A Century of Jewish History: Lincoln Park Cemetery – Morgan Architecture Critic

Sunday 04 July 2021

Private First Class David B. Cutler, 26, died on Boxing Day in 1944. Given the date, it can be assumed that he was killed during the Ardennes offensive in Belgium. If so, Cutler was one of nearly 90,000 American casualties in the savage Battle of the Bulge. The SS Panzer troops slaughtered the Allied soldiers who had surrendered; The Nazis in American uniform murdered many more.

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Grave of David B. Cutler. Next to him is the resting place of Jack Cleinman, a 22-year-old who was killed in the last days of the First World War. PHOTO: Will Morgan

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We do not know the actual circumstances of Private Cutler’s death (as a Jew he most likely would have been executed had he been captured). But we do know that his final resting place is in the veterans section of Lincoln Park Cemetery in Warwick. Cutler’s story is just one of the 20,000 tombstones in this 26-acre cemetery located between I-95 and the airport.

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Veterans Memorial Wall at Lincoln Park Cemetery. PHOTO: Will Morgan

The Lincoln Park Military Section Memorial Wall, defined by its “V” shape and the hundreds of inscribed names of Jewish soldiers, sailors and airmen, is reminiscent of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. Nearby is a small funeral chapel in yellow bricks in a simple neo-Gothic style.

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The graves are arranged tightly, in regimented rows, reminiscent of the urban cemeteries of Central Europe where earth was scarce. PHOTO: Will Morgan

Lincoln Park is certainly not a rural garden cemetery the English style of Swan Point or Boston’s Mount Auburn. These 19th century necropolises predated the urban park movement. Before the rise of municipal playgrounds like Central Park or Roger Williams Park, these cemeteries served not only as memorials to the deceased, but were also pastoral refuges that people could recreate. They took in the fresh air, had a picnic and – in the romantic Victorian way – gazed at the scenery and the meaning of death.

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A few simple classical temples are the only picturesque features of the Lincoln Park landscape. PHOTO: Will Morgan

These burial motifs of sighing angels, weeping willows, Roman urns, and Greek temples that adorn Christian cemeteries are not found in Lincoln Park. The stones here tend to be similar in size and shape – the competitive “my neoclassical mausoleum is bigger than your gothic chapel” graveyard competition is totally absent. The largest gravestone is a simple masonry box that contains the remains of Rabbi Abraham Schechter. On the contrary, there is a democratization of death here, a community of Diaspora survivors who brought Jews to America.

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A photograph of Henry Glass and the draperies on the Kotlen markers are as elaborate as the stones of Lincoln Park. PHOTO: Will Morgan

Yet there is much to be found here among the physical reminders of over a century of Jewish life in Rhode Island.

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“My mate” Friedman. “He gave with his hand and his heart. PHOTO: Will Morgan

Lincoln Park was named for the surrounding neighborhood, rather than for a specific congregation. It is, in fact, an amalgamation of various temples and fraternal organizations, and when it was established in 1908, there were initially over 50 sections. Undoubtedly, there are those who know of various synagogues and families who might be able to identify a hierarchy of religious and community “neighborhoods”. But, after 113 years of service, his egalitarian spirit seems homogeneous.

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Recent tombstones in Russian illustrate the ever-changing demographic of Jewish immigration to Rhode Island. PHOTO: Will Morgan

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GoLocal architecture critic William Morgan has written about design and cities for various newspapers, including the New York Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the Christian Science Monitor.

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