Over the fall, a friend suggested an outing to the Tower of Memories near Denver. It’s one of those strange local sites that I wasn’t even aware existed. We were there on a particularly hot day – it’s not unusual in Colorado for summer weather to continue well into fall. I found this place impressive, cinematic, unusual…and unsettling.
Look at the facade of this place. It’s Gothic, apparently – not what I would have initially guessed, as I think of Gothic architecture as large, ornate European cathedrals. This building’s starkness gives it a modernist, early 20th century feel. I love the simplicity of it, its symmetry and regalness. One does not need to be ornate to be striking.
The building dates from the late 1920s/early 1930s (though not completed until the 1950s) and looks very much of its era, like something straight off a movie set. One almost expects to see a biplane soar past, or stern men in wide-shouldered suits and perfectly shined shoes come walking down the stairs, deep in conversation.
This is a great building to draw inspiration from. What could it be? What could happen here? What does that proud, stark architecture conjure up in your mind?
In reality, it’s a mausoleum, the final resting place of quite a lot of former people, some in large ornate rooms, others in spaces no larger than a drawer. Many of the areas are stark and pristine, white-gray stone, dim lighting – though some surprise you with little pops of color via stained glass windows.
We were practically the only people there that day, wandering through cool, echoing space. Much like a library or a museum, it’s a place where you instinctively keep your voice down, if not out of respect for the dead, then out of a slight trepidation about the cavernousness of the place. Everything echoes – perhaps even the memories themselves.
I’ve never been a big fan of burials. I’m not religious, so there’s no significance to me in that sense, and mainly I just find it a major waste of space. I liked the cemeteries in New Orleans, not only for their crumbling facades, but in how generations of a family would share the same tomb. It’s much the same for this building – multiple family members share what is often the same small space.
Cemeteries are places of wonder and awe and beauty and sadness and all range of possible emotional experience, and despite my dislike of burials, I don’t regret their existence. This place doesn’t evoke the emotion of a cemetery – it’s less influenced by the elements, and doesn’t contain the sculpture and artistry of hundreds of different kinds of headstones.
The Tower of Memories, at first, feels empty and still and quiet – but when you move through it, you begin to appreciate it – the dimness, the angles, the small details that you notice. We found ourselves beginning to read the names. None of us knew any of the inhabitants, but you can’t wander through neatly tucked-away halls of the dead without wondering who they were.
It’s a good place to go to wonder.
I took this shot in the chapel – it perfectly demonstrates the deceptiveness of art – or, perhaps, the idealization of the subject – (I suppose the framework depends on the temperament of the viewer.)
In this deception, I focused merely on the windows, which makes the place look a bit more interesting than it actually is. A vampire chapel, a still from an indie horror film…
In reality, this is what the chapel looks like:
It’s a pretty ordinary little place, but I was struck by the large, red windows. Red is a startling choice – not a very comforting color. I would think that, for the grieving, one might prefer something in a cool blue. Not red, the color of blood, sacrifice, passion, anger.
I think that’s one of the reasons why I enjoyed my outing there so much – little startlings like that.
I love the stained glass aesthetic. I’m not sure if it’s a holdover from a Catholic upbringing, or the fact that I went to Europe for the first time as a teenager and was massively awed by the cathedrals we visited – from an historic and architectural standpoint. (If you ever want to feel small – and I think we could all stand to feel small now and again – spend some time in a large cathedral. The older, the better.)
This turned out to be my favorite photo from the day…
A little peak, through the window, of the mountains beyond.
If you like quiet places, this is an interesting spot. There’s a cemetery outside, with plenty of space to wander through. It’s a good place for a writer who needs to be alone with their thoughts, or a way to spend a few quiet hours, or a place to remember someone. Even if they’re not in that particular place, it does seem to be a place that evokes memory.
That’s part of the reason why I love the starkness of the facade so much – it doesn’t distract. Its beauty is plain – it allows you to admire, but doesn’t overwhelm. You can devote your thoughts to other things…whatever those other things may be.