Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The DIAMOND PETERS' Mausoleum, Forest Lawn Cemetery, Richmond, VA

Forest Lawn Cemetery is in Richmond, Virginia is Located at 4000 Pilots Lane near Washington Park north of Laburnum Ave.

Established in 1922, Richmond's Forest Lawn Cemetery an early example of the suburban facilities established for a population growing beyond the capacity of early burying grounds like Hollywood.  Only a few mausoleums dot the landscape of Forest Lawn as most of the tidy acres along its tree-shaded streets display fairly conventional headstones.

Nothing in this pleasant vista prepares the visitor for the mausoleum of Mrs. Diamond Peters and her family, which surely takes the prize among Richmond's cemeteries for sheer excess in style and execution.

The neglected and weed-choked plot around it is in stark contrast to the temple-form mausoleum, built of highly polished black and gray granite and which proclaims the name of its principal occupant in large gilt letters on each pediment: DIAMOND PETERS. The approach crosses a cobblestone ditch and passes a bronze plaque of memorial poetry ("Life wouldn't seem so bleak today / had you not seemed so dear…").  A separate pedestal nearby holds a granite plaque, now weathered and illegible, which once illustrated the Peters family tree.  

In front of the mausoleum, an impressive stone circle made of a single piece of polished granite four feet in diameter encloses a large metal engagement ring with an empty setting.  A 1997 article about the Peters tomb called this a fountain, designed to project water in the shape of a diamond, but no piping for water is apparent. Instead, the setting probably held a large glass or plastic diamond, and there are three floodlights around the perimeter of the planter to illuminate it at night.  It is hard to imagine who would be in the cemetery after dark to appreciate this display, but the brilliantly lit oversize diamond ring must have been quite a sight when intact and functioning.  

The most arresting features of the mausoleum are the two portrait statues of Diamond Peters herself that flank the entrance.  These life size marble statues show her as a broadly smiling bride on the left and as an equally cheerful matron on the right.  In each version her hands are clasped demurely in front of her, but as a bride Peters holds a large spray of roses.  

 Athena-like, the statues stare out from under the porch of Diamond Peters' granite tomb, depicting a woman on one hand delighted with the prospect of marriage and on the other unfazed by the passage of years that have transformed her.

Above the entrance is an engraved band of portraits, presumably the Peters grandchildren, which flank an image in a diamond-shaped frame above the door of Diamond and her husband Angelo on their wedding day.  Angelo Peters wears a military uniform, reflecting the date of their marriage during World War II.  The images of the children are oddly informal, as though they were taken from high school yearbook photos.  

 One young man with a slight moustache has
been immortalized forever in stone - wearing a T-shirt.

Inside the mausoleum are the tombs of the Peters and other family members.  A switch on the wall inside the door operates a functioning electric candelabrum, although no meter is apparent outside. Diamond Peters' inscription reads "Born Happy March 18, 1923 - Left This Earth February 25, 1982."  Beside her, her husband's epitaph, like the entire mausoleum, testifies to his utter devotion to his wife:  "Angelo J. Peters," it reads, "Born For the Purpose of Marrying Diamond September 17, 1944 - Born March 20, 1920 - Left This Earth February 3, 1987."

The source of the wealth that built this astonishing expression of marital affection is unclear.  A 1999 article about Forest Lawn Cemetery commented on the Peters tomb and stated that Angelo Peters was the founder of Dunkin' Donuts, but the website for that corporation credits a man named Bill Rosenberg for having founded the chain in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1950.  Forest Lawn Cemetery Superintendent Charlie Thomas was once quoted in Northside Magazine, saying Angelo Peters was very wealthy "because he sold a recipe." Whatever the source, many thousands of dollars were obviously expended in sheltering the mortal remains of Diamond Peters and her loving husband Angelo.

Unfortunately, the decrepit condition of the Peters mausoleum today bespeaks a lack of interest in it, although wilted flowers and verses left inside on a small table indicate someone does visit on occasion. While the brilliantly polished surfaces of the granite temple have resisted the weather, rank weeds grow up around it and choke the centerpiece in front with its oversize ring and missing diamond.  The Peters plot does not appear to be in the same perpetual care program as the rest of Forest Lawn, and has suffered as a result.

The floodlights in front of the tomb are now broken, although their blazing away in the otherwise pitch-black and deserted cemetery is a vivid image. The twin marble statues would have stood out dead white against the dark wall of the tomb below the glowing gilded letters DIAMOND PETERS on the pediment. Today, the whole effect of the grandiose mausoleum and its deteriorating setting in this corner of Forest Lawn Cemetery invokes a melancholy air.  The Peters mausoleum invites thoughts of futility, and the impermanence of life and love, despite one devoted husband's extraordinary attempt to freeze both in polished granite and marble.

-- Selden R.


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Kimberly King Wise said...

The husband wasn't the "founder" of Dunkin' Donuts.....he sold the donut recipe TO the founder of Dunkin' Donuts and made millions of dollars from that sale. So it's a cross of the 2 stories.

~Kimberly Wise

Dave Satterfield said...

It is sad that so many assume that granite is truly a rock for the ages. In fact, granite is a fairly soft rock and much lighter than others such as basalt. The lightness accounts for the rise of the continents which float on basalt (basalt is about 4 times as dense). While tougher than say, sandstone, granite can be chiseled readily and it does not hold a polish smooth surface easily. This is why it needs to be sealed if used as a counter top in a kitchen. And this is also why the three plaques at this mausoleum have crumbled making them nearly unreadable. A deep etching in marble would have served better.
When next I visit, I may try to make a rubbing to reveal the texts, including the family tree. Even when new, it would have been difficult to read because the etching was very shallow and the speckled appearance of the stone interferes with reading. An oblique lighting may also help.
We shall see.