Why Carve the Train into the Gravestone?

Greenlawn Cemetery, Vincennes, Indiana

Greenlawn Cemetery, Vincennes, Indiana






AUG. 22, 1866.


ON ST. L. A. & T. Ry.

MAY 12, 1893.

DIV. NO. 442



Tree-stump gravestones dot cemeteries all across the Midwest and especially Indiana where the tradition of stone carving was fine art in a state where limestone is plentiful and rich and the stone carvers were and are expert and talented. In funerary art, tombstones took on the look of tree stumps during the rustic movement. These type of gravestones were most popular for a twenty-year period from 1885 to 1905. Thousands of tree-stump tombstones exist in nearly as many designs. The creativity of the carvers was boundless. The gravestones were purposefully designed to look like trees that had been cut and left in the cemetery to mark a grave.


Many symbols, like the hanging and broken bud, the broken column, and the broken wheel represent the end of life’s journey.  In this case, even the gravestone itself, the tree-stump, symbolizes a life cut short.


The marker for Charles F. King is no exception, he was but a mere 26 years old—a life cut short. But what is astonishing, is that King’s cause of death, a train wreck, is carved into the front of his gravestone. He was killed in 1893 at Jonesboro, Arkansas, in a train wreck on the St. Louis, Arkansas, and Texas Railway. But a question remains—why carve his cause of death into the gravestone? Would we carve an exploding heart for all those who die from a heart attack? Would we carve a ’48 Studebaker for someone killed in a car accident?


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The little girl at the gate

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana

John Naugle was a master carver who plied his trade in the Salem, Indiana, area. Examples of his work can be found in the Crown Hill Cemetery of Salem. Two examples, the Lula McMahan monument and the Emmanuel Zink Monument, demonstrate his talent as a carver. In these examples shown here, Naugle crafted towering monuments that are architectural in nature. They resemble each other in form, but have minor changes in detail and symbolism.

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana

According to all reports he loved his craft and was widely recognized for his talent. But, according to Guardians of the Soul, a book about cemetery sculptures in Indiana by John Bower, one of his greatest joys was at the end of the day when he was met by his four-year old daughter, Caddy, at their garden gate. Tragedy struck when illness befell the little girl and she died a few days later. John Naugle was bereft and unable concentrate at his job and many projects were left undone. According to Bower’s book, “many of his duties were taken over by an itinerant stone mason who just happened to be passing through town.

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana

Not only did this stone carver complete many of the projects that were languishing in the Naugle’s workshop, but he also produced a memorial to Caddy, appropriately, standing at the garden gate, as if she were still waiting for her father. By all accounts, he then disappeared almost as if he had been a ghost.


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The Willow




consort of


Died March 29th 1847;

Aged 69 years.


The two examples of gravestones in this post display the willow by itself. In the example above, found in the Mount Cemetery, Little York, Washington County, Indiana, the willow fills the tympanum and is intricately carved, each individual willow branch detailed, along with the tree trunk.

The example below is an example found in the Freedom Cemetery, at Mitchell, Indiana, on a repaired soft white-marble tablet that is quite worn and weathered. Even still the detail carved into the branches of the willow in the medallion at the top of the tombstone is still visible.




April 11, 1857

Aged 46 Yr’s. 4 M’s.

21 D’s.


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The Willow and the Obelisk

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana



Who died June 7th 1847

Aged 69 yrs. 6 mos. &

29 ds.


In the Crown Hill Cemetery at Salem, Indiana, there are good many intricately carved limestone gravestones, such as, the one created for Susan Carpenter in 1847. In the top third of her tombstone is a detailed carving of a weeping willow tree that hangs over and obscures part of an obelisk. The carving is fresh and sharp and looks like it could have been carved that day.  The obelisk is a stone shape that is ubiquitous in American cemeteries and part of the Egyptian Revival Period which was inspired by the French and then the British presence in Egypt in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. The obelisk is said to represent a single ray of sunlight, petrified from sunlight into stone.  It was thought that the Egyptian sung god Ra lived within the obelisks.  These towering monuments were often placed flanking the entrance to temples.

Here the obelisk is combined with the willow, a traditional symbol of morning and grief.  On this gravestone the obelisk seems to become a symbol grief itself—the death of a loved one and where that person is  buried.

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana

The gravestone of Metilda Amsden is also to be found in the Crown Hill Cemetery at Salem. It is slightly different in that the obelisk on this gravestone is flanked by two trees—the willow and a tree with no branches. Here the two trees not only represent sorrow and mourning but the stripped down tree is a stark representation of death.


In the top of the Obelisk in the carving it says, METILDA CONSORT of AMON AMSDEN.  The medallion below the willow and obelisk motif carriers the inscription:


Memory of


Born Dec. 19th, 1814,

Died April 9th. 1838.

& 21 days.

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The Willow and Two Hearts

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana


to the memory of


Born in Jefferson County, Ky

May 15th, 1813

and parted this life

November 4th, 1845,

aged 32 years 5 months &

20 days

I never shall return to thee

Don’t let this grieve thy heart

But you shall shortly come to me,

Where we will never part.


Our deepest emotions are felt in our hearts.  The heart shape, which, by the way, looks nothing like the real human heart, is a symbol of many emotions including joy, courage, and sorrow, but most especially love.  Millions of cards are exchanged every Valentine’s Day with red-heart shapes printed on them, expressions of romance and love.

In both examples of today’s blog, the willow is combined with two hearts. Usually, the willow motif is by itself, or often with a lamb, a mourning figure, an urn, or an obelisk. The willow with two hearts is an unusual expression of both grief and love combined into one motif.

The gravestone of William H. Malott in the Crown Hill Cemetery at Salem, Indiana, above, depicts two hearts at the base of the willow. The sentimentality of this symbol combined with the epitaph is touching. The hearts are twining around a traditional symbol of grief, yet, the epitaph written from the perspective of the deceased is telling his wife not to grieve because they would be together soon enough. William married Leah Patterson McKeown, with whom he had five children: Volney, Minerva, Ellen, Mary Catherine, and Eli. His widow, however, remarried two years later on January 19, 1847 in Washington County, Indiana, to John F. Ramsey. Leah (1816-1904) lived nearly 60 more years after William died. She is buried in the Crown Hill Cemetery at Indianapolis, Indiana.

The symbol of two hearts on the tomb in the Cypress Grove Cemetery at New Orleans represents love, as well.  The white marble tomb displays the willow, a traditional symbol of sorrow.   In this carving the willow branches shelter two hearts on the tomb hinting at grief and a tragic story.

Cypress Grove Cemetery, New Orleans, Louisiana

Cypress Grove Cemetery, New Orleans, Louisiana

In 1869, J. Pinkney Smith’s young nineteen-year old wife, Katie McIlheny Smith, died in childbirth.   One heart has Katie’s name carved into it.  The other heart is left nameless in honor of the un-named baby that died as it was born and as its Mother died.  Together their hearts are intertwined in marble.  Desolate and broken, J. Pinkney Smith, husband to Katie, wrote his wife’s epitaph, “Soon as she found the key of life, it opened the gates of death.”


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The Willow and the Urn

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana


memory of



wife of


who died Jan. 22, 1845

aged 22 years 11 months

& 26 days


According to James Deetz and Edwin S. Dethlefsen, in their groundbreaking article, “Death’s Head, Cherub, Urn and Willow” the willow first made its appearance in cemeteries in the early 18th century.  The motif represented a break from the stark and cold reminders that death would bring that the Puritans carved into their gravestones—flying death’s heads, skulls and crossbones, and gravedigger’s equipment. In addition to the grim reminders of the inevitability of death Puritan gravestones often accompanied the haunting imagery with blunt words such as, “Here lies the body.” Nothing subtle there. The willow and the urn, however, represented a more sentimental view of death. There was a softening of Puritan views during the Great Awakening and the beginning of the Romantic Era.

Often the willow and urn is accompanied with words like, “In memory of” or “Sacred to the memory of”. This represented a softer approach. Like many symbols found in the cemetery, they can have multiple meanings, or there can be disagreement about the meaning of the motif—the Willow and urn is no exception. Christians saw the ability of the tree to live seemingly no matter how many of the branches were cut from the tree as a symbol of immortality. Others, however, suggest that the willow and urn predate Christianity to Roman times. The urn was used by Romans to store cremated remains and the willow was associated with the Persephone, the goddess of the underworld. Combined they represent the soul’s journey from the Earthly Realm to the Heavenly Realm. This design coincided with a neo-classical revival that took place mid-18th Century in America.

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana




DEC. 23, 1826





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The Willow and the Lamb

Springdale Cemetery, Madison, Indiana

Springdale Cemetery, Madison, Indiana


To the memory of

HARRIET W. daughter of

Joseph G. & Eliza Ann Cowden

who departed this life

February 28, 1841;

aged 6 years and 8 months.

Her spirit flew with gladness,

To dwell with saints above,

She left us here in sadness

To mourn our absent love.

Also an infant son.


One of my favorite graveyard symbols is the willow.  Maybe because it is a little sentimental and hints at the human emotions felt during grief.  The willow motif represents what one might expect; sorrow and grief, it is after all a “weeping” willow.  In both of these examples, the willow symbol is combined with the lamb, and, both of these gravestones are for children. The lamb is the symbol of the Lord, the Good Shepherd. It also represents innocence, likely the reason why this motif usually adorns the tombstones of infants and young children. Most often the lamb is lying down, often asleep.

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana

William Augustus

Son of

Jeremiah And

Abigail S. Roubound

Died Nov. 4. 1840

Aged 3 yrs. & 8 d’s

Jesus calls me.



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