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Forest Lawn Cemetery - Table of Contents

Frederick Grader Zinc Monument
Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, New York

What makes this memorial noteworthy is that it is made of zinc. At the time it was constructed in 1886, zinc was the lightest building material available. This is the reason that the Sears catalog offered to custom construct a memorial and ship it.

There is at least one other zinc memorial in Forest Lawn.


Click on photos for larger size

White Bronze - Zinc

Zinc monuments appear to be made of a bluish gray stone. These monuments are actually made of molded metal! The material was called White Bronze to make it more appealing to customers, but it is actually pure zinc. Left exposed to the elements the monuments rapidly form a tough and very durable skin of zinc carbonate that protects the underlying metal. The zinc carbonate is what gives the monuments their characteristic bluish gray color. The monuments were erected in cemeteries across the entire United States (including Hawaii) and Canada.

Catalog ordering: These monuments were ordered from a sales agent with a catalog, and were very inexpensive. The price range for these monuments was from about $6 for a single cast tablet, to as much as $5,000. The White Bronze markers copied the same shapes and styles as marble and granite monuments, but the stone monument dealers seldom sold the metal monuments. The back of the catalog featured an ad asking people to become sales agents with "No capital investment needed."

The catalogs listed the various shapes, symbols, sculptures, and panels that could be used. The customer would decide on the overall design he wanted, and then pick out the various symbols, and other decorative elements required. Price was based on the over all monument, not the number of images. Customers often ordered several images for each side. The individual pieces were then molded in zinc, and then simply bolted together with screws with decorated heads. Any text required was easily molded in the same fashion. When other family members died at a later date, old decorative panels could be easily removed and replaced with new castings with the updated information.

Originators: M.A. Richardson and C.J. Willard perfected the method of casting in 1873, but they did not have the capital that was required for full scale manufacturing, so they sold out to W.W. Evans. Evans also failed to get anything started, and sold the process to the Wilson, Parsons & Company of Bridgeport Connecticut in 1874.

Process: Wax models were created by an artist, who worked at the plant. His models were then used to create plaster molds for creating the individual pieces. The company used a patented process for fusing the larger pieces together. Zinc was heated to temperatures way above its melting point, then poured into the joints between individual pieces. This caused the adjoining surfaces to melt together, welding them into a single unit, a much stronger process than soldering.

The zinc carbonate that gives the monuments their characteristic bluish gray color also creates a hard protective skin so that the castings are still extremely sharp and clear. However, zinc has two unfortunate characteristics. It is quite brittle and may break if hit by a falling branch, and over many years it's unsupported weight will creep and sag, causing some of the larger monuments to bow or crack. Another problem, but one that affects all cemetery monuments, is poor foundations. Crumbling bases, and shifting soil has caused many monuments to lean.

The general rarity of these monuments is due to the fact that they were only produced for 40 years. This short production was caused by the fact that the metal monuments were never accepted by the public. Some cemeteries passed regulations that prohibited the use of metal markers, but it was mostly because people did not fully accept the claims that these monuments were superior to stone.

See also : Pedlar People Sheetmetal Building Material Catalog: Zinc Statues, Canada

Text sources:

Photos and their arrangement © 2002 Chuck LaChiusa
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