It is fortunate indeed that the Friends of Evergreen mounted an eleventh hour effort to stabilize the badly decayed Wilde Memorial Chapel. The Friends working with the City of Portland, and with the an extraordinary outpouring of volunteer efforts, the restoration of Portland’s most impressive mortuary was a success. Today it is the setting for memorial services, weddings, teas, lectures, and booksignings and may be reserved for use through the Evergreen Cemetery office.
This granite memorial building was erected as a mortuary chapel by Mary Ellen Lunt Wilde of West Falmouth, ME to honor her husband, Samuel Wilde, Jr. of Montclair, NJ. Although born in Dorchester, MA in 1831, Wilde spent his adult life as a businessman in New York City.
Although Wilde had no connection personally with Portland or Maine, his wife cherished her “Down East” heritage. They apparently summered frequently on the Maine coast. Thus it was that Mary Ellen Lunt Wilde chose Evergreen Cemetery as their final resting place when death overtook him at his home March 8, 1890 at the age of fifty-eight.
After an enormous amount of negotiation with the cemetery trustees, the corner stone was laid on Tuesday, June 10, 1902. Using the obligatory silver trowel, Mary Wilde spread the mortar after placing a copper box in the stone. In the box she had deposited a picture of Montclair’s First Congregational Church that Samuel Wilde had helped establish. With the photograph were other personal mementoes. Mayor Frederic E. Boothby presided over the ceremonies which included appropriate opening prayers by the Rev. Luther Freeman, Chestnut Methodist Church; a fulsome address by the Rev. John Carroll Perkins, First Parish Unitarian Church; and a benediction by the Rev. William H. Haskell, Pleasant Hill Congregational Chapel, Falmouth.
Using plans drafted by the Portland architect Frederic Thompson, Frank W. Cunninghan & Co., general contractors moved rapidly forward. The stone work of the chapel and the trim was cut from North Jay white granite by the Maine-NewHampshire Granite Company. The roof was covered with Brownville slate. The bronze bell that occupies the granite belfrey weighs 765 pounds and was cast by the Menelly Bell Co. of West Troy, NY. It bears the inscription:
In Memory of Samuel Wilde
Born, Dorchester, Massachusetts
October 3, 1831
Died Montclair, New Jersey
March 8, 1890
Dedicated in loving Memory
By his wife
Mary Ellen Wilde
The interior woodwork is cypress, finished natural. The floor is granolithic. Buff colored Philadelphia brick covers the walls. The various stained glass windows were made by Spencer, Moakley, & Bell of Boston. The pulpit, altar, and pews were fashioned of quartered oak, with an antique finish, by the School Furniture Works, Grand Rapids, MI. The ends of the pews were hand carved. They will seat comfortably 200 people. The total cost of the chapel was approximately $25,000, a significant sum in 1902.
Dedication ceremonies were conducted on Samuel Wilde’s birthday, October 3, 1902. Opening remarks were made by the Rev. William H. Haskell at the conclusion of which Mary Ellen Wilde presented the keys to Mayor Frederic E. Boothby with the admonition, “In this chapel all are free to participate in rites to the honored dead.” She also specified that ivy never be planted against the walls. The principal address was delivered by the Rev. Amory H. Bradford, minister of the First Congregational Church, Montclair. The benediction was pronounced by the Rev. John Carroll Perkins.
For the next 40 years funerals were held in the chapel with frequent regularity. The first decade saw about 100 per year. The annual number dropped to approximately 30 in 1940. In the postwar era almost no one chose to use this mortuary chapel. Portland’s leading funeral director Lloyd G. Hay suggested in 1959 that the decline was due largely to the increase in well-appointed funeral homes.
William B. Jordan, JR.
with edits by The Friends of Evergreen
June 1992, Friends of Evergreen Bulletin
Today the Chapel is once again being used for services, public programs and weddings. Visit The City of Portland‘s website for more information.