By Laura Suchan, Executive Director
Most of the grave markers in Union Cemetery are made of marble or granite, however scattered throughout the cemetery grounds are distinct bluish grey monuments. Although referred to as white bronze, the monuments were made of a refined zinc which was referred to as white bronze to distinguish it from dark or antique bronze. Manufactured the Monumental Bronze Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut beginning in 1875, the stones were at their most popular in the 1880s and 1890s.
An 1885 issue of Scientific American detailed the manufacturing process of the white bronze monuments. Initially designs were modeled in clay and reproduced in plaster of Paris from which a cast is taken. This procured a perfect metal pattern from which the monument was moulded and cast in ordinary way. The different parts of the monument were joined together by pouring molten metal of the same material as the castings. Finally the monument was given a sand blast which gave it its beautiful appearance and, according to the manufacturer, much better than copper bronze which becomes black once exposed to the elements.
Although the white bronze monuments were all manufactured in Bridgeport, Ct., the final assembly work was done at subsidiary plants in the United States and in Canada at the White Bronze Company of St. Thomas (Ontario). Monuments could be ordered through sales agents or catalogues and came in sizes ranging from a few inches to almost 15 feet in height. Embellishments such as flowers, crosses, name plates, figures and symbols could be added to personalize the monument at no cost. A monument could be purchased relatively inexpensively with prices ranging from a few dollars upwards of $5,000.
The White Bronze Company advertised their monuments were almost indestructible due to their composition and were impervious to the ravages of frost, moss, and lichen and would not change colour. The raised lettering remained legible and the removal tablets made customization easy. Scientific American proclaimed the refined zinc was “so well adapted to monumental purposes that it will ultimately supersede all other materials.” Of course these claims elicited strong opposition from the marble and granite dealers and carvers who claimed the bronze monuments would not hold up to the ravages of climate and in fact looked like cheap imitations of stone. Some cemeteries even banned monuments not made of stone due to pressure from the stone industry.
True to their claims, the white bronze monuments are a researcher’s friend as they have legible lettering and have held up well to the elements.
By 1914 metal had become too valuable a commodity due to the war and the White Bronze Monument Company ceased production of monuments, although they still produced name plates and embellishments for many years after.
In Union Cemetery there are 13 white bronze monuments as well as 5 smaller flat laying footstones.
Stayed tune for our exciting new Union Cemetery tour featuring the white bronze monuments coming next summer!
All photos by the Oshawa Museum.
The Monumental Bronze Company catalogue is available from the Smithsonian Libraries https://library.si.edu/digital-library/book/whitebronzemonu00monu