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And the Search for a Proper Memorial

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Smithson's Crypt


James Smithson's Will

The Italian Grave Site

The Exhumation and Journey to America

The Search for a Proper Memorial

Symbolism of the Grave Marker



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link to image of design for Smithson's mortuary chapel

Design for Smithson's Mortuary Chapel by Hornblower & Marshall, 1905. SI neg # 89-14398

By November 1904, preparations were underway for crating and shipping the Italian grave marker to the Smithsonian. Packed in sixteen crates, it left Italy on December 8, 1904, on the "Princess Irene," the same ship on which Smithson's remains had been transported.

A simple dignified mortuary chapel was then created in the room to the left of the north entrance of the Smithsonian Building by the Washington architectural firm of Hornblower & Marshall. The room featured three non-ecclesiastical stained-glass windows, a plaster ceiling with a deep cove molding and a floor made of dark Tennessee marble. The entrance to the room was sealed off by a heavy iron gate fashioned from pieces of the fence that had surrounded the Italian grave site. Photographs of the chapel show a somber and contemplative room, an effect further enhanced for the dedication ceremony by two large palm and laurel wreath arrangements flanking the Italian marble monument. The significance of the palm as a symbol of eternal peace and the laurel wreath, emblematic of glory, made these appropriate adornments for the neo-classical tomb.

Entombment took place on March 6, 1905, in a small ceremony following the Regents' meeting. Smithson's casket was carried down the grand staircase from the Regents' Room and was sealed in a vault specially built beneath his original monument. The austere "Mortuary Chapel," as it was then called, was to be a temporary resting place for Smithson's remains only until Congress provided an adequate provision for a proper memorial. In the years since Smithson's remains were interred within the Smithsonian Building, the Institution bearing his name has literally grown up around him, far exceeding anything he could ever have envisioned. The Smithsonian Institution itself has become the most splendid and fitting memorial to its benefactor.

Go to "Symbolism of the Grave Marker"

Smithson's Mortuary Chapel, 1905.

Smithson's Mortuary Chapel, 1905.
SI neg # 17041