Coupé and Leibman
sculpted angels, obelisks, sculpted mourners, and coats-of-arms adorn the monuments of the more affluent Curaçaoans, while some cramped and uneven inscriptions on the miniscule and otherwise plain stones of the poor reveal an unprofessional hand. Socially segregated in life, the “‘higher’ Protestants and the ‘lower’ Protestants” are neighbors in death.39 This was not always the case. Before Governor P. R. Cantz’laar passed an ordinance following his arrival in 1820 that restricted burials to established religious cemeteries, the Dutch who had attained landhuizen established kin plots there.40 Under the eyes of their family, they expected to avoid the profanations that their “lower” coreligionists had to endure in “Behind the Walls.”41 Some stones in English accompany Dutch and Spanish inscriptions, and many have with poetic epitaphs. Ornate Jewish stones at Blenheim from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries share this elegiac characteristic. These and other similarities between the monuments to successful Jewish and “high” Protestants underline their position in Curaçaoan society as “rival elites.”42 The number of world travelers and foreign nationals in this cemetery bears witness to the increasing fluidity of movement in the period when the cemetery came into use. Inscriptions serve as passport stamps to Pomerania, Belgium, The Netherlands, and St. Thomas. Several occupants of tombs bearing English inscriptions hail from Scotland, but there’s also an Irish doctor as well as a New Yorker who perished here in 1824. The wide variety of tomb styles in the Berg Altena Protestant Cemetery attest to the social aspirations and alliances of the occupants. Some monuments of more well-to-do Protestants reflect the same flare for neoclassical urns, columns, obelisks as their Jewish contemporaries up the street, though fewer examples of free-standing sculpture can be found here than there. Masonic symbols in both cemeteries indicate that their elite occupants’ similarities ran deeper than mere artistic tastes. Some Protestant tombs are long slabs set atop concrete boxes in a style similar to the early Sephardic stones of Beit Haim Blenheim. The tops of a handful of such box tombs have collapsed with odious and odiferous consequences (Fig. 11). Many less ornate sepulchers Fig. 11. Collapsed tomb with take the shape of the large “apartment indecipherable inscription. house” style tombs that almost exclusively Protestant Cemetery, Berg Altena. compose Curaçao’s Catholic cemeteries.
Annual Journal of the Association for Gravestone Studies