Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Brown Family Plot

The Brown Family Plot is an impressive commemoration including the beautiful original memorial of the maritime tragedy which took the lives of family members Grace, Herbert, William B., Clara, Grace Alice Jane and Maria Miller. Over 70 other grave markers for family members and friends completely cover the crest of the landscape site.

The Arctic sinking in 1854 was not only tragic, but a truly scandalous event resulting in the deaths of some 250 persons. Following collision with the Vesta and five hours trying to save the ship, the crew of the Arctic took priority in saving themselves. This dereliction of duty resulted in only 24 of 182 passengers being saved, none of them women or children, while 61 of the crew of 153 survived. The Browns’ lost a son, two daughters, a daughter-inlaw, and two grandchildren.

James Brown, the family patriarch, who happened to be a principal financier of the Collins Line, which operated the Arctic was “crushed and shattered” by the terrible news, according to New York diarist George Templeton Strong. Mr. Brown set up the New York branch of Brown Brothers & Company in 1825. The firm is still in business as Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., the nation’s oldest and largest private bank.

The disaster triggered significant maritime reform, resulting in improved design of ocean-going ships by requiring watertight compartments, and establishment of transoceanic mapped sea-lanes to prevent collisions between ships in the future.

The Brown Family Memorial is a magnificent example of Victorian design. It was created by English-born sculptor John M. Moffitt, who also sculpted the four tympanum and four shield bas reliefs on the Main Entrance Gates of Green-Wood. The monument consists of a pedestal supporting a Gothic style canopy covering a three-dimensional carved marble depiction of the sinking paddle steamer Arctic. Granite stepping blocks are provided on all four sides of the monument plinth so that visitors may be able to see the ship.

The structure, which is approximately 25 feet in height, includes a granite plinth and stepping stones, a marble base, inscribed die and capstone with sculpture of Arctic, four polished red granite column shafts supporting a highly ornamented and lettered, gabled canopy having carved capitals, crockets and finials in the form of delicate flower motifs. Surmounting the canopy is a smooth spire with a Latin cross. Within the dome of the canopy are four winged angels. While Gothic in form and derivation, the all-white marble sculptural carving is highly naturalistic and shows the hand of a creative artist rather than an ornamental carver. John Moffitt’s name is inscribed on the marble base.

Erected over 140 years ago, the Brown Family Memorial has suffered from the effects of an acidic environment, that slowly dissolves the surface and features of the marble elements. Despite the surface erosion and texturing, the monument is structurally sound, is mostly legible, and has lost only one of its lovely floral bouquet finials. The angels on the interior of the canopy are crumbling due to the intensified marble deterioration, which occurs in moist shaded areas. The marble here has lost its integrity, allowing heavy blackened crusts of gypsum to form, resulting in spalling that is taking away the fine sculptural detail. Biological growths and deposits also soil areas of the marble.

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