I know you thought I’d never get around to Fairmount’s Mausoleum but today’s the day!
I was truly looking forward to seeing it because at other cemeteries, they often keep their mausoleums locked up and only grant access to family members. Rose Hill Cemetery in Chicago is one of them and I was disappointed I couldn’t see it during my visit in 2015.
Fortunately, Fairmount’s Mausoleum is open every day during certain hours and anyone can wander its quiet halls.
Despite being in the early throes of the Great Depression, Fairmount’s Mausoleum was completed in 1930. The remains of more than 17,000 people are interred there, some in individual or family crypts, others in glass-fronted niches that house urns (which hold cremains).
One of the first things you see when you walk into the airy chapel area where funeral services are held. The stained glass window at the center of it is lovely.
Most of the glass was designed and crafted by the family-owned Watkins Stained Glass Studio, a third-generation Denver business. The firm dates back to 1761 London. Charles Watkins was the first to bring their family craft to the U.S. and eventually to Denver in 1868.
Among the pieces are a twin set of windows depicting Pikes Peak in both winter and summer with Colorado Springs’ Garden of the Gods (which I visited later that week). There is also a stained glass version of The Gleaners by Renoir, based on the book of Ruth in the Bible.
To the left and right of the chapel podium, you can see two large family crypts. One is for the Bonfils family, which played an important part in Denver history. Frederick Gilmer Bonfils purchased what was then the Evening Post, now known as the Denver Post, with Harry Heye Tammen in 1895.
Not unlike today, sensationalism was common in the newspaper business and the Denver Post was no exception. Bonfils and Tammen made a number of enemies as a result. In December 1899, both men were shot by W.W. Anderson, an attorney representing Alfred Packer after a Post article accused Anderson of taking Packer’s life savings as a retainer. Anderson was tried three times but never convicted while Tammen and Bonfils were convicted for jury tampering in the third trial.
In 1900, both Bonfils and Tammen were horsewhipped and hospitalized by a lawyer who disliked their thirst for yellow journalism. The men justified their style with the quote “a dogfight on a Denver street is more important than a war in Europe.” At the time of his death in 1933, Bonfiils was engaged in a libel suit against Roy W. Howard’s rival newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News.
One family member conspicuously absent from the Bonfils crypt is daughter Mary “May” Bonfils Stanton. But I’ll get to her (and her sister Helen) later.
I was excited to see the abundance of glass cabinetry housing a wide variety of urns and boxes containing cremains. This is something I’d only seen in pictures of the San Francisco Columbarium, owned and operated by the Neptune Society, which I featured in a previous blog post.
After we left the Mausoleum, Michael and I rode to the back part of the cemetery. One of the special areas we passed was Fairmount’s Nisei Japanese American Memorial, which honors Air Force veterans of Japanese American descent who fought in Europe during World War II. They served while their families were incarcerated in prison camps (under Order 9066) in Colorado and California. Most were sent to the European theater to fight for the U.S., often in France and Italy.
Fairmount honors these veterans every Memorial Day, although as the years pass fewer are still alive to attend. I wish the picture I took of the Memorial was clearer.
Another area I noticed was Fairmount’s Spanish American War Memorial. It’s a war that doesn’t get the attention others do because it only lasted a handful of months in 1898. But it did affect many families who sent soldiers to Cuba, Guam and the Philippines.
Colorado’s First Infantry fought in the Philippines and are remembered at Fairmount. The monument itself is gray granite with a bronze statue, but the grave markers around the monument are white marble. Most of these grave markers represent veterans of the Spanish American War, but some are for Civil War veterans.
Earlier I promised to explain the absence of May Bonfils Stanton from the Bonfils family crypt in the Mausoleum. I think it’s a good way to wrap up this series.
Frederick Bonfils and his wife, Belle, had two daughters, May and Helen. Born in 1883, May was the eldest. A strict Catholic, Belle raised her daughters with a close hand while Frederick warned them of the dangers of a man marrying them only for their money. May attended school in New York City and Frederick took her to Europe to study French, art and music. She became an accomplished composer and pianist.
May incurred her father’s wrath by eloping in 1907 with a sheet music salesman (and a non-Catholic) named Clyde Berryman. Frederick was outraged and May’s relationship soured quickly. Helen, her younger sister (and considered her father’s favorite), is said to have further exacerbated the situation. Despite separating a few years after their marriage, May and Clyde did not actually divorce until 1947.
After Frederick died in 1933 (and Belle a few years later), May was given a $25,000 a year income while Helen inherited millions, along with her father’s Denver Post stock. May sued the Bonfils estate for her share of the inheritance. After a long trial, May was awarded half of Belle’s $10 million estate, 15 percent of the newspaper stock, some cash and property. Her relationship with Helen was damaged beyond repair after the trial.
Helen was not exactly a wallflower herself. A woman with the flair for the dramatic, she married actor George Sommes in 1936, although many say claim Sommes was gay. He died in 1956. Helen (then 69) later married her chauffeur, “Tiger” Mike Davis, who was only 28 years old at the time. They divorced in 1971 and Helen died a year later. Davis went on to become a wealthy oilman and died in September 2016.
Part of May’s inherited property was in the Lakewood area and she developed it into a 750-acre estate she named Belmar that included a mansion built to resemble a French palace. She married long-time friend and architect Charles Stanton in 1956. She was 73 and he was 46. A bit of a recluse, May continued her passion of collecting precious jewels. These included the famous Idol’s Eye Diamond, which she purchased in 1947 from Harry Winston.
Both May and Helen gave generously to many philanthropic causes. Helen established the Belle Bonfils Blood Bank in 1943 to honor her mother. In addition to producing a number of Broadway plays and several productions in Denver, Helen was instrumental in establishing the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. The Helen Bonfils Theater Complex is named after her.
May’s money helped established the Clinic of Opthalmology at the University of Denver Medical Center, the Bonfils wing at the Denver Museum of Natural History and the library and auditorium of Loretto Heights College (to name a few). After her death in 1962, half of May’s fortune went to her husband, Charles. He established the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, still in operation today.
May was strategically buried in the Bonfils-Stanton mausoleum by herself, which stands just opposite the large Fairmount Mausoleum. Helen is buried in the Bonfils family crypt with her parents and first husband, George Sommes. Even in death, the sisters had no desire to be entombed near each other.
It’s unusual for me to do a lengthy four-part series on one cemetery alone. But Fairmount proved to have too much history and beauty to limit to just a few posts. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Fairmount as much as I did visiting there.
stephanie j smith said:
I so much enjoyed this trip you took me on. I haven’t had time to read the last few, but I Will! It is so relaxing, and hearing the history of the people, wow, these were so colorful! I can’t imagine a life like that. What a beautiful place you describe. Thank you so much
Stephanie, I’m glad you enjoyed it. If you’re ever in the area, stop by and drive through it. It’s such a lovely place!