The story of Nelson W. Blocher combines fact and folklore. The only son of John and Elizabeth Neff Blocher, he worked for his entire life in the family business selling dry goods and manufacturing clothing. This work, as well as solid investing and real estate deals, made the Blochers among the wealthiest families in Buffalo.
Local legend claims that Blocher was enamored with Katherine, the young family maid, despite the disapproval of his parents (accounts differ if she returned his affection). Though the details of their relationship aren’t concrete, it’s known that their love story didn’t have a happy ending.
Some stories suggest Blocher’s parents orchestrated an end to the relationship while he was in Europe. Others claim Katherine was sent away from the family home, and still more maintain that she chose to leave on her own accord. Without her, Blocher fell into depression and lost his health. He sought Katherine for years but was unsuccessful as his health grew worse.
On his deathbed, he clutched the Bible that Katherine had left behind. When he died in 1884 at only 27 years old, it was believed that the cause was a broken heart.
His parents, perhaps driven by guilt, set about honoring their only child with an elaborate mausoleum. The senior Blocher was displeased by the artists he commissioned, allegedly because they insisted on a Neoclassical style where his son would be depicted in a toga. Instead, he designed the whole thing by himself. Despite being only an amateur, he was able to create an impressive structure using only 20 stones with 12 Doric columns holding an ornamented roof.
Within the structure, enclosed by glass, are Italian Carrara marble statues depicting a romanticized scene of Blocher’s final moments. Blocher himself lies on a sarcophagus slab, clutching his Bible, while his parents look on. Above Blocher is an angel (possibly modeled after Katherine) who watches over him, or, perhaps calls him to heaven.