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Tag: death mask

Facial Hair Friday: The Death Mask of Walter Q. Gresham

Today’s featured facial hair is especially appropriate for the approaching Halloween weekend. It’s the plaster cast of a beard, taken of the deceased Walter Q. Gresham, who was Secretary of State at the time of his death in May of 1895.

This  death mask—complete with a few beard hairs stuck in it—may seem like an oddity now, but at the time it was a mark of reverence for a beloved official. The cast was made so that sculptors could later create a permanent likeness of the deceased.

And Walter Q. Gresham seemed a likely candidate for a commemorative statue. He was enormously popular.

Gresham held several important positions, serving as a general in the Union Army during the Civil War, U.S. Postmaster General, a Federal appellate court judge, Secretary of the Treasury, and finally, President Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of State in 1893.

An article in the May 29, 1895, edition of the Washington Post covered the events in detail. Gresham was the first member of the Cabinet to have a funeral in the East Room of the White House and the second man to have the troops ordered out for his funeral. The Government Printing Office was ordered closed as a mark of respect. Flags across the city—including foreign embassies and consulates—were lowered to half mast for 10 days.

After the funeral service at the White House, the coffin was taken … [ Read all ]