Tuesday January 18th 2022

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“White Bronze” Monument claimed to “Bridge” centuries

One look at Mary Cook”'s 128 year old marker here shows that many of the manufacturer”'s claims”“doesn”'t crumble, repels moss, remains legible”“turned out to be true. The zinc has oxidized and has turned the marker a beautiful shade of pale blue. “White Brass” or zinc”'s distinctive blue color and the sharp detail made possible by casting rather than carving, make the markers beautiful.

by Sue Hunter Weir-83rd in a Series

When Sylvester Cook needed to buy a headstone for his wife, Mary, he wanted one that was beautiful and that would last. He took the somewhat unusual step of ordering a marker for her from the Monumental Brass Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Despite the company”'s name, the marker he bought isn”'t made of brass; it is made of zinc, a much less expensive metal that Monumental Brass, for marketing purposes, advertised as “White Bronze.”

Between 1874 and 1914, Monumental Brass was the only company in the United States that manufactured cast zinc markers. They offered their customers hundreds of styles to choose from, and customized the markers with zinc plates that attached to one of their standard marker styles. Customers ordered the markers from local sales representatives or from catalogs at prices ranging from $2.00 for a small marker to $5,000 for a large monument.

Monumental Brass Company seems to have learned a thing or two from P. T. Barnum, Bridgeport”'s best-known entrepreneur by observing his marketing techniques. An ad for “White Bronze” markers boldly claimed:

“Marble is entirely out of date. Granite soon gets moss-grown, discolored, requires constant expense and care, and eventually crumbles back to Mother Earth. Besides, it is very expensive. White Bronze is strictly everlasting. It cannot crumble with the action of frost. Moss growth is an impossibility.”

One look at Mary Cook”'s marker shows that many of those claims, at least the ones about the virtues of zinc, turned out to be true. Her marker has not crumbled to dust, and it is not covered with moss. The zinc has oxidized and has turned the marker a beautiful shade of pale blue. The inscription that Sylvester chose for Mary (“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”) is as legible today as it was when the marker was set in 1883. It is doubtful that the marker will be truly everlasting, but after 128 years, it is in remarkably good condition.

But zinc markers, especially large ones, do have some drawbacks. The markers are hollow, and zinc is a brittle metal that can be easily shattered if struck. The weight of the metal in tall markers, memorial statues, and obelisks causes the zinc to “creep” downward and spread at the base. Nonetheless, zinc”'s distinctive blue color and the sharp detail made possible by casting rather than carving, make the markers beautiful.

Despite their affordability and durability, zinc markers never really caught on. Although they can be found in cemeteries across the country, it is rare for any cemetery to have more than a few. In 1914, munitions plants needed all of the zinc that they could get and Monumental Brass stopped using it as a material for markers.

There is not much information available about Sylvester and Mary Cook. Public records show that they were both born in New York. When the 1870 Federal Census was taken, Sylvester was 14 years old and living with his parents. Five year later, he was living in Dodge County, Minnesota and working as a locomotive engineer. He married Mary J. Allen in Minneapolis on July 12, 1881. Mary died less than two years later, on March 1, 1883, from consumption (tuberculosis) at the age of 29. Sylvester died on October 19, 1891, from diabetes at the age of 36. He is buried in an unmarked grave next to Mary and her zinc marker.

The Lockwoods are buried in six unmarked graves in Section 4 of the cemetery. (Section 4 is the circular block of graves in the turnaround formed by the cemetery”'s single road.) This past Memorial Day, Lu Jacobson brought them flowers. She will honor them with a new marker later this summer.

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