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The weeping “Angel Of Grief” that adorns
Emelyn Story’s tomb in the Cimitero Acattolico in Rome is
the work of her husband, American sculptor, poet, and art critic
William W. Story. The son of Congressman and Supreme Court Justice
Joseph Story, Willliam was a Harvard graduate who led a successful
career as a Boston lawyer before leaving his practice to become
After his father’s death in 1845, William received
a commission to create a memorial statue for the Justice, and went
to Italy to study for the work. He completed the statue 1853. (It
is now standing in the Story Chapel of the Mount Auburn Cemetery
in Cambridge, Massachusetts.) After a brief return to the U.S.,
William eventually moved to Rome with his family for good.
William and his wife Emelyn lived a long and productive
life in Rome, where their address at the Palazzo Barberini became
a center for distinguished American and English writers, musicians
and artists of the time. Two of William’s sons, Thomas Waldo
and Julian Russell, went on to become accomplished artists. His
daughter, Edith Marion, was a writer.
Henry James wrote about those days in his biography
William Wetmore Story and His Friends. He quotes Story as
saying, “She was my life, my joy, my stay and help in all
things”. James described “the admirable efficacy”
of Mrs. Story's presence in her husband's career, “a presence
indefatigably active and pervasive, productive in a large measure
of what was best and happiest in it”.
Emelyn Story died in 1895, at the age of 74, in Rome.
William died later the same year. He was 78. They are buried together,
next to the grave of their first son Joseph.
André Chabot was not aware of this story when
he discovered this striking tomb. Aside from the remarkable monument,
however, the inscription “Emelyn Story” fueled his imagination.
The scene he fell upon, as if by chance, seemed to speak of a tragedy
— of “Emelyn’s story” and her angel who
wept. André created this installation using objects to relate
this story as only he could have imagined it, creating a play on
words between a fictitious “story” inspired by the setting,
and the name inscribed on the tomb.
Story’s “Angel of Grief” has been
replicated on many monuments throughout the globe: Cuba, Portugal,
Mexico, and Luxemburg, to name a few. And André Chabot has
visited each one. His theory is that angels are in short supply,
and that these angels are actually one and the same, traveling at
a speed faster than light to grace tombs around the world. Stranger
still, as he was leaning against one of them, in San Francisco,
he felt it move. Undoubtedly the angels do not like having their
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