An afternoon in the Annmary Brown Memorial

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What are some buildings you’ve never set foot in at Brown? For some, it might be the Annmary Brown Memorial – that tomb-like, windowless building near Keeney and Health Services, a subject of much Brown folklore and ghost stories. Blog spent an afternoon in the famed memorial, and lived to tell the tale.

The Annmary Brown Memorial, located at 21 Brown Street, was built in 1907 by General Rush Christopher Hawkins as a memorial to his wife. During the Civil War, General Hawkins (1831 – 1920) served as Colonel of the “Hawkins Zouaves,” the 9th New York Volunteer Infantry, and was named Brigadier General in 1865. Hawkins was a well-known book collector, fascinated by early print editions, and a collector of early modern representational paintings.

Annmary Brown (1837 – 1903) was the daughter of Nicholas Brown III and granddaughter of Nicholas Brown II, for whom the university was named after. Brown and Hawkins married in 1860. Annmary was close with her sister, Carrie Brown Bajnotti, who is memorialized by the Carrie Tower on the Quiet Green. After her premature death from pneumonia in 1903, Hawkins decided to build a public memorial in her memory, to house belongings from their life together, Annmary Brown’s letters, as well as his Civil War memorabilia and art and book collections. Hawkins donated the memorial and the collection to the City of Providence in 1907. Brown was buried in the crypt in the rear of the building, and was joined by Hawkins, who died at the age of 89. The university acquired the memorial in 1948, which now houses the programs in Medieval Studies and in Renaissance and Early Modern Studies.

The memorial’s 1907 opening announcement in the Providence Daily Journal hangs on the wall of the entranceway. Hawkins writes:

This Memorial has been brought into existence for the purpose of honoring and perpetuating the memory of a beloved wife and woman… The creation of the Memorial has been in part actuated by a sincere regard for the public esteem of the [Brown] family, and by the desire to have her name recorded and remembered with the names of those whose generous deeds, in past time, are a part of the history of the community. But it is primarily a personal memorial. It records the love of its founder for the memory of a noble woman – the most truly refined, upright, unselfish, and beautiful character that he has ever known.

Care has been taken to construct the memorial building so solidly that it will last for many generations. Its contents represent the treasured collections of many years… Second only to the memorial motive of these collections is the giver’s hope that they may be of use to those who love the beautiful, and who may desire to study their interesting historical features – in the belief that there are interests worth living for other than those of the materialistic side of existence…

The Memorial’s three main gallery rooms, progressing back into the building, house European and American paintings from the 17th to 20th centuries, the Cyril and Harriet Mazansky British Sword Collection, and personal belongings of Hawkins and the Brown family.

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The first gallery, painted in a soft yellow, exhibits Hawkins’s military memorabilia, mementos and letters from Annmary Brown’s life, and other assorted personal items. In addition, the yellow gallery currently displays objects from the Mazanksy Sword Collection and the Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection, including an army of toy soldiers, marching in formation in the room’s glass cases.

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This front room originally held Hawkins’s rare book collection of 450 incunabula. Hawkins’s goal was to collect the first book of each of the presses operating by 1500, and his collection includes copies from 130 of the 238 15th century presses. The book and manuscript collections were transferred to the John Hay Library in 1990.

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The second room, painted a bright cherry red, displays paintings from Hawkins’s art collection, including French, Venetian, Italian, English, Flemish, and Spanish landscapes, scenes, and portraits.

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The third room, painted in sea blue, features more paintings from Hawkins’s European and American collections, including portraits of Brown and Hawkins. This third gallery also houses the bronze entrance the the final, fourth room – the crypt.

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The marble crypt is connected to the rest of the memorial by a beautiful bronze door, which is plated with raised roses and leaves.  Annmary Brown and Rush Hawkins lie, side by side, in stately, marble graves. A bluish white light falls on the twin graves from the translucent skylight above. The crypt gives an impression of not so much creepiness – perhaps, instead, loneliness.

Hawkins stipulated that each year on Annmary Brown’s birthday, March 9, money should be taken from the memorial’s endowment to decorate her grave with flowers, to be left there for the year – a practice that has continued to this day. When I visited, the flowers from this past March had dried thoroughly, filling the mausoleum with a strong, potpourri-like scent. The marble block that marks Annmary’s grave is engraved with the message: “Like some rare flower entombed in its beauty, shedding, everlasting.”

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The Annmary Brown Memorial, located at 21 Brown Street, is free and open to the public, Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. during the academic year.

Images via Kenji Endo ’18.

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