One of the most notable and visited monuments in Bonaventure Cemetery is of Corinne Elliott Lawton, born in 1846. Corinne was the eldest daughter of Confederate Brigadier-General Alexander R. Lawton, whose own monument stands in the background overlooking the river. His monument features a life-sized sculpture of Jesus Christ at Heaven’s Gate.
Corinne died on January 24, 1877 from an illness, most likely pneumonia. She was sick in bed for five to six days. She died in bed and was surrounded by family members, according to her mother’s diary entry. Any other stories you hear of her supposed demise is pure fiction by overly dramatic tour guides who should be called-out on their disrespectful falsehoods.
The sculptor of Corinne was Benedetto Civiletti, who created the artwork in his studio in Palermo, Sicily in 1879. From photographs and the recollection of the bereaved parents, he modeled the figure in which the parents acknowledged to be a very remarkable likeness.
“She was engaged to be married, and the artist represents her sitting at the foot of the cross, with a crown of flowers that has fallen from her hands, looking up to heaven with a sad, resigned expression,” an article said in “The Harper’s Monthly,” June 1881.
Her epitaph reads, “Allured to brighter worlds and led the way.”
She was buried in Laurel Grove Cemetery first. She was re-interred at Bonaventure Cemetery on the bluff and at the time no other monuments existed in the family plot. Her father’s monument came many years later, after he died in 1896. In old pictures, you can see how the family plot was sectioned off into four squares with a path separating each. Again, despite what some tour guides will dramatize, there is no symbolic meaning whatsoever of Corinne having her back to Heaven’s Gate as her father’s monument didn’t even exist when she was interred. It just happens to be the installation of his monument in juxtaposition to her monument. There’s no meaning to read into.
What draws people to Corinne is the beauty of her lifelike sculpture and the powerful sadness depicted within. This is a reflection of deep mourning from a very happy and close-knit family: how her young life at 31 years old, engaged to be married, was cut short. The fallen crown of flowers from the outstretched hand, the upward looking eyes, her kneeling below the cross—this moment frozen in time.
Corinne and her father, Alexander, loved the arts and traveled internationally to follow and partake in the arts. Mrs. Lawton built Lawton Memorial Hall (14 W. Anderson St., at the corner of Bull Street) in 1897-98 to honor her husband and eldest daughter, Corinne. For many years it was an opera house and performing arts hall of incredible acoustics. It now houses the St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church.
Article written by Michael Karpovage with photos by Andrea Six.