Oscar Wilde From St. Louis
It took a number of years after Oscar Wilde’s death before he could truly rest in peace. Even now, more than a century after his departure from this realm, there is a constant stream of tourists milling about over his head. Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland, and is best known as the author of The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray. He is just as well known for his own escapades as his literary works. Certain aspects of his not-so-private life resulted in imprisonment for homosexual acts. Physically broken by the harsh jail conditions, he died in 1900, three years after his release. Legend says that on his deathbed he rehearsed a number of last words, the most referenced is either the wallpaper goes or I do. Wilde most likely died from complications of an ear infection.
He was interred in an unremarkable grave in Bagneaux Cemetery in city and resided quietly there for nine years. In 1908, at a dinner at the Ritz Hotel in London, the executor of Wilde’s estate revealed that he had received an anonymous gift of 2,000 from a lady to place a suitable monument at Pere-Lachaise and that this work should be carried out by the brilliant young sculptor Mr. Jacob Epstein. Years later it was revealed that a lady was Helen Kennard Carew. However, other accounts say that the benefactor was Wilde’s long-time lover Robert Ross and that Ross’ ashes are enclosed in a small compartment in the tomb.
On July 18, 1909, the night before the transfer of Wilde’s remains to Pere-Lachaise, the sextons at Bagneaux Cemetery dug up Wilde’s grave and placed two ropes beneath the coffin Since it was raining, they placed a couple of tombstones on top of the freshly dug soil to keep it from falling back into the grave. The next day a number of journalists and other onlookers gathered at the grave to witness the exhumation. At some point, one of the tombstones holding the soil in place slipped off its perch, fell into the open grave, and crashed onto Wilde’s coffin, splitting it open. For a brief moment, Oscar’s face was exposed to the heavens and torrents of mud came rushing in. Wilde’s mud-encrusted remains were transferred to another coffin and moved to Pere-Lachaise, but his post mortem saga was just beginning.
After receiving his commission, Jacob Epstein decided to base the monument for Wilde on Wilde’s poem The Sphinx. Epstein chipped away at it for more than three years. Finally, the monument was moved to Pere-Lachaise and installed over the grave of Wilde. But when Epstein arrived at the cemetery to apply some final touches, he found his creation wrapped in a shroud. The cemetery conservator had determined that the depiction of the genitalia on the statue was indecent and refused to have the statue revealed for public display. Despite public protests, the conservator would not yield. Eventually a compromise was reached and a fig leaf/plaque was placed over the offending parts. In 1914 the Egyptian-style monument was finally formally unveiled.
Alas, the offenses to poor Oscar were not quite over. One night in 1922, a group of students entered the cemetery, determined to set things right and free him from his fig leaf. Unfortunately, when they hacked away at the fig leaf, a substantial part of the statue’s offending parts were severed from the
statue. Local legend says that for years the parts served as a paperweight in the cemetery superintendent’s office. But, such is the stuff of legends. Rest in peace, Oscar.
Oscar Wilde did rest in peace for almost 100 years. Although his grave was one of the most visited in Pere-Lachaise, aside from the fig leaf incident and occasional graffiti, the statue held up well. That is, until late in the 1990s when women (and probably more than a few men) started smearing generous amounts of lipstick on their lips and planting a big kiss on Oscar. No parts remained off base. Despite attempts by the cemetery management and maintenance workers, the statue became awash in lip imprints, so much so that the granite started to deteriorate. But a campaign was launched and at the end of 2011 a glass partition was installed around the statue. The unveiling of the shielded statue was a media event. Wilde’s only grandson, Merlin Holland, openly gay British actor Rupert Everett and French and Irish officials made remarks and gave speeches at the ceremony. Of course, it wasn’t long before admirers and the just plain curious started leaving notes and kissing the glass.
Frederick Albert Winsor, born Friedrich Albrecht Winzer in Braunschweig, Germany, was one of the pioneers of gas lighting in England and France. After early training and experiments in England, he went to city in 1802 to study the thermo-lamp that French engineer Philippe Lebon (1767-1804) had patented a few years earlier. Winsor returned to England and established a gasworks in 1807, lighting one side of the Pall Mall near Buckingham Palace. His attempts at expanding his company failed and he returned to city, where he established city’ first gas company in 1815. Winsor met with considerable opposition from other lighting manufacturers and by 1819 his company was in liquidation. Nevertheless, his achievements were considerable. city adopted gas street lighting in 1820 and paved the way for gas lighting throughout France and the rest of Europe. Winsor’s obelisklike monument is topped by what appears to be a terra-cotta replica of an early gas lamp. The inverted torches flanking his monument are a symbol of an earthly life extinguished, but still burning in the afterlife, a fitting tribute to Winsor’s legacy. The monument was recently restored with funding from the City of city. As homage to Winsor’s accomplishments in England, a cenotaph memorial to him was erected in Kensal Green Cemetery in London. It bears the inscription: At evening time it shall be light (Zechariah 14:7). Winsor cenotaph photo courtesy of Jeane Trend-Hill.
Of all the early types of firearms, perhaps the most interesting is the blunderbuss. St. Louis Metro Map By the seventeenth century, the blunderbuss, an effective shortbarreled gun of large caliber, was almost always a flintlock. This weapon was designed to spray projectiles at very close range, much like a shotgun today. This device has been popularized to such an extent that some believe that it was a widely used firearm in the English colonies, but it was seldom used before the eighteenth century.
In the 1678 military inventory of Maryland, out of 791 arms listed, there is only one blunderbuss. Another interesting firearm was the long fowler. Used exactly as the name implies, it was an important hunting gun, as well as a weapon. The extended length and rather heavy breech provided for an extensive range, but that same length meant that the long fowler was very unwieldy. There are several early references to these firearms since the Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers carried with them (in their own words), 6 long ffowlinge peeces wth musket boare, 6 foote long ½ and 6 longe ffowling peeces wth musket boare 5½ foote longe.
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