“Draped in a Black Cloth”
The sizeable, granite grave monument of Jacob S. Perry and his wife, Martha, is sure to catch the eye of the beholder in Mount Olivet’s Area R, located not far from the graves of Barbara Fritchie and Gov. Thomas Johnson, Jr. The funerary structure is topped with a sculptured granite urn, covered by what is known as a “shroud of grief."
I have prior knowledge regarding the symbolism here, but I consulted a website entitled headstonesymbols.co.uk and found the following passage under a heading entitled Drapery and Urns within a section: Headstone Symbols and Meanings:
Drapery seen on headstones usually depicts the veil between life and death and the crossing of that plane and to others it can symbolise God’s protection until Resurrection.
Before hearses became common, during the deceased’s journey from their home to the church their coffin was draped in a black cloth, sometimes decorated with memento mori or crosses. This was the pall. It was held at each corner by a pallbearer, while the coffin itself was supported by underbearers. Drapery remained a favourite symbol of the Victorians and is often seen covering urns.
In the Victorian era the urn became a symbol of death and the return of the physical body to dust while the soul was everlasting. The urn’s history started in Pagan religions that carried out cremation. The ashes of the deceased where commonly collected and buried in an old or roughly made cooking pot. As these civilizations grew the containers became more elaborate. The urns we see today on grave monuments are often stylised on ancient Roman and Greek containers for ashes.
Early Christian funerals were seen as a symbol of the burial and resurrection of Christ and cremation was seen as a pagan practice, and this view was not changed until the late 19th century. As the population increased in major cities, cemeteries became overcrowded and unhygienic conditions arose with burials only just below the surface. A solution was needed, and with changes in attitude and advances in technology, cremation was seen as a solution to the problem. The ashes where again collected in urns and placed in a cemetery columbarium, a building containing niches in the wall to hold the urns.
The symbolism and iconography seem quite appropriate for this particular grave, as I found that the original lot owner, (the forementioned Jacob S. Perry), worked as an undertaker as his life’s profession. He was based in the area of Walkersville and Woodsboro northeast of Frederick. He would also conduct services as Thurmont as well.
Mr. Perry led a pretty straightforward life as I didn’t find a great deal about him in the history books and newspapers. He was born on May 8th, 1827 in Leitersburg, Maryland, located northeast of Hagerstown. His parents were Jacob Perry, Sr. (1802-1880) and Mary Stokes (1789-1870). He was living with a wheelright named Solomon Conaway and working as a carpenter in Woodsboro by the time of the 1850 census.
Jacob married Martha Ann Geasey five years later (1855) on Christmas Day. The Perrys would make their home in Walkersville (northeast of Frederick City) and have nine children as I could find, starting with Ida Maria Perry in 1856. A second daughter would be born in October 1858, Florentine "Flora" Amelia Perry. A son named Washington Everett was born in 1860, but sadly both daughters would die within three weeks of each other in late March-April, 1862.
I found the draft registration for our subject in connection with the American Civil War. I did not see that he actually served for either army during this turbulent period, but he did father another child as James Pleasonton Perry was born in April 1863. Residing in Walkersville, I’m sure Jacob watched along with his neighbors, the Union Army, under new general, George M. Meade as they headed north through town en-route to Gettysburg in early summer.
An old newspaper featured an annual accounting of the Frederick County Government, and Jacob S. Perry is listed as having built coffins for the town of Thurmont.
His connection to Thurmont likely stemmed from this locale serving home to his parents. To be exact, an obituary in 1872 for Jacob Perry, Sr. (our subject's father) claimed that the former Middletown native had died in Franklinville just north of Thurmont, then known as Mechanicstown. This is the area where you could find two outstanding commercial landmarks along today’s US15—Catoctin Mountain Orchard and the recently-closed Shamrock Restaurant.
Another aside involving Jacob, Jr. comes from Jacob Engelbrecht who wrote that Jacob Perry (Sr.) was appointed keeper of the Frederick Almshouse in February, 1852, but declined the position, allowing Mr. William T. Duvall to take the post. This same Mr. Duvall would leave the Almshouse two years later to become the first superintendent of Mount Olivet Cemetery.
Three more children would be born to Jacob S. Perry and Martha before the end of the decade. These included Katherine Idaho Perry (b. July, 1865), John Jacob Perry (b. September, 1867), and William KIracofe Perry (b. September, 1869).
The 1870 census shows the Perry family living in Mount Pleasant. This would be the residence in which two more children were added to the family, Matilda Lorena Perry (1872-1957) and Harry Perry. The latter died as an infant, surviving only two days, passing on May 21st, 1876.
For the next 30 years, the Perrys continued living in Walkersville and I found that they lived in a six-room, frame house on the corner of West Frederick Street and Maple Avenue. I'm sure the builder was our subject.
Jacob took part in the nearby community through his work and involvement with the United Brethren Church. I was happy to find some related clippings in the newspapers that made mention to Mr. Perry and these business and church activities. I’m sure he would consider his greatest accomplishment the fact that he and wife Martha raised six children into adulthood. A 1910 article captured the occasion of Jacob’s 83rd birthday. The paper added the superlative that Jacob and Martha were the oldest couple in town.
The twosome would celebrate a few more birthdays and anniversaries before Jacob’s death on June 21st, 1914. He died at the home of his daughter, Katherine Long, in Walkersville. He was 87 years old.
It is not known whether or not Jacob crafted his own coffin, but the undertaking was performed by Thomas P. Rice, a leading man of the trade during that time. He would be laid to rest in Mount Olivet on June 23rd, 1914. His predeceased children had been removed to Mount Olivet in April of 1908. This included Ida, Florentine and Harry.
I’d like to assume that the tradition of draping Mr. Perry’s coffin with black cloth actually happened. As he performed this practice for so many that he delivered to their final resting places, hopefully the same was done for him. His pall bearers consisted of sons and grandsons.
Just sixteen months later, Martha would join her husband in Mount Olivet.
Jacob’s son William K. Perry would be buried here in 1946, and daughter Matilda “Mattie” Gregory just over a decade later in 1957. Their spouses and a few of their children are today also part of the Perry lot in Area R.
NANCY M DRONEBURG
8/15/2021 11:16:31 am
Another great history lesson
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