THIS is the tomb of the radical modern architect Frank Furness?!
It seems appropriate to write about this experience on the day of Frank Furness’ death in 1912. Furness radically reshaped St. Stephen’s in 1878, so he is very much a part of our story.
I came upon this tomb, lushly framed by wild strawberries and dandelions, looking for something else at Philadelphia’s riverside Laurel Hill Cemetery, an important early American garden cemetery founded in 1836. My jaw dropped when I saw this modest marker with a surprising inscription. It honors not the architect, but Furness’ very recent (1899) Medal of Honor for heroism during the Civil War more than thirty years before. Surrounded by the traditional burial tributes of veterans of various wars. I was so unprepared I checked the life dates. Yes indeed.
Before he began his architectural career, the young red-headed Furness, it turns out, enlisted and was made captain and commander of Company F of the 6th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry, known as Rush’s Lancers for their distinctive Austrian lances—an archaic weapon more dashingly romantic than practical in modern war, they soon learned tragically, whereupon they limited their use to ceremonial and camp insignia. I knew he designed the very striking 1888 monument for the regiment that features the 9-foot lances on the site of their position at Gettysburg. Late in life, however, Furness applied for the Medal of Honor for warfare bravery (for carrying ammunition to another unit under heavy fire at Trevelian Station, VA, June 1864, the cavalry’s heaviest engagement). He was the only one of the regiment, and the only architect, to receive this medal.
Whatever his and his family’s view of his eclipse as an architect by 1912, his grave marker and the recent burial tributes remind us of his multiple dimensions and facets of his posthumous reputation. There is more to know, for sure. I hope this gravesite is on Laurel Hill Cemetery’s “Gettysburg and Beyond” tour the morning of July 6!
—Suzanne Glover Lindsay, St. Stephen’s historian and curator