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10 September 2016

Statue of Bertha Wolff

The tombstone for Bertha Wolff is a bit different.  There's no birth date or death date.  Not even a surname.  There's only Bertha.  A statue of her, "upon a Grecian pedestal," towering over the silent city that surrounds her.

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100_4431Bertha was the wife of William Wolff, namesake of this section of Rose Hill Cemetery.  She was born about 1852-1854 in Europe, and died 15 September 1904.  Bertha's obituary ran in the Macon Telegraph the day after her death [via GenealogyBank]:

DEATH OF MRS. WOLFF.

Wife of Mr. William Wolff Expired Suddenly at Residence.
Mrs. Bertha Wolff, wife of William Wolff, died at the family residence yesterday afternoon at 4 o'clock rather unexpectedly.  Mrs. Wolff had been in poor health for several months but her sudden demise was not expected.  She was up and out on the front veranda of the residence yesterday morning and expressed herself as feeling much betetr [sic].  Death was due to heart disease.

Mrs. Wolff was the wife of William Wolff who was at one time prominent in the wholesale dry goods business of this city.  She was born in Prussia and was married to Mr. Wolff in Macon 31 years ago and was 50 years old at the time of death, coming to this country when quite young.

She has no children and only her husband survives with two brothers, Felix and William Russak of New York city.

The funeral services will occur at the residence 315 New street this afternoon at 4 o'clock.  Rabbi Witt will conduct funeral services.  The interment will take place in the William Wolff cemetery which her husband donated to the congregation Beth-Israel.

Bertha's statue is also significant because of who sculpted it – John Walz of Savannah, Georgia.  He is responsible for many works of art around the city of Savannah, as well as several examples of mortuary art found in the famed Bonaventure Cemetery.

100_4434I was a bit skeptical when I first saw the signature on Bertha's statue, so I did some more research and found this article from the 24 March 1907 Macon Telegraph [again, via GenealogyBank]:

BEAUTIFUL STATUE MRS. WM. WOLFF

MAGNIFICENT PRODUCTION BY GERMAN SCULPTOR, JOHN WALZ.

Upon a Grecian pedestal, embellished with symbolic ornaments, stands the statue of Mrs. William Wolff, in meek repose, holding a bunch of lilies, symbolic of purity, and dropping one with the right hand as if placing it on the grave, while in the freize [sic] below is to be seen the anthem, denoting the chorus of angels.  And further down to the right and left are festoons of immortels [sic] and the beautiful flower poppy with buds and leaves symbolic of sleep.

The epitaph is chaste like the inscription on the monument.  The name "Bertha" is in raised letters of German Type, with a beautiful sentiment expressed in the following words below:

"The heart's keen anguish only those can tell
Who have bid the dearest and the loved farewell."

The originator and sculptor of this magnificent piece had a difficult task to produce the statue never having seen Mrs. Wolff, and had only photos to give him an idea of facial contour and expression.  But by comparing one with the other, the artist finally succeeded in getting the likeness.

Macon has in this monument a work of art only equated by those in Savannah, where the sculptor placed the first one over the grave of Mrs. McMillan in Bonaventure cemetery, about two years ago.

This beautiful monument to Mrs. Wolff, in Wolff cemetery, is the work of Sculptor John Walz, of Savannah, Ga., 407-9 Liberty street East.  He was a pupil of the great French master, Aime Millet, and Victor Tilgner, of Vienna, Austria.  The monument was placed yesterday, and as a work of art has no superior in the burial grounds of this city.

Here's a short video about John Walz, and his meaning to Savannah and Bonaventure Cemetery:

For more images, from my personal archive, of the mortuary art of John Walz, visit the Southern Graves blog.

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