The Circle of Life in a Wagon Wheel


Bohemian National Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois

Bohemian National Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois

In funerary art, tombstones took on the look of tree stumps during the rustic movement. The gravestones were purposefully designed to look like trees that had been cut and left in the cemetery to mark a grave. Most of these tree-stump tombstones were carved from limestone, which is easier to carve, though some are made from marble and even a few from granite. Thousands of tree-stump tombstones exist in nearly as many designs. The creativity of the carvers was boundless. These type of gravestones were most popular for a twenty-year period from 1885 to 1905.

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.  This gravestone in Bohemian National Cemetery at Chicago, Illinois, is carved in limestone in the likeness of a tree with a wagon wheel leaning against the bottom of the tree.

With a closer look at the wagon wheel one can see that the circle is incomplete at the top.  The wheel, in this case, is a metaphor for the circle of life which is broken by death.


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Mario Korbel

Mario Joseph Korbel (March 22, 1882 – March 31, 1954) was a noted Czech-American sculptor who worked on several commissions for monuments that are found in cemeteries in Illinois and Iowa. Like many artists, including Daniel Chester French, Aldabert Volck, Felix Weihs de Weldon, Karl Bitter, Martin Milmore, Alexander Milne Calder, T. M. Brady, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Albin Polasek, Harriet Whitney Frishmuth, Edwin Blashfield, Edward V. Valentine, and others, Korbel was able to earn his living creating sculptures, public and private.

Korbel was born at Osik, Bohemia, the son of a clergyman. At the age of 18 he immigrated to the United States where he continued his art studies.  Korbel also studied sculpture in Paris at the Julian Academie and at the Royal Academy at Berlin. In 1909, Korbel opened a studio in Chicago.


The first Korbel monument I became aware of was the famous Black Angel of Iowa City, Iowa. Diana Brace, a friend who graduated from Iowa University had known about the statue and related some of the stories surrounding it. The commission is to be found in the Oakland Cemetery at Iowa City.  This statue has become famous locally for the stories that have sprung up surrounding the memorial. Local lore has it that this black angel has a dark story which probably began to swirl when the bright bronze statue turned black.  Instead of oxidation being the reason for the color change, rumors began to emerge about the “mysterious” woman buried beneath the angel.


Teresa Dolezal and her son, Eddie, emigrated from Bohemia to America where she continued her practice as a midwife.  Eddie died at the age of 18 with meningitis and was buried underneath a tree-stump gravestone in the Oakland Cemetery.  After her son’s death, Teresa moved to Eugene, Oregon, where she met and married Nicholas Feldevert.  Not long after their marriage, Nicholas died.  Teresa moved back to Iowa City.

Teresa hired Bohemian artist, Mario Korbel, of Chicago, to create an angel for her husband’s grave.  She also gave instructions that the angel was to hover over the body of her son’s grave, too.  Korbel created the angel with one wing spread open over Eddie’s grave.  Teresa died in 1924 and her ashes were placed underneath the grave ledger next to her husband’s remains.

No one remembers for sure when the angel turned color but that is when the rumors started.  The stories about the reasons why range from fanciful to evil and suggest that the color change was due to the nature of the woman buried beneath the angel.  One story goes that on the dark and stormy night of Teresa’s burial a lightning bolt struck the angel and turned it black instantly.  Another rumor suggests that the angel itself portends of the evil—most graveyard angels, they say, look upward with their wings lifted toward Heaven, but this one looks downward.  Ominous.


The second commission is in the Bohemian National Cemetery at Chicago, Illinois. A bronze statue was commissioned in 1910 by Emanuel Beranek upon the death of his father, Josef Beranek. The mourning figure that Korbel sculpted is titled Resignation.


The cloaked woman looks downward, holding her clasping hands together in meditation.


The figure stands in front of a large sweeping gray granite gravestone with the words “RODINA BERANKOVA” carved into the stone. “RODINA” is Czech meaning “family”. An inscription on the left side of the monument notes Emanuel’s father’s inscription: “Josef Beranek 1834 – 1910.”


The third commission I found by chance. I was walking around the Forest Home Cemetery at Forest Park, Illinois. I took a closer look at the door on the Louis M. Stumer mausoleum which depicts a seated mourning figure. Mario Korbel’s name was carved at the bottom of the door.


The door as a motif in funerary art symbolizes mystery.  The door is the portal from the Earthly realm to the next. In Christianity, the door is usually viewed with hope, charity, and faith.  The next life in the hereafter will be better than the one experienced here on Earth.




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St. Martin's Parish Cemetery, Whitefield, Indiana

St. Martin’s Parish Cemetery, Whitefield, Indiana

In many cemeteries, especially Catholic cemeteries, one is likely to find the crucifixion as part of the symbols adorning the gravestones.  In this case in the St. Martin Cemetery at Whitefield, Indiana, the letters “I.N.R.I” are written above the crucified Christ.  The letters stand for the initials of the Latin words, Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm.  The English translation is “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Latin was the language of the ancient Romans, who ruled over Judea at the time Jesus lived.  In Latin “I” was used instead of the English “J”, and “V” instead of “U”.

This markers honors Reverend James Stremler D.D., who died July 17, 1899, at the age of 72 years.


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Albany Rural Cemetery, Menands, New York

Albany Rural Cemetery, Menands, New York


Chester Alan Arthur (b. October 5, 1829, Fairfield, Vermont – November 18, 1886) was the 21st President of the United States (1881–85). He assumed the office upon the death of James Garfield who was felled by an assassin’s bullet and a host of doctor’s who eschewed sanitary conditions when treating him. Arthur had been a political appointee in the New York City Republican political machine which meant expectations for him as president were low. To the surprise of many, Arthur stepped up and embraced the political reforms that he and Garfield campaigned on.

After his term, in poor health, Arthur only half-heartedly sought the re-nomination for the presidency in his own right in 1884. Grover Cleveland succeeded him. President Chester Arthur died two years later at the age of 57 years.

After a private funeral service in New York City, Arthur was laid to rest in the Albany Rural Cemetery at Menands, New York. In 1889, a large granite sarcophagus was designed for his monument. Noted American sculptor Ephraim Keyser, created and cast a large bronze female angel that is depicted placing a palm leaf on the top of the tomb. The palm leaf represents victory over death.

Not long after the creation of Arthur’s memorial, Sidney Rowland Francis, brother and law partner of the Governor of Missouri died December 4, 1893, at St. Louis, Missouri. Francis was buried in the famed Bellefontaine Cemetery in that city. With the exception of the hand turned down as opposed to up and the absence of the palm leaf on the top sarcophagus the monument, angel and all, created for Francis’ grave appears to be a look-a-like of Arthur’s.


Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri

Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri

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Edna Miriam Paul

St. Luke Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois

St. Luke Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois



BORN AUG. 23, 1897

DIED MAY 2, 1907.

Many hopes are buried here

The likeness of 9 ½ year old Edna Miriam Paul in the St. Luke Cemetery at Chicago, Illinois, was created in the Victorian style of memorializing children in funerary statuary.  The realism of the statue is remarkable as her funerary statue is a recreation of the photograph on the front of the base of her monument.



Edna is depicted in her finest clothing and, as in the photograph, she is wearing a necklace. Her curly hair cascades to her shoulders accentuated by a bow, matching the bow on her dress. True to the image, even her stance is the same in the statue as in the picture.

The epitaph on the gravestone, “Many hopes are buried here”, speaks to the sadness and loss her parents felt.


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Improved Order of the Red Men

Ancient Cemetery, Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts

Ancient Cemetery, Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts

The metal marker found in the Ancient Cemetery at Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts, marks the grave of a member of the Improved Order of Red Men (I.O.R.M.), which claims its beginnings with the patriots who were in the Sons of Liberty during the American Revolution.

This particular marker is for a member of the IYANOUGH TRIBE 147 at Hyannis, Massachusetts.  The different clubs or chapters are divided into what the organization called “tribes”.

The society models itself after the Iroquois Confederacy councils.  In fact, some of the markers display images of Native Americans because the society based their organization on the rites and rituals of the Native Americans.  This marker displays a native American in profile, presumably an Iroquois, on the shield on which the eagle is perched.

Written on the shield on the breast of the eagle are the initials T.O.T.E which stands for Totem of Eagles.  According to their Website, the IORM “promotes patriotism and the American Way of Life, provides social activities for the members, and supports various charitable programs.”

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Happy Halloween

Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois

Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois

To commemorate Halloween, I wanted to revisit two monuments that I have written about earlier.

The monument above, sculpted by Lorado Taft, one of the premier sculptors of his day, was created to honor Dexter Graves, an early Chicago pioneer.  The bronze figure that Taft created is named Eternal Silence, an obvious metaphor for death.  The foreboding cloaked figure stands against solid black granite–black being the traditional color representing mourning and death.  The figure has his eyes closed and gathers the shroud to his lips preventing him from speaking.


The bronze has an eerie feel to it, in part, because of the way the patina has formed on the statue.  The shroud has a greenish blue unnatural color.  Except for a highlight on the nose, most of the face has remained dark and recedes from the hood, making it appear more menacing and mysterious.

The second monument is tucked away in the Forest Lawn Cemetery at Omaha, Nebraska, dedicated to Josiah and Alma Wasserburger.  The monument features a seated and cloaked figure.  The inscription divulges no clues about who the figure represents, but leaves behind a message about the body’s decay but not of the soul’s.

Forest Lawn Cemetery, Omaha, Nebraska

Forest Lawn Cemetery, Omaha, Nebraska

These are the kind of monuments give cemeteries a reputation for being scary.  I have to admit, even though, I have had an affinity for cemeteries for as long as I can remember, had I spied either of these monuments as a kid a long about dusk, I would have been creeped out and probably run outta there as fast as I my squat fat legs would have propelled me.  However, one thing my Dad always said has made me feel completely at ease in a cemetery.  “Son, its not the dead ones you have to worry about!”


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