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90.5 WESA's Good Question! series is an experiment where you bring us questions—and we go out to investigate and find answers.

The story behind that giant Egyptian-themed mausoleum in Allegheny Cemetery

There are more than a few Egyptian-themed tombs sprinkled amid the sprawling expanse of Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Cemetery, but among the looming obelisks, pyramidal headstones and even its fellow mausoleums, there is one imposing white granite structure that stands out.

Resting on a grassy hilltop on the grounds, the Winter Mausoleum is guarded by twin sphinxes mounted on platforms. The entrance features a set of engraved brass double-doors, flanked by two columns and crowned on the façade by a winged sun. 

This is part of our Good Question! series where we investigate what you've always wondered about Pittsburgh, its people and its culture.

Emil Winter, who died in 1941, was an industrialist and banker. Born in Pittsburgh in 1857, he first owned a meat packing operation on Herr’s Island before selling it in 1902 and moving into the steel industry, according to the Pittsburgh Foundation. Although he never achieved quite the status of industrial contemporaries in Pittsburgh like Andrew Carnegie or Henry Clay Frick, during the early 20th Century Winter saw success in his own right, co-founding the Pittsburgh Steel Company and serving as director of the Pittsburgh Steel Products Company. Later, he purchased a controlling interest in the Workman’s Savings Bank & Trust Co., where he remained until his death. 

For all of the mausoleum’s grandeur, the one thing it can be said to lack is originality: as points out, it is an almost exact replica of department store mogul F.W. Woolworth’s mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, built in 1920. Both tombs were the work of John Russell Pope, who later went on to design the Jefferson Memorial. 

“In particular, it has been related to archaeological findings,” said Marilyn Evert, former historian at the cemetery. She said the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 sparked an interest world-wide in all things ancient Egypt, including architecture. Winter’s is one of many tombs in the style that were commissioned in the years following the famous dig.

According to Evert, though, there is one detail of the design is actually at odds with the ancient Egyptian tradition.

“The sphinxes in front of the mausoleum are actually Greek and not Egyptian,” said Evert.

Although the sphinxes do bear pharaonic headdresses, they are clearly female, whereas the Egyptian sphinx was depicted as male. The image of the sphinx as a woman was an adaptation made by the ancient Greeks, who imagined her as the mythical guardian of the city of Thebes who would only let travelers pass through if they solved a riddle. 

As for Winter himself? Although there aren’t any parks or universities in the city named after him, Winter and his wife Mary were considerable patrons of the arts in Pittsburgh, and in 1975 afund in his name was established at the Pittsburgh Foundation which remains active to this day.   

What have you always wondered about the Pittsburgh region? Submit to our Good Question!series and we’ll go investigate and find answers.