Driving south through the very small town of Shrewsbury, Vermont you come to the very, very small village of Cuttingsville. Here you will catch a glimpse of a mysterious larger-than-life marble man, perpetually walking up the steps of his own family crypt.
The sad-looking fellow with the bushy mustache is clutching a top hat and coat, further weighed down with a large key over his heart and a funereal wreath in his hand. He’s the statuary likeness of a local 19th century tanning magnate named John Porter Bowman.
Despite Bowman’s wealth and success in business, by 1880 he had suffered a string of personal losses, beginning with the death of his infant daughter in 1854. He lost his second daughter in 1879 at the age of only 23, and then his wife the following year. To remember them, he had a lavish mausoleum constructed in Cuttingsville’s Laurel Glen Cemetery, dwarfing the surrounding gravestones and markers.
Bowman commissioned an architect, stoneworkers and a renowned sculptor to create his vision of post-mortem devotion, expending 750 tons of granite, 50 tons of marble, and $75,000 (over a million in today’s dollars). Inside there are sculpted busts of the deceased, ornate stonework around the crypts, and mirrors are positioned to make the room seem larger than it really is.
When the mausoleum was completed in 1881 it became a local tourist attraction, with thousands converging at Laurel Glen to gawk at such deathly extravagance. Bowman even had a guest book placed inside the chamber, hiring an usher and guide to conduct short tours.
With his mini-temple done, Bowman went on to build Laurel Hill, an elaborate summer home right across the road. It was during construction that he had the grieving version of himself added on the tomb steps. Eventually he moved into Laurel Hall permanently, so he could gaze at himself, key in hand, ready to unlock the mausoleum when the time came. In 1891 it did, and Bowman joined the rest of the family “on the couch of dreamless sleep.”