Publication information
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Source: Sunday Journal
Source type: newspaper
Document type: article
Document title: “M’Kinley Death Mask”
Author(s): Watkins, John Elfreth, Jr.
City of publication: Indianapolis, Indiana
Date of publication: 29 December 1901
Volume number: 51
Issue number: 363
Part/Section: 2
Pagination: 13

Watkins, John Elfreth, Jr. “M’Kinley Death Mask.” Sunday Journal 29 Dec. 1901 v51n363: part 2, p. 13.
full text
William McKinley (death mask); McKinley memorialization; Eduard L. A. Pausch; presidential assassinations (comparison).
Named persons
Napoléon Bonaparte; George W. Childs; George B. Cortelyou; James A. Garfield; Richard Watson Gilder; John Hay; Samuel Pierpont Langley; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley; Clark Mills; Eduard L. A. Pausch; Leonard W. Volk.


M’Kinley Death Mask


He Followed the Most Improved Methods Known to Modern Art in This
Form of Portraiture.
A Diagram of Its Facial Angles and Proportions Wisely Made for Information
of Sculptors.

Correspondence of the Indianapolis Journal.
     WASHINGTON, Dec. 27.—The McKinley death mask, which has just been deposited in the United States National Museum for safe-keeping, is quite the most artistic cast of the kind ever molded upon the features of a public man. Many who have had the privilege of viewing it have remarked upon the striking resemblance between its features and those chiseled upon the face of the statue of Napoleon adorning the Corcoran Art Gallery.
     Immediately upon learning of President McKinley’s death on Saturday, Sept. 14, Mr. E. L. A. Pausch, a New York scluptor [sic], telegraphed Secretary Cortelyou for permission to perpetuate the face of the Nation’s beloved martyr in plaster. Mr. Pausch being the first sculptor to make the proposition, his request was immediately granted over the wire. Packing his appliances, he took the next train for Buffalo, arriving there at 9 p. m. the day of the President’s death. He made the mask at the Milburn residence at 7 o’clock next morning, the President having been dead twenty-nine hours. The negative cast was removed the same morning, the positive was immediately molded from it and the finished product was locked carefully away in a safe deposit vault in Buffalo. No photographs of it were allowed. On Tuesday Mr. Pausch personally delivered it to Secretary Cortelyou at the White House. Bearing a note dictated by Mr. Cortelyou, the sculptor delivered his work at the office of Secretary Langley, of the Smithsonian Institution at 6 p. m. the same day.
     The head is slightly inclined forward, as if reposing upon a pillow. Framing the face and forehead, but exposing part of the throat, is the cast of a molded drapery, the texture and even the embroidery of which are most skillfully reproduced. The left ear is entirely exposed, but only the lobe of the right ear is visible.
     A number of the dead President’s own hairs adhere to the right temple of the cast. One of his eyelashes rests upon the right check.
     The features are expressively calm and peaceful. The prominent brow is smooth and furrowless. Two irregular vertical lines between the bushy brows are the only relics of care imprinted above the features proper. The closed eyelids, with their long lashes, bear the soft imprint of spirituality. The cheeks, more sunken than in life, but less so than during the lying-in state [sic] in the rotunda of the Capitol, bear the saddest reminder of the nation’s tragedy and the hellish accomplishment of anarchy. The traces of a peaceful, benevolent smile remain about the lips and above the prominent, dimpled chin.
     The sharp, Napoleonic profile is the most striking view which can be obtained. As the sun changes, the shadows playing over the magnificent features bring out the beauty of expression when the view is full-face or three-quarters.
     The cast rests upon a purple cushion of richest velvet, upholstered to the ebony base of the containing case. The sides and top of the latter are of beveled plate glass, a half inch thick, and are secured together by nickel bolts.


     This cast is the only one taken from the mold made upon the dead President’s face. The mold was destroyed in Buffalo.
     As an aid to sculptors designing the hundreds of McKinley statues to be erected in the new and old world, Mr. Pausch has compiled a detailed chart giving all of the angles of the profile, its exact measurements from the center line, the perpendicular and horizontal measurements of the full face. These data were obtained by applying calipers to the mask. They will make it unnecessary to remove the case from the cast and expose it to injury incidental to future measurements. Sculptors who use this chart as a basis for future work will, of course, give greater rotundity to their sketches of the face, if their purpose be to portray the dead President as he appeared in the vigor of life. Such alterations will probably be based upon the numerous photographs of President McKinley. But, as a matter of fact, the late President was too sensitive to the camera to ever obtain a perfect photographic likeness. A Washington photographer, who perhaps took more pictures of Mr. McKinley than anyone else, tells the writer that he was the most difficult to pose of all public men with whom he had had experience.
     The McKinley death mask was made by application of the most modern methods known to the sculptor’s art. The features of the dead magistrate were carefully greased, this treatment extending to all parts of the head selected for reproduction. What is known to sculptors as a “dam” was then made by draping an embroidered towel about the forehead and face. The ends of this were crossed beneath the throat. Plaster paris, mixed to almost liquid form, was then applied directly to the face with a spoon. Colored plaster was first poured on, merely enough to supply a thin film. The cavities of the eyes, nostrils, mouth and ears were then covered with the first coating of white plaster. This was to avoid the possibility of an entrance of air beneath the mold. The entire features were next covered with a coating of the white material. Within a half hour after the wet mold was put on it had hardened sufficiently for removal. When taken off it bore intaglio every line, angle and curve of the original features.


     Thus was obtained the mold or negative from which the mask proper was cast. This mold having thoroughly hardened, the purest of white plaster paris was poured into it and allowed to solidify and settle. The mold now had to be chiseled away, piece by piece, and here is seen the purpose of the film of colored plaster next the face. Hours and hours of delicate chiseling gradually exposed this stratum, immediately beneath which the outer layer of the positive was known to rest. All of the colored stratum having been exposed, even more tedious and delicate work was required to remove it, particle by particle, so as to leave the outmost atoms of the relief cast—the death mask described.
     This death mask of President McKinley is not as yet the property of the Nation. It is technically entered upon the books of the National Museum as a loan. It is still the property of the sculptor. But at an early date Congress is expected to pass a bill appropriating for it, as well as for the expense incidental to the President’s illness and burial. What price is asked by Mr. Pausch is as yet unknown.
     Two masks of the face of President Lincoln are installed in the National Museum. Both of these, however, were made before the Nation’s first martyr was assassinated.
     The first Lincoln mask was made at Chicago in 1860 by the sculptor, Leonard W. Volk. Mr. Lincoln was then without a beard. The same sculptor made, at Springfield, Ill., on the Sunday following Mr. Lincoln’s nomination for the presidency, casts of his hands, in one of which he is clutching a rod. The first bronze casts from these molds were presented to the government by thirty-three subscribers, including John Hay, George W. Childs and Richard Watson Gilder. Plaster casts from the same were deposited in the National Museum.
     Sixty days before President Lincoln’s death Clark Mills, the Washington sculptor, made a second life mask of the great American. This is installed in the same case which displays those made by Mr. Volk. The Mills mask perpetuates Mr. Lincoln as best remembered. He wears the familiar chin whiskers. Every line of the broad, irregular nose, the high cheek bones, the cadaverous cheeks, the deep-set, prominent ears and the thick underlip of the civil-war President is traced upon the plaster of this cast.
     These Lincoln masks are monuments to Mr. Lincoln’s good nature, in more ways than one. It was certainly no trifling ordeal for him to lie supine for a long interval bearing upon his head not only the cares of state, but several pounds of wet plaster, breathing the while through quills penetrating to his nostrils through the ill-smelling, sticky poultice.
     The only relics of martyred Presidents which the National Museum has upon exhibition are the clothes which Mr. Lincoln wore at the time of his assassination, the pall which covered his bier while he lay here in state and the flag which draped the Garfield funeral car. The first mentioned consists of a waistcoat of black silk, a black bow and stock of the same material a frock coat and trousers of black broadcloth [sic]. This apparel was worn by President Lincoln as an office suit.
     The Lincoln pall is of the heaviest black broadcloth. When brought to the National Museum it was fairly alive with moths and fell into a hundred pieces when shaken. The flag from President Garfield’s funeral car is well preserved.



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