The Girl in the Shadow Box – St. Louis, Missouri - Atlas Obscura

The Girl in the Shadow Box

Bellefontaine Cemetery

One man's unrequited love stands in a glass box forever. 

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In St. Louis’s Bellefontaine Cemetery stands a beautiful marble sculpture encased in a stone chamber with a glass window, commonly referred to as “Bessie, the Girl in the Shadow Box.” It does not depict a person buried there, but a girl for whom a local man longed.

Herman Luyties, owner of the first proprietary drugstore in St. Louis and one of the pioneers of homeopathy in the area, visited Italy in the early 1900s. During this trip he fell for a beautiful girl who was modeling for the Genoese sculptor Giulio Monteverde. After she turned down his proposals, the heartbroken Luyties commissioned Monteverde to create a 12-foot marble statue of her.

On his return the sculpture was shipped to St. Louis, where he kept it in the foyer of his home on Portland Place. Due to its massive weight, it had to be relocated to the family burial plot in Bellefontaine. Luyties added the glass screen for protection when it started to wear and weather away.

When Luyties passed in 1921, at the age of 50, he was buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery, at the foot of his beloved. While this story may sound romantic to some, one often-overlooked fact is bound to burst the bubble: Luyties had already been married when he proposed to the girl in Italy.

As for the girl herself, not much is known about her. She was the model for the universally praised “Monteverde Angel” in the Monumental Cemetery in Milan, whose imitations can be found around the world. It’s unclear what her name was, what her life was like afterwards, or where she was buried.

Know Before You Go

The cemetery grounds are open to the public year-round, every day from 8 a.m. through 4:30 p.m. It is an active cemetery, and visitors are asked to behave in a quiet and reverent manner.