Monday, March 26, 2007
The Philanthropist known as the Prisoner's Friend
Welcome to the grave of "The Philanthropist."
What an amazing sight. This was another one of those jam-on-the-brakes moments. It is the most highly carved and figured monument I've ever seen. For all of its opulence, however, the man's name is not recorded. Only his initials, W.J.M.
The figure of a woman sits in the rubble before the broken doors of a prison, which bears a striking resemblance to the historic Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Eastern State was the world's first prison to abandon mere incarceration and punishment for spiritual reflection and change. Unfortunately, this system proved cruel in its own right. Prisoners were held in strict isolation. The prison's website explains: "To prevent distraction, knowledge of the building, and even mild interaction with guards, inmates were hooded whenever they were outside their cells. But the proponents of the system believed strongly that the criminals, exposed, in silence, to thoughts of their behavior and the ugliness of their crimes, would become genuinely penitent. Thus the new word, penitentiary." Benjamin Franklin and the Quakers were the architects of this system.
I found this monument late in the day when I was worried that the cemetery would lock its gates. When I saw this amazing monument, however, I had to stop. As I took pictures of the statues, the sun bled into a rich, orange sunset. This photo of the angel against the sky was taken when the light first began to turn. The overall shot at the top was taken last, just before I turned to leave.
I don't know anything more about this man, but I thought I leave you with these thoughts about him.
From the plaque: He has shown his love for his fellow men as the founder and president of colleges, hospitals, asylums, [ ]dispensaries, [ ] and mission societies, houses of industry and refuge for discharges and homeless prisoners. Through his strenuous exertions and indomitable perseverance over 50,000 prisoners....
UPDATE: Major kudos to Stephen Johnston for researching and discovering that W.J.M. is William James Mullen, "a jeweler, dentist and philanthropist, estimated [to have] rescued 50,000 people from unjust imprisonment. His monument depicts the door of Moyamensing prison with a recently freed woman on the steps. Mullen himself, in a suit and flowing classical cape, stands nearby on a pedestal." So much for my theory that the monument depicts Eastern State Penitentiary! Here is a lithograph of Moyamensing Prison, which no longer exists. Thanks Stephen!!
(Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)