Trusts can be used for all kinds of purposes. One successful businessman, so grief-stricken over the loss of his wife and 2 daughters, used his trust to ensure that in his 21 room mansion, located across from the cemetery his family was buried, the clocks would be wound, a fire would be lit in the fireplace, there would be lights in the windows at night and a hot meal ready on the table each night for the reincarnated return of he and his loved ones. His trust did this from his death in 1881 until 1950, almost 60 years later, when the trust money finally ran out.
John Porter Bowman was born in 1816 in the town of Clarendon, Rutland County, Vermont. By the age of 20, John had moved away from home and become proficient as an apprentice in the Tannery industry in outstate New York.
Mr. Bowman married was to Jennie E. Gates, the absolute love of his life. Jennie and John had two children Addie (b. 1854) and Ella H. (b. 1860). Addie sadly died at 4 months of age, but Ella attained the age of womanhood and had strong and loving ties with her parents. Mr. Bowman thoroughly appreciated his family and found his highest enjoyment in the companionship of his wife and daughter.
In January 1852, Mr. Bowman moved to Stony Creek, New York. There, he established a tannery of his own.
The life of a tannery worker was back breaking, twelve hour-days, six days a week. They worked in smelly, drafty, dirty conditions, and for the most part, workers’ the pay was not good. The finished product, animal hides, were hauled all the way from Bowman's mill by horse and wagon; it was a two-day trip each way.
Mr. Bowman worked hard, and soon became the area's largest employer. Bowman also built a pleasant residence, barns, and carriage house for his family. He, his wife and daughter had built a wonderful life for themselves.
John Bowman was well known in business circles and his name was regarded with the highest honor and integrity. His hard work, attention to detail and good judgment helped him to succeed.
With all Mr. Bowman’s good fortune in business and family matters, sorrow was to come in June of 1879 when daughter Ella died having just reached the age of nineteen. The family was devastated. After the death of his second daughter, Mr. Bowman gave thought to the building of a family tomb. He devoted much study to the formation of plans and designs. He visited different cemeteries and examined many structures.
Less than a year after Ella died, in January 1880, Mrs. Bowman died as well. John Bowman was left alone to grieve the loss of his family. Bowman resolved to build a memorial and last resting place in his native Vermont. With the death of his wife, Bowman began the construction of a mausoleum at Cuttingsville, Vermont, and eventually the remains of his wife and daughters were taken to Vermont for interment.
He enlarged and beautified Laurel Glen Cemetery and then erected the mausoleum. The general plan of work was Mr. Bowman’s own conception. It became known as the Taj Mahal of Vermont. A life size marble statue of Bowman himself was also carved to represent his figure climbing the steps to the tomb.
While the mausoleum was under construction Bowman also built an elaborately constructed and furnished summer Victorian mansion across from the Laurel Glen Cemetery. A handsome fountain graced the lawn. It had a carriage house nearby and the front contained a circular drive. The home, named Laurel Hall, eventually became Bowman’s permanent home.
In all, over 125 sculptors, granite and marble cutters, masons, carpenters and other laborers worked on the project and cost Bowman $75,000, a great deal of money at the time. This included purchasing the land adjacent to the existing cemetery and changing the look so the mausoleum was sitting high above the rest.
The inside of the mausoleum was and is something to behold. There is statuary, an arched ceiling, wainscoting, candelabra, molded urns, with lots of carved panels and emblems. The floors are laid with English tile. The interior is enhanced by plate glass mirrors which produce an optical illusion of vast space and depth. There are busts of the family members including a statue of a baby Addie.
In front of the mausoleum there is a life-size statue of John Bowman. He is bent with grief, burdened with mourning. He carries a cloak, hat, gloves, a huge funeral wreath, and a key to enable him to unlock the door. Inside the tombs of the family are stacked on top of one another, with John Bowman on the bottom, Jennie, his wife above him, daughter Ella above her, and baby Addie at the top. Carved above them all it says, “A COUCH OF DREAMLESS SLEEP.”
John Bowman died on September 24, 1891 in Vermont at the age of 75 years. He had suffered from a combination of heart and lung troubles. Bowman left careful and detailed instructions for the future upkeep and maintenance of the mausoleum, greenhouse, residence and grounds. In his will, he left a trust fund of $50,000 with two friends named as trustees, George W. Foster and S. Frank Smith. To fulfill Mr. Bowman’s wishes the property where his house and the mausoleum across the road were transferred to the Laurel Glen Cemetery Association, a corporation created in 1894.
It is said that Mr. Bowman believed in reincarnation and therefore it was important that the house be maintained in “waiting readiness” for him to return. The custodian of the property, George N. Jones, diligently carried out Bowman’s instructions, keeping the clocks wound, a fire in the fireplace, and lights in the windows at night and to serve dinner every night just in case the Bowmans were hungry when they returned from the dead. This stipulation was carried out until 1950, when the trust money finally ran out.
While Mr. Bowman didn't achieve his ultimate aim, a family reunion of sorts in his house in the manner envisioned, his legacy has been preserved for over 125 years since his death by people so touched by his love for his family and a grief so great. Visitors still come to his graveside, many leaving flowers and taking pictures. His home is now a museum, and many spiritualists and ghost hunters have reported the Bowmans' presence.