The Art of the Cemetery: Bliss Memorial

April is National Poetry Month!  National Poetry Month is a special occasion to celebrate the expressiveness, delight, and pure charm of poetry.  Throughout April we remind ourselves that poets have an essential role in our culture and that poetry matters.  Funerary art helps one learn more about a life that was cherished and contemplate one’s own existence.  Poetry in funeral art not provides comfort to those who grieve, but also helps them express powerful and complicated emotions.

Commissioned by William H. Bliss and his wife Anna, the Bliss Memorial is a masterpiece exploring grief and loss.  The commemorative memorial, constructed sometime around 1913, displays a poignant line from poetry attributed to one of the most central figures of English Romanticism, William Wordsworth.  A primary feature of English Romantic poetry is how it represents the expression of emotion on the part of the creator.  Quoting from Wordsworth’s Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood-ranked among his best poems-the monument reads, “Our souls have sight of that immortal sea which brought us hither.”  Using the immensity and expansive formlessness of the sea, the poem is an affirmation of life and faith.  As funerary art, the Bliss Memorial continues to be a reflection of our deepest beliefs.

A multitude of popular accounts refer to this monument as the “Annie Bliss Titanic Memorial,” a dedication to those lost in the Titanic disaster.  While the Bliss Monument embraces the maritime and was built just one year after the ill-fated voyage, there are no texts that directly link this memorial to the most famous shipwreck of all time.  We do not have sufficient evidence in the historical record to accept the supposition that the Bliss Monument is dedicated to the casualties of the Titanic disaster.  It may be that its location directly across the Straus family mausoleum (co-owner of Macy’s department store in New York City Isidor and his wife Ida refused to take a seat on a Titanic lifeboat)  combined with the fact that Woodlawn contains 12 people associated with the ship, more than any other cemetery in the U.S., has something to do with the spread of this unsubstantiated claim.  Also, it wouldn’t hurt to mention that the two sculpted figures, for some of our younger visitors, summon into mind Jack and Rose from the 1997 epic romance and disaster film.

When working with history, while the facts take precedence, it is important to understand the insights into our culture and society we can gain from urban legends.

Woodlawn is an open-air art gallery and living history museum that attracts 100,000 visitors annually.  Our memorials represent the largest and finest collection of funerary art in the country.  Visit our cemetery and explore 400 acres of art, architecture, and history.

Woodlawn continues to be a non-sectarian cemetery without a specific religious affiliation.