In his novel, "The Flaming Corsage," noted Albany author William Kennedy has two of his characters rendezvous in the Rural Cemetery. They arrange to meet by Erastus Dow Palmer's Angel At The Sepulchre, calling the heroic white marble statue "the one landmark of whose location everyone was certain" and “the best-known resident of the cemetery, eclipsing magnates and governors, even heroes of the Revolution.”
The larger-than-life Angel was commissioned to mark the grave of Emma Rathbone Turner in 1868 and is the sole monument in a large circular plot on the South Ridge. It is one of several works by Palmer found in the Cemetery and certainly the most striking.
Admired by many and criticized by some, the Angel inspired at least one imitation; I've recently come across photos of a marble statue in a California cemetery that is clearly a copy of the Angel, though the features are much softer and it lacks both the imposing grace and meticulous detail of Palmer's funerary masterpiece.
People often questioned Palmer as to whom he used as a model the Angel's features, but Palmer is said to have denied using a model for the face at all. I have a few ideas as to who inspired the statue's face, but I've save that story for now.
The Angel is one of the reasons I fell in love with the Albany Rural Cemetery. I was quite young when the movie Ironweed was filmed in various locations in and around Albany, including the Rural Cemetery. Area televisions stations did some stories on the filming locations. During one such news piece, I caught a glimpse of Palmer's Angel and just had to see it in person. I've enjoyed exploring the Cemetery ever since.
To see what Palmer's Angel looked like before the elements and lichen eroded its features, visit the Albany Institute of History and Art. Palmer's original plaster cast of the Angel At The Sepulchre forms the centerpiece of a wonderful gallery highlighting his works.
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