Unfortunately, there’s not much left in Raleigh that represents the creative mind of one of the city’s most influential architects, A.G. Bauer. Most of his buildings are long gone due to the rejection of the ornamental design in the 1960s and 70s, but one of his most heartfelt projects is still standing in Oakwood Cemetery—his wife’s tombstone—which marks the end of this amazing architect’s short career.
Bauer’s career began as an assistant and draftsman for prominent Philadelphia architect, Samuel Sloan. The two designed several buildings around North Carolina, the most notable in Raleigh being the Executive Mansion (the one that is still standing today). After the death of Sloan, Bauer went out on his own, struggling to find business without Sloan’s name behind him. He left Raleigh for an extended period, but when he returned, he worked on a few of his most notable designs, the Academy of Music (1892) and the Pullen Building (1894). Perhaps one of his most quirky designs, the Pullen Building resided on the corner of Fayetteville and Davie Streets. The building housed offices on the conservatively adorned street level, with the top level looking more like a bric-a-brac palace. The Queen-Anne style of leave-no-surface-undecorated paired with the first floor was a strange combination, but it worked.
It was around this time that Bauer met the love of his life, Rachel Blythe, while both were boarders at the Branson House. Rachel was a Cherokee Indian who had made a name for herself as a hard working stenographer. The two quickly fell in love, and in 1895 ran off to Washington, D.C. to get married because interracial marriages were illegal in North Carolina. Upon their return to Raleigh, they were met with scorn and were shunned by members of the community (partly due to the interracial marriage, partly because Rachel returned 6 months pregnant after only four weeks of marriage). It was later discovered, however, that the two had actually been secretly married in 1894, but had kept it quiet since it was illegal. It was this year that Bauer began the building he was best known for, Baptist Female University. The building was not finished until 1899, which was after his death.
In 1896, one event caused the downward spiral that would eventually lead to Bauer’s death. A carriage in which he was riding was struck by a train, causing him serious mental and physical problems. He was hospitalized in an insane asylum for two weeks due to “traumatic insanity,” which permanently damaged his reputation as an architect. He consistently suffered from stress-induced ranting and raving, depression, and delusional behavior. He never fully recovered. During this time, Rachel was pregnant with their second child, but a previously existing condition paired with the pregnancy proved too much for her body to handle, and she later died at the age of 26. This devastated Bauer, and he fully retreated into himself, withdrawing from all projects but one, his wife’s tombstone. He spent the last of his money designing a Temple of Diana to send a message to the people of Raleigh about the virtues of his wife. He also had the saying “True worth is being, not seeming” engraved as an ironic jab at the state’s motto. When the tombstone was complete, he sequestered himself in his room for days, reading Shakespeare and writing letters, then shot himself in the head. He was found with a revolver in his right hand, and a picture of Rachel in his left.
He was buried in an unmarked grave next to his wife in Oakwood Cemetery. It was not until 1986 that A.G. Bauer’s grave was finally marked with a tombstone.