Donald Trump Can't Build Just Any Old Gravesite

Like New York Tycoons of the past, the real estate mogul wants to construct memorials -- perhaps with the same grandiosity as his other architectural ventures.

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Sooner or later, the Grim Reaper says "You're fired." If you have the means, you might as well go out in style with a monument that will draw the respectful attention of architectural historians and cemetery buffs for years to come.

Some overcautious suburban officials are upset about Donald Trump's plan to include gravesites on one of his golf courses, fearing "garish" monuments that would attract the gawking masses. I urge Mr. Trump to hang tough. What a great opportunity for his favorite architect, Costas Kondylis, to follow in the footsteps of Carrère and Hastings, McKim, Mead & White, John Russell Pope, and James Gamble Rogers, all of whom designed monuments for Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Indeed, some of the wealthiest New York real estate tycoons of the past are known mainly through these structures, their conquests and corporations long forgotten. One of my favorites at Woodlawn is George Ehret. The Museum Planet site on his unbelievably stately mausoleum says it all:

For a time, Ehret was the nation's largest brewer and the second largest property owner in NYC, after John Jacob Astor. He was said to have never raised the rent or dispossessed a tenant for the inability to pay rent. When Prohibition came, he did not discharge an employee until they had found another job. For those who couldn't find work, he began to manufacture near beer. He was buried out of St. Patrick's Cathedral.

On his death he left an estate valued at $40,000,000. Prohibition brought an end to his heir's fortunes however. The brewery moved to Brooklyn, then to Union City, where it lasted until 1948. Like many tombs here, his mausoleum (in French neo-classical style) is all that remains of his empire.

That should be an inspiration for Mr. Trump, who could continue in turn to inspire people for centuries with his elegance, as European dynasties have. In one favorite joke about the Rothschilds, recently retold by Niall Ferguson, a schnorrer (professional moocher) beholds their tomb in Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris and exclaims, "These people know how to live!"

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Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

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