The Funeral Portrait

John Crouse I

Bronze door knocker on the Crouse family mausoleum in Oakwood Cemetery, 940 Comstock Avenue, next to Syracuse University, in Syracuse, Onondaga County, New York. John Crouse (1802-1889) was a corpulent German-American grocer and banker who established the “John Crouse Memorial College for Women” at Syracuse University. He was once the wealthiest citizen of Syracuse, estimated to be worth $10 million in 1889. His son, John J. Crouse, Jr. (1834-1886), became mayor of Syracuse.

John Crouse II

A gruesome spectacle unfolded in 1988, nearly a century after John, Jr.’s death, when a Syracuse University student stole his skull for art class. His fellow students called the cops when a foul smell from his attempt at cleaning the skull permeated their dorm. When investigators traced it back to the Crouse mausoleum, they discovered vandals had destroyed the interior, smashed coffins, and scattered body parts all over the floor. What a bunch of animals.

Oakwood Cemetery, at 940 Comstock Avenue, next to Syracuse University, in Syracuse, Onondaga County, New York, was designed by landscape architect Howard Daniels and opened in 1859. It is a secular Victorian “rural” or “garden” style cemetery where over 60,000 people are interred in 160 acres. This is by far the most interesting cemetery I’ve ever visited in the U.S., with Gothic and Victorian mausoleums and family plots dotting undulating, wooded hills.

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