Woolworth’s Insane Egyptian Temple Mausoleum (And A Few Others)

As I was exploring New York City’s cemeteries for my recent article on the Titanic, I ended up shooting a bunch of random graves that happened to catch my eye. I was just looking through the folder of pictures, and I thought I’d share a few of my favorites.

First off, this is department store mogul F. W. Woolworth’s mausoleum in Woodlawn…


…and is there a cooler way to spend eternity than in an Egyptian temple??


Designed in the Egyptian revival style by architect John Russell Pope in 1920, Woolworth’s mausoleum is guarded by a pair of bad-ass sphinxes…


…er, rather large breasted bad-ass sphinxes…


…armed with some menacing claws:


Two pillars support the entrance…


…each lined with hieroglyphics. I’d love to know if these have actual meaning – and is that a beetle with its wings outstretched in the center?


The entrance door in bronze. Also buried here is Barbara Hutton, Woolworth’s granddaughter, who led an exceptionally depressing life for being one of the wealthiest women in the world.


Finally, centered over the door is a sun, flanked by vulture wings and a pair of cobras:


Amazingly, a near duplicate by Pope exists in Pittsburgh for one Emil Winter, a businessman…

Winter Mausoleum

Photo by sportsedit15224 – Click for more!

 …though I think Emil got the cuter sphinxes:

Winter Mausoleum 3

Photo by sportsedit15224 – Click for more!

 In fact, both of these are clearly based on the 1907 Tate Mausoleum in St. Louis, which featured more comical sphinxes.

For out-and-out creepiness, you can’t beat this eerie Grim Reaper in Brooklyn’s Green-wood cemetery:


The robe-shrouded Death appears to be poring over a roll of parchment – perhaps checking for names?


I love how crouched over the figure is, like he just sank down and threw open the parchment to see where your soul is headed.


Speaking of creepy, actually picturing the reality of this grave’s epitaph might make you step a few feet back from the plot (no need to wake anyone up, right?):


To whoever buries me, please don’t get me such a lumbering, bland grave…


…and please PLEASE make sure you don’t write anything like this on it:


Reader Jim points out that turn-of-the-century Italian-American actress Duse was actually buried in Italy…so what is this doing in Brooklyn? Apparently, it’s a monument from a fan.

Herman Melville’s grave, in Woodlawn. I actually finished reading Moby-Dick on a movie shoot in the Battery. As I was reading the last few pages, I looked up and realized I was sitting beside the plaque marking Melville’s birthplace.


Finally, I do not support grave desecration in any shape or form…


…but wouldn’t this monument be ever so more fascinating if it was intentionally carved this way?



PS – Touring New York’s cemeteries is always worth the trip. However, there are a lot of stupid rules you have to watch out for. For one thing, you’re not allowed to bike through a lot of them, which is mind-boggling considering that NO ONE was at any of the cemeteries they day I went, yet I was told to get off my bike at all three. I’d understand if this was some sort of spiritual respect thing, except these cemeteries hand out “Guide to finding celebrity graves!” pamphlets. Meanwhile, they allow cars to drive through at breakneck speeds (perhaps this is to create business).

Also, some of them actually require you to have a photography permit – EVEN FOR PERSONAL USE. This is insane. If I was dead, I’d be THRILLED if someone actually bothered to come take a picture of some rock with my name on it. Trust me, NYC cemeteries: the ghosts don’t care.

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  1. Interesting in that Eleonora Duse is supposed to be buried in Italy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleonora_Duse

  2. The hieroglyphs on the columns appear to be a motif of Scarab beetles – an Egyptian symbol for rebirth, and the Ankh hieroglyph – meaning “life”. Around the bottom of the columns are lotus flowers, another common Egyptian symbol for rebirth (they had a lot of those).

    Interesting that on the entrance door the center figure (Woolworth, I assume) appears to be handing off an Ankh (his life?) to the figure on the left… his son?

    More on the “winged sun” from over the door can be found on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winged_sun

  3. Woolworth was somewhat obsessed with Napoleon and if I had to guess his desire to be buried in a tomb as such had to do with Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt…


    • the two make figures along with Woolworth may represent his ba and ka, spirits that represented sides of a persons’ personality that the Egyptians believed manifested themselves after a person dies.

  4. If you get back to St. Louis, check out Calvary and Bellefontaine cemeteries. Filled with wonderful(and some creepy) monuments.

  5. I wonder if the no bicycling rule is to keep groups of racers from flying through the narrow cemetery paths. Not that it’s any sort of answers for cars tearing through the places.

    Regarding Woolworth, it’s a crime that the lobby of his building near City Hall is closed to visitors in the name of “safety.” It’s a true treasure that few people are fortunate enough to see.

    • Hera, hear! It kills me not to be able to go into the Woolworth Building lobby. It’s a crime to keep that sight from architectural history aficionados.

  6. Maybe it’s a typo on Eleanora Duse’s grave. Perhaps it was meant to say “disparate?”

  7. I have spent so much time exploring NYC cemeteries and there are always new discoveries, but the Woolworth mausoleum is impossible to miss. Next time you are in Woodlawn, look for Patricia Cronin’s moving monument (although she’s actually still alive): http://hyperallergic.com/37601/memorial-to-a-marriage-woodlawn-cemetery-patricia-cronin/

  8. These are amazing! Especially love the grim reaper. I wonder if that was made in all seriousness or by someone with a sense of humor. Now I’m off to read up on Woolworth.

  9. The Dodge brothers have a similar tomb in Woodlawn cemetery in Detroit MI. Its one I’ve seen a few times on visits there. You can see a photo at http://www.flickr.com/photos/71288712@N00/340224244/

  10. My first thought was to wonder if Mr. Woolworth was an occultist, because in addition to the interest in Egypt (and then the frenzy following the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb) there was a strong interest in Egyptian religion at the time, and a belief that many people currently living were reincarnated ancient Egyptians – at least according to Dion Fortune. I only looked briefly but some of the links confirmed he had an interest in the occult. I’d be curious to know more.

    There’s a nifty pyramid grave in Toledo, Ohio’s Woodlawn Cemetery here: http://www.historic-woodlawn.com/attic/gunckel.html . It belongs to John Gunckel, who founded the Toledo Newsboy’s Association as a sort of boy’s club to keep them off the streets and away from trouble. The stones making up the pyramid were donated by the children he had helped. The picture isn’t the best – my grandmother and I used to go to Woodlawn every Sunday and we visited that tomb often. It’s much more impressive in person.

    (John Gunckel died in 1915, and when I was growing up in Toledo in the 1970s, we were always accosted in traffic a few times a year by senior-aged men asking us to buy the “Old Newsboys’ Paper” I wonder if any of them are left?)

  11. “For one thing, you’re not allowed to bike through a lot of them, which is mind-boggling considering that NO ONE was at any of the cemeteries they day I went, yet I was told to get off my bike at all three. ”

    But what if someone was paying respect to a loved one?

    I run around Green-Wood often, but when I go in the use the bathroom, I walk.

  12. Re the bike-ban: this is interesting because it was the recreational use of Greenwood that lead to the construction of our big parks, per “Gotham”. One of my favorites is Andrew Carnegie – up in Terrytown, surrounded by his faithful retainers, with Samuel Gompers interred a wanna-be’s distance away. Gompers was the AFL’s leader, often viewed as entirely too conciliatory to capitalist interests; Carnegie hired the Pinkerton guards who killed men, women and children to break the Homestad strike.

  13. You might want to pay a visit to Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Valhalla. It’s of interest to me because my great grandmother, great grandfather, and grandmother are all buried there. They are buried there because it was of interest to my great grandfather, as Babe Ruth is there. Just stop into the office, they’ll be happy to give you a map. Right around the corner from his headstone (and the wonderful pieces of memorabilia left there) is Billy Martin’s grave as well.

  14. Gorgeous location. Fascinating what people choose as their epitaphs. I’m sure the meaning of Scarab beetles has already been mentioned above but the Egyptians use the beetle to depict life / rebirth and the sun.

  15. Pinewoods Cemetery upstate in Troy, NY has two of the creepiest headless angels I’ve ever seen, if you ever head up that way.


  16. I voted for the High Line, but there were a ton of good choices!

  17. The Woolworth Estate (currently for sale) in Glen Cove is just as amazing.

  18. I was just at Woodlawn speaking with security there. They ask for people to stop in for a permit so they know what you are doing there as there are Tiffany stainglass, copper, bronze that people are known to pilfer. Once he told me that I totally understood.

  19. Hello I am an Egyptologist that is studying Egyptomania in Cmeteries. I have set up a B page of the same name and would like your permission to add your photos to the albums I am setting up for the various cemeteries. Please contact me at the email address below to give me written permission. Also if there are any other photos that you or anyone else has of mausoleums that have Eyptianized columns, hieroglyphs, architectural temple design, stained glass, etc. please post them on my FB page with permission to add them to the albums. Thank you very much. Steven LaPidus

  20. Sorry for the misspelling. Its Egyptomania in Cemeteries.