Graceland Cemetery: Clara Eliza Getty

Graceland Cemetery, Chicago:  Clara Eliza Getty mausoluem

Graceland Cemetery, Chicago: Clara Eliza Getty mausoluem

If you have the money and you want a mausoleum you might as well go to the best designer in town.

Henry Harrison Getty (1838-1919), the Chicago lumber baron (not related to the more famous oil-rich Getty family), commissioned Louis Henry Sullivan to design a family mausoleum after the death of his wife Clara Eliza Getty (1843-1890).

Louis Sullivan (1856-1924) is one of the three greatest architects who worked in the city in the aftermath of the catastrophic fire of 1871.  With his business partner Dankmar Adler (1844-1900), his pupil Frank Lloyd Wright and the distinctive Romanesque-revival architect Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1866), Sullivan rose to the challenge of building quickly and building big to rebuild the devastated centre that we now call The Loop.

Sullivan and Adler were particularly adept at using the new steel-frame construction to contrive new stylistic rules to make sense of the changing proportions of the high buildings that became known as “skyscrapers”, such as their Auditorium Building (1889).

But Sullivan could work exquisitely on a small scale, and his Getty Tomb in Graceland Cemetery is a gem.

Sullivan is the modern originator of the expression “form follows function”, which he himself drew from the Roman author Vitruvius – “firmitas, utilitas, venustas” – “solid, useful, beautiful”.

So Clara Eliza Getty’s tomb combines immaculately plain ashlar with a delicate pattern of octagons in which is set a fine Romanesque doorway of plain stonework finely decorated, that frames delicate bronze doors by Yale & Towne.

The sides of the mausoleum echo the doorway with semi-circular bronze windows.

Henry Harrison Getty was laid to rest with his wife, and in due course their only daughter Alice (1865-1946) joined them.

Frank Lloyd Wright said of the Getty Tomb, “Outside the realm of music, what finer requiem?”

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