Tag Archives: cemetery

“A Simple But Impressive Ceremony”

James Betelle’s death is one of the more curious aspects of his story.  He died in Italy, ending up in an unmarked pauper’s grave, while in Delaware, a stone with his name on it sits quietly in an old cemetery. How did he come to be buried (as it were), in two places?

I’ve already known from his will he desired  to be buried at his family plot in Wilmington, the stone being evidence of that. And yet, upon his death in Florence on June 3rd, 1954, he was buried there, and not returned to the U.S. per his request. Why?

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Down Wilmington Way


In March, 2008, I took a three-day excursion to James Betelle’s hometown of Wilmington, Delaware. My plan was to visit a few research libraries, see significant locations, and, well, just get a sense of where Betelle came from. What follows is a recreation of the trip presented in the dramatic diary format.

Thursday, March 13.
6:30 pm: After an early dinner, kissed the wife and boy and saddled up in the Volvo. I left like a sad-sack businessman trudging off to a shower curtain manufacturer’s convention in Boise—except it would be Delaware and a dead architect. Programmed my stops into the ludicrously indispensable GPS and headed down through the swamps of Jersey.

9 pm: Arrived at the outskirts of Wilmington on a US Route-type highway—the kind peppered with strip malls, theme restaurants and carpet stores. Taking in this bland vista I joked to myself, “no wonder Betelle left.” Yes, you tend to talk to yourself on long solo drives. My hotel, a Courtyard by Marriott, was down a short access road, flanked by two others like circling wagons.

As I pulled into the lot, I noticed across the road a TGI Fridays, a Lone Star Steakhouse and an Olive Garden—a culinary trove. A very tall, thin gentleman in a purple suit bearing the name tag “Stretch” checked me in. The room was decent and had internet access, but the view of the dumpsters was not particularly inspiring.

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Hallowed Ground

Ernest Guilbert GraveI finally visited Ernest Guilbert’s gravesite. I had made an attempt a while ago, but the office was closed. Evergreen Cemetery in Hillside, NJ, is over 150 acres, so I wasn’t about to look the hard way.

I went directly to the office, a charming little Mansard Victorian building near the main gate. The clerk was quickly able to find the record book entry for Guilbert. We discovered that his lot had three plots; his, his wife Anna, and a third, still empty and available to any Guilbert descendant. Guilbert died December 1, 1916, and according to the cemetery records, the cause was “Anemia”, and was buried on the 4th.

The clerk noted that near the lot was a tall monument, which would help locate it. I walked to the area on the map she circled, and spent about ten minutes looking for it. I couldn’t find it. I tromped back and forth where I thought it should be countless times, and was starting to get frustrated. And then I saw it, in a completely different location than I thought it should be, by about 50 feet.

The monument the clerk noted was actually Guilbert’s. It’s a tall stone, and faces the path where it’s clearly visible. A few feet from the monument are two headstones bearing Ernest and Anna’s names (hers with Bunn, as she had remarried.) The inscription reads:

And is he dead,
whose glorious mind
Lifts ours on high?
To live in hearts
we leave behind
Is not to die.

The stanza is from the poem Hallowed Ground by Thomas Campbell, written sometime in the early 1800s. According to the AIA Biography, James Betelle selected the passage. Given the size of the monument and his large, front-page obituary, it’s clear Guilbert was very well regarded–and missed–when he died.

Unfinished Stones

After a 4-6 week wait, I finally received a copy of James Betelle’s will from the New Jersey State Archives (along with some court documents, which I will discuss at a later date).

I had already seen a few pages from a 1930 version, acquired from the American Institute of Architect’s archives. Written when Betelle was still clearly successful, The ’30 draft earmarks donations to various institutions in his name, and directing his estate be left to his associates, Charles Bauer and Grant AC Behee.

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Lux Aeterna Luceat Eis

James Betelle died in Florence, Italy on June 3rd, 1954. This I have known since my earliest research into the man, and indeed many obituaries, biographies and articles point this out. What I have noticed is that one reference is merely copying an earlier one; often turns of phrase in one article can clearly be traced to previous ones, with slightly modified wording or content. It’s a biographical game of Telephone.

With the facts surrounding his death vague and diluted over the years, it has been a goal to trace these tendrils of information back to the earliest sources possible. As fortune would have it, I am going to Florence on holiday next week.

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