flowers. Flowers in vases, flowers in gardens, ornamental flowers, and flowers held by angels; lillies of the valley and daffodils of the foothills. We only included photos for a few of these; the flowers are quaint, but they’re just not that exciting.

Beyond the flora, however, there’s some pretty neat stuff. An old-school oil lamp dangles under an arched cathedral window with ghostly leaf shadows backlit from the outside; angels appear with painted-on faces, doe-eyed and calming; and, of course, in that chestnut of mortal symbolism, the sun sets over and over again in Mausoleumville.

There are also the broken panes. Windows whose heavy weight, coupled with a hundred years of un-climate-controlled Pennsylvania weather, eventually overburdened the lower sections. Individual colored pieces have popped out and cracked, leaving the windows looking like incomplete paint-by-numbers; the unimpeded sun’s glare the brightest element in the tiny space.

broken mausoleum stained glass with arch and white flowers, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Lillian Russell Moore

Is it worth a trip? Well, Allegheny Cemetery is absolutely worth all the time you can give it–even if you don’t want to squint into (silent film star) Lillian Russell‘s final repository. But while you’re there, yeah, you should neb into whoever’s crypt you can. The Sheets and the Kreys and the Sproal-Splanes don’t seem like they’re coming around anymore, but don’t worry; we’ve got that Orbit eye looking out for them.