While driving by the fashionable Nichols Hills district in Oklahoma City the other day, we went past Rosehill Cemetery and the Rose Hill Mausoleum.
My husband, Bill asked me, “Have you been in there yet? It’s one of the hidden gems of Oklahoma.”
Bill became familiar with Rose Hill Mausoleum when he read Out of the Shadows, the Life of John. J. Harden, by Bob Burke and Kenny Arthur Franks (Oklahoma Heritage Association, 1998). Harden was one of the first real estate developers in Oklahoma having arrived here just after statehood. Harden developed home subdivisions, including my personal favorite Edgemere Park. He also developed the Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club located in Nichols Hills, plus the Farmer’s Market in 1928. Both buildings still stand today.
Oklahoma City Farmer’s Market. Caption: Oklahoma City Farmer’s Market, photo by Patrick W. Moore and shared through Wikimedia Commons.
Harden was a witness and participant of much of Oklahoma’s early history, and one of his companies paved many roads throughout the city and state. If you’d like to read more about Harden and his company exploits, check out the found in collections blog by the Oklahoma History Center. He also constructed numerous developments and buildings in surrounding states. A photo of Harden and his daughter at the Hotel Harden in 1928 in New Mexico is on Hobbs History blog. There’s also other photos of the hotel and a great story excerpted from the book on Harden’s life.
Harden also concerned himself with cemeteries and mausoleums. Why? I haven’t a clue, but I’m glad because the Rose Hill Mausoleum, is a thing of true beauty especially if you’re interested in Art Deco architecture.
Since we had time, I asked Bill to take me on a tour. My husband is a paving contractor and a building nut, hence his appreciation for Harden. When I say building, I mean any type of construction from our own log home to historic architecture. Oklahoma is a young state having only achieved statehood in 1907. We don’t have older architecture like Buffalo or Pittsburgh, but we do have gems from the Victorian period onward in nearly every small Oklahoma town dotting the prairie.
The Rose Hill Mausoleum was completed in 1919. Buried within its hallowed halls and in the cemetery beyond is a who’s who of Oklahoma historical figures. It seems disrespectful to name names so I won’t, but if you ever visit, you’ll see the families who built or were remembered in our best companies, neighborhoods, streets, lakes and buildings—including the former Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombed in 1995.
This blue ceiling with details of crosses and other stylized decoration is off the main corridor. I have to think that this shade of blue was chosen because it is similar to haint blue chosen by southerners for their dining rooms and porches. Haint blue also known as the color of the dead.
The exterior of the building finished in 1919 doesn’t give a clue to the beauty contained within. It is stark and somber as befits a final resting place, but inside there are painted ceilings, statuary and stained glass windows hinting at life after death.
Most of the windows depict religious themes, but in some of the side alcoves, there are Elysian fields and other pastoral works. I was especially interested in the oil lamps above some of the vaults which were a nod to both the biblical reference and the beliefs of other cultures, including Egyptian.
The angels lighting the building’s interior are so Art Deco delicious, I felt like I was transported to the 1920s.
If you get a chance, take a tour of this peaceful Oklahoma monument. It made me reflect on things too numerous to mention here. Also, take a drive through the cemetery. There are two more mausoleums—they don’t come close to the symmetry and grace of the original—and stone angels watching over some of the famous graves.
Stained glass windows, especially in older Catholic and Orthodox churches often tell biblical stories, or have religious symbolism. Here an angle holds the Book of Life. You can actually see it better in its reflection on the marble wall.