White Bronze monuments promised – and delivered - longevity
Jeanne Brosi of Hannibal Monument Co., took a photo of a White Bronze grave marker honoring Francis Richmond, born April 3, 1783, died Oct. 3, 1844, in Hannibal. The marker is at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Hannibal.
Joshua Mitchell's headstone in Mt. Olivet Cemetery is White Bronze, which was popular in the 1880s. It is actually made out of zinc. The words on the headstone are as crisp and clear as they were when the monument was installed in January 1881. Photo courtesy of Donna Loy Brown.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Rufus E. Anderson, one of the most recognized attorneys in Northeast Missouri, served as executor for the estate of Joshua Mitchell, who was one of Hannibal’s pioneer businessmen.
Mr. Mitchell died a wealthy man in 1880, with a vast estate consisting of parcels of land located in Pike, Shelby, Lewis and Marion counties in Missouri; Pike County, Ill.; and Richmond County, Wis.
Among the tasks left for Mr. Anderson to accomplish was the selection of a proper monument to mark the final resting place in Mt. Olivet Cemetery for Joshua Mitchell and his wife, Juliet.
While other prominent markers of that era were made of marble or other stone, Mr. Anderson chose another option, which was new to the region:
Rufus Anderson invited a reporter from the Hannibal Clipper Herald to join him on a journey out to Mt. Olivet cemetery south of Hannibal in mid January 1881, to see the 11-foot, hollow metal monument located in the original section of the cemetery.
Joining in the journey to the cemetery were William L. Owens of Monroe City, representing the White Bronze Monument Co., and Mr. Owen’s sales agent, Mr. J.T. Jones, who was a stonecutter by trade. In addition, John L. Robards, Hannibal attorney, came along to view the monument.
Fortunately for the preservation of historical data, the Palmyra Spectator republished the Clipper Herald’s story in its Jan. 21, 1881 edition. (newspapers.com)
The newspaper reported: “After careful inspection of the many different styles and classes of monuments, Mr. Anderson determined on the White Bronze as the kind which would prove most durable and at the same time prove equally as attractive to the eye as the finest of marble.”
What is White Bronze?
The newspaper article explained that “white bronze” was, in actuality, refined zinc.
“The metal isn’t an amalgam, or an alloy, but a pure metal, just the same as gold, silver or copper. The zinc used in the manufacture of these monuments is refined by the severest chemical tests known to science, and is as absolutely pure as metallurgical methods can produce.”
Frank Leskovitz, on the website “Science Leads the Way,” offers a brief history of this type of monument.
Most, if not all, of the original casting for the grave markers was done in Bridgeport, Conn., Leskovitz explains.
Beginning in 1874, and continuing until 1914, the Monumental Bronze Co., created thousands of markers and statues, including Confederate and Union war memorials.
Leskovitz surmised that the sections of the country with the most White Bronze markers were the sections where the best salesmen were employed.
Peak sales were in the mid 1880s.
When the country was gearing up for participation in the first world war, the government needed all available zinc for munitions. The monument company shut its doors. After the war, Leskovitz said, there was an attempt to restart monument production, but the company never was able to get back on its feet financially.
The promoters of White Bronze monuments were banking on the fact that their monuments would withstand the test of time. In reality, those early claims proved true.
Using the Mitchell monument in Mt. Olivet Cemetery as an example, the lettering remains clear and crisp, just as it was back in 1881 when it was first installed.
Jeanne Brosi, co-owner along with her husband, Bruce, of Hannibal Monument Co., is a keen observer of grave markers throughout the region.
She said there is one near the office at Mount Olivet Cemetery near Hannibal. She saw three such markers in Greenwood Cemetery at Palmyra, Mo., recently. One represents the Russell family, the second the Rufus E. Anderson family, and the other the Sosey family.
“I see the monuments from time to time,” Jeanie said, “they are hollow, and usually oblique - or tall -markers. They hold up nice; I don’t see anything wrong with them. They have a green tint to them; they are all around the area.” In addition to Palmyra and Hannibal, she believes she has seen one at Newark, Mo.
An advertisement in the Palmyra Spectator of Sept. 30, 1881, carried testimonies from area residents who had purchased and were satisfied with White Bronze Monuments sold by William L. Owen:
J.B. and Wm. Young, D. and S. Sparks, T.D. Freeman, John B. Randol and J.A. Gerard, Monroe City.
Mary T. Leake and Sarah E. Linthicum, Hunnewell.
E.D. Gullion, Emerson.
J.W. Russell, Palmyra.
Rufus E. Anderson, Hannibal.
Rufus E. Anderson purchased a White Bronze monument for his young daughter, Fannie, age 9, who died on Nov. 22, 1880. Her funeral cortege was described in last week’s history story, including the visual that her white casket was carried to the burial site at Greenwood Cemetery by youth, on a bitterly cold day.
W.L. Owens dies
William L. Owens, the agent for White Bronze monuments, died July 25, 1885, at the age of 58.
True to his trust in the products he sold, his grave is marked with a White Bronze monument. He is buried at Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church Cemetery, Marion County, Mo.
The lettering on Fannie Anderson’s White Bronze monument in Greenwood Cemetery, Palmyra, remains crisp and readable, 138 years after it was originally placed on the child’s gravesite. Photo contributed by Jeanne Brosi, Hannibal Monument Co.
The Russell family monument in Greenwood Cemetery, Palmyra, Mo. Photo contributed by Jeanne Brosi of Hannibal Monument Co.
The White Bronze Sosey family monument at Greenwood Cemetery in Palmyra, lists the children of Mary Ann and Jacob Sosey, who, along with their mother, died before the Civil War. Jacob remarried, and he and his sons from the second marriage were long-time owners and operators of The Palmyra Spectator, whose archives, accessible via newspapers.com, offer a wealth of historic information. Jacob Sosey died Sept. 8, 1888. His grave marker is also of White Bronze. Photo contributed by Jeanne Brosi, Hannibal Monument Co.
Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com