Standing 10 feet tall with a 9-foot wingspan, the Porter monument bronze angel sits atop a small bluff in Allegheny Cemetery, where it has attracted visitors for more than 100 years. Despite modern associations with the grim and ghastly, cemeteries like the Lawrenceville landmark have a rich history of combining a stroll through the park with a day at the museum.
“Going to a cemetery was like ‘the thing to do’ in Pittsburgh on a Sunday afternoon in the mid-19th century. They were kind of the first sculpture museums,” says Elisabeth Roark, associate professor of art at Chatham University.
On Oct. 24, Roark will guide the City of Pittsburgh Office of Public Art’s walking tour of Allegheny Cemetery. The hour-long tour will let visitors learn about the cemetery’s sculptures and the people who helped shape them.
Stephen Foster, Thomas Mellon and industrialist John Baptiste Ford are among Allegheny Cemetery’s A-list celebrities, but there are more than 124,000 graves spread throughout the green hills, tall trees and wildlife nestled deep within the city neighborhood. The cemetery itself reflects societal trends ranging from death’s role in everyday life to income inequality, says Roark. But, she contends, it’s the artwork that really brings life to the cemetery’s 300-acre grounds.
“The lots weren’t monitored, so there is an eclectic mix of art styles,” says Roark. “I wish I could teach a class right in the cemetery because you can see almost every style you can think of in Western-architecture revival just by walking the grounds.”
The cemetery’s Victorian gothic J.B. Ford mausoleum comes complete with a stained-glass cupola. The Winter mausoleum has a distinctly Egyptian style, with two white granite sphinxes guarding the entrance. There are also classical recreations of the Parthenon and Pantheon, the resting places of the Byers and Bindley families, respectively.
The Allegheny Cemetery tour continues the Office of Public Art’s series of monthly walking tours of Pittsburgh neighborhoods led by local historians and artists.
Before the Oct. 24 tour, musician Vince Curtis will help set the mood by playing a selection of songs on the lute by Elizabethan composer John Dowlan. His performance will begin at 11:45 a.m. at the Butler Street gate.