Cobblestone Museum displays ‘death mask’ of famed Buffalo doctor

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 August 2014 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – This death mask, believed to be one of three cast of Dr. Roswell Park of Buffalo, is on display at the Cobblestone Museum until Oct. 13.

GAINES – The Cobblestone Museum has added two new pieces to an ongoing exhibit about medicine in Orleans County and Western New York.

The museum just acquired a wooden wheelchair that is likely at least a century old. It was donated by Francis London of Waterport, who bought it at a garage sale.

The other new addition is on loan until the end of the museum’s season on Oct. 13. The “death mask” of Dr. Roswell Park shows the likeness of the doctor best known for starting a cancer research laboratory in Buffalo, now known as Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Park was a well-respected doctor who cared for President William McKinley after he was shot in Buffalo.

Park was born on May 4, 1852, and lived until 1914. The death mask is on loan from a private collection. The local owner acquired it from an antique dealer, said Matt Ballard, co-director of the museum. UB’s School of Medicine and Buffalo’s History Museum each have a death mask of Park.

Death masks were created of deceased family members. It is a practice that goes back to Ancient Egypt, Ballard said. At the time of Dr. Park’s death, the practice was becoming uncommon with the rise of photography.

This wooden wheelchair was recently donated to the Cobblestone Museum by Francis London of Waterport.

The wheelchair looks like a regular wooden chair with large wooden wheels attached. It was made by the J.S. Ford, Johnson & Company from Chicago.

The company was started in 1867 John Sherlock Ford and Henry W. Johnson in 1867, according to Ballard’s research. The two men operated a chair manufacturing company out of Columbus, Ohio. They relocated the business to Chicago in 1872. It became well respected for manufacturing high quality Mission Style furniture. They were best known for their chairs and settees, Ballard said.

The exact date of the chair’s manufacturer is not known. The back label reads, “J.S. Ford, Johnson & Co. – Manufacturers – Chicago.”

“So we know the piece is dated after 1872 when the company moved to Chicago,” Ballard said.

The exhibit is located in the Danolds Room at the Cobblestone Universalist Church on Route 104, just east of Route 98.