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New Orleans, Louisiana

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Marfa, Texas

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Stockholm, Sweden

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Articles

Manhattan Was Almost Home to a 200-Foot-Tall Owl Mausoleum

by Luke Spencer / 02 Jul 2015

article-image
Newspaper publisher James Gordon Bennett Jr. was obsessed with owls. Sculptor Greg Lefevre created a bronze owl sculpture for him in Herald Square. (Photo: Laura/flickr)

In 1906, one of New York’s premier architects, Stanford White, received an unusual commission. The request came from his friend James Gordon Bennett Jr., the publisher of one of America’s most circulated daily newspapers, the New York Herald.

The media tycoon asked White to design and build his tomb. But this was to be no ordinary mausoleum. Bennett Jr. had something fantastic in mind for his final resting place: a sarcophagus soaring 200 feet into the New York skyline in the form of an owl. Furthermore, Bennett wanted the owl to be hollow, and for his coffin to be suspended midway inside the owl’s body by iron chains.

This enormous owl mausoleum was to be situated in Washington Heights, on a plot of land owned by the Bennett family. Still there today on 183rd Street, the area now known as Bennett Park comprises the highest point of land in Manhattan, 265 feet above sea level.

Bennett’s instructions for White specifically called for a 75-foot pedestal, where an 125-foot owl would rest. This was no sealed-off gravesite, though. The monument was intended to be open to the public. The New York Times reported on the proposed design: “Through the interior of the tomb, a circular staircase was to ascend from the bottom of the pedestal, around the coffin and the great iron chains, up to the eyes of the owl, which were to be windows looking over New York City.”

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