Message in Glass


In this stained glass window in a mausoleum in the Westview Cemetery at Atlanta, Georgia, and angel holds two Christian symbols.

The torch in her right hand represents life.  The torch is also seen as an instrument that illuminates the darkness representing enlightenment.  It can symbolize zeal, liberty, and immortality.

The anchor is an ancient Christian symbol that has been found in early catacomb burials.  The anchor was used by early Christians as a disguised cross.  The anchor also served as a symbol of Christ and his anchoring influence in the lives of Christians.  Just as an anchor does not let a moored boat drift, the anchoring influence of Christ does not allow the Christian life to drift.

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FEB. 11, 1858

JUNE 11, 1908

On the gentle slope of a hill in the Westview Cemetery at Atlanta, Georgia, is the monument built for 50-year old Stephen Andrew Ryan, a native of Atlanta. Ryan was a merchant and a banker when his life was cut short after a year-long lingering illness.

The monument’s rough–cut cross towers over the figure of a woman who leans on one arm—looking expressionless into the distance. With her other hand, she holds a piece of paper or perhaps a handkerchief—in stone it is difficult to decipher for sure. The mourning figure’s graceful lines and smooth surface are a stunning contrast to the rugged cross behind her and used to give attention to the sculpture almost as a frame.


Twining up the cross are rose vines with full roses blooming. The rose symbolizes love and may represents Ryan’s love of his wife, Daisy. Romantics have waxed poetic about the rose and the connection to love for centuries which has made the rose an undeniable symbol of love.  But, the rose also has a religious meaning, differing by color.  The white rose symbolizes purity while the red rose represents martyrdom and the messianic hope that Christ will return. Given the roses are adorning a cross, the second religious symbolism might be more in-line with what the creators of the monument were trying to convey.


In the top of the cross are the initials “IHS” which have been used for centuries by Christians as a monogram, often referred to as a Christogram, for Jesus. The three letters are a Latinized version of the Greek letters ΙΗΣ (iota-eta-sigma), the first three letters of the name “Jesus” in Greek.

Ryan left a wife, Daisy, and an 11-year old daughter, Edith, behind. Neither is buried near him.


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Three Boys



1914 – 1921


1915 – 1918


1917 – 1917


This monument was created for three boys born in 1914, 1915, and 1917 to the Salerno Family. None lived into adulthood.

The sculptured likeness of 7-year old Francesco Salerno sits atop the monument in the Mount Carmel Cemetery at Hillsdale, Illinois.


The gravestone was created in the Victorian style of memorializing children in funerary statuary.  The realism of the statue is remarkable. The white marble carving is a likeness of Francesco recreated from the photograph on the front of the base of the monument. While the settee on the monument is not an exact replica from the photograph, the carving of young boy is modeled after the picture right down to the shirt pocket and the position of the book he is holding in his lap to read.


Along with the picture of Francesco is a picture of his brother Pietro.  Unfortunately, there is no picture of their infant brother, Vincenzo.


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War in Heaven


Archangel Michael is the only named Archangel that appears in all three sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Often referred to as St. Michael, Michael is actually an Archangel meaning that he is above all other angels in rank. In some of the many examples of the Archangel Michael found in the Mount Carmel Cemetery at Hillsdale, Illinois, whether in glass or stone, he is depicted as an angel wearing armor and wielding a sword. In each case Archangel Michael is triumphant over evil.

In the first example found in a stained glass window in a mausoleum in the Mount Carmel Cemetery, Archangel Michael is depicted with his arm raised as he readies Himself to plunge his sword into a fallen angel. Michael is bathed in light while the angel upon which he stands is depicted in a dark foreboding bilious green. This scene is an artistic recreation of the battle between Archangel Michael and Satan from the Book of Revelations (12:7-9):

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,

And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.

And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

According to the teachings of the Catholic Church, two of Archangel Michael’s responsibilities are to fight Satan, but also to escort the soul from this life to the next to stand in front of God in Heavenly judgment.

In the second stained glass window depiction of Archangel Michael, he is draped in the royal colors of purple—a prince of Heaven.


In the scene, Archangel Michael not only fights and defeats Satan, but he carries with him the scale of judgment.   Satan, again depicted in darkness and is thrown to the ground with his arms up to protect himself. Satan is falling from Heaven into flames.

In both stained glass examples above, Archangel Michael is shown toward the end of the battle—wielding the sword which has not yet defeated its enemy. The battle between good and evil still engaged but not yet won.

In the depictions in stone below, the battle is over. Archangel Michael is shown with his sword in Satan’s mouth.


And in all three cases, Satan is depicted as a dragon or a serpent, instead of a fallen angel.


After the great battle, Satan is cast out of Heaven to Earth where he  attempts to deceive the whole world and to lead the righteous astray. The battle continues in the hearts of men and women.


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Ivan Adams, Stone Carver, Take Two


Michael Shea of Rochester, New York read the gravelyspeaking blogpost about Ivan Adams—the Bloomington stone carver who carved the simple and elegant depiction of the Virgin Mary to mark his own grave.

Mr. Shea has shared photos of a statue, carved by Adams, for the Holy Cross Rectory, which was blessed by Bishop James E. Kearney on May 22, 1951.


“The statue of Mary is 56 inches in height, including the base, and it rests on a 42-inch-tall pedestal, for an overall height of 8 feet 2 inches. Carved into its base is the name of its sculptor: Ivan L. Adams. Mr. Adams worked out of Monroe County, Indiana and created religious statues as well as carvings of a more secular nature. His portfolio includes carvings and columns for the Fine Arts Building in Chicago’s Grant Park in 1933 and the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., as well as the 21-foot tall statue of Our Lady of Lourdes which still sits atop the hospital of the same name in Camden, New Jersey.”



OCT. 26, 1904

JUNE 18, 1969



JUNE 6, 1906

JAN. 7, 1988


Many prepare for death by writing a will, saying goodbyes, buying cemetery plots, but few have the talent to go so far as to design and carve their own gravestone. But, that is exactly what Ivan Leon Adams did. He carved a spire-like figure of the Virgin Mary for his own gravestone. The simple but elegant limestone statue in the Rose Hill Cemetery at Bloomington, Indiana, marks his grave and his wife, Gladys’s grave. If you want something done right, you might as well do it yourself—which he did.

According to his obituary, which appeared on June 19, 1968, in the Daily Herald-Telephone, “Ivan L. Adams of 2921 South Rogers, one of Monroe County’s most famous stone carvers, died Tuesday at Bloomington Hospital.”

“Adams began his career in 1924 during an era when stone carving and the stone industry was at its height in Monroe County. Stone Carvers were the artisans of the industry then.”

“Ivan Adams worked on carvings and columns for the Fine Arts Building in Chicago’s Grant Park in 1933, the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., the 21 foot statue of Our Lady of Lourdes (hospital) at Indian Hill in Camden, N.J. and the Church of the Holy Redeemer.”

“He also worked on many of the landmarks around Bloomington and south central Indiana, such as Foster Quad at Indiana University.”

Carving above a doorway at Foster's Quad at Indiana University

Carving above a doorway at Foster’s Quad at Indiana University

An article that appeared in the Hoosier Times, Sunday, November 21, 2004, quoted Ivan’s daughter, Norma, “One of my favorite sculptures designed and carved by my father alone is Bernadette (patterned after Jennifer Jones, the actress who played the star role in the movie “Song of Bernadette”). The statue is located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as is his sculpture “St. Francis of Assisi.” A very charming small carving that he designed and carved on the chimney at the old OBR building, 3rd and Dunn in Bloomington, showing a boy and kissing a girl.”


In that same article, his daughter explains, that her father also worked on the sculpture of GI Joe that stands on the Monroe County Courthouse grounds. Norma explained that “it was not an unusual practice for a carver’s name not to appear on a carving.”


Adams’ legacy is much more than the statue that marks his grave. His work can be found in the many carvings he did, many of which are unmarked and unknown to passersby but add to the beauty of our everyday surroundings. Some of which we walk by without much notice.


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Angel at the Door




AUG. 2 1858 – MAY 4, 1911



MARCH 23, 1861 – DEC. 1, 1940

She hath done what she could.


The Crenshaw Family Monument in the Westview Cemetery at Atlanta, Georgia, was built for William and Nannie Crenshaw. The white-marble tomb is built to look like an entrance into a stone cave. Standing in front of the doorway is an angel, wings back and one arm extended as if she is going to either knock on the door or open it.


The angel figure is wearing a diaphanous gown that appears to be swirling as she lands on the top of three steps. Each of the three steps, in Christian symbolism, represents a different virtue—“Faith in the will of God…Hope for the dawn of that yet more glorious day and Charity toward all men.”

The door as a motif in funerary art symbolizes mystery.  The door also represents the pathway from the Earthly realm to the Heavenly realm—the doorway is the portal the next and better life.


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Grass Marker Beauty


Sociologist W. Lloyd Warner was one of the first to study graveyard iconography and burial practices. In 1959 Warner wrote a monograph, The Living and the Dead, where he asserted, “cemeteries are collective representatives which reflect and express many of the community’s basic beliefs and values….” Life is reflected in the cemetery. One of the 20th Century changes that is evident is the influence of technology and rising labor costs. That can be seen in a type of gravestone called the grass marker. That is a gravestone that is absolutely flat with the ground—level with the grass—hence the name.

By designing markers in this way, large swaths of grass can be moved with ease on riding lawn mowers, reducing the cost of labor to move around various shaped gravestones. Now whole cemeteries often called Memorial Parks have nothing but this type of gravestone.

The unfortunate aspect of this, is that quite often these grass markers can be unique but are often overlooked.

One example of a beautiful gravestone in the Lake View Cemetery at Seattle, Washington, is for Michael Joseph Ehle, an artist from the Seattle area. Ehle grew up in Salinas, California, and started drawing at a very early age and he never stopped. Even when he was barely getting by as an artist, he washed dishes and took odd jobs to continue his art. His diligence and hard work paid off—now his works hang in the Tacoma Art Museum and the University of Washington Medical Center and the offices of Microsoft.

Ehle’s flat gray grass marker is designed with the graphic quality of a woodcut. While I don’t know what the symbolism is for the piece of artwork chosen for his marker, it is definitely of reminiscent of his bold expressive artwork. The young man smoking with a raven on his shoulder looks wryly toward the passerby with a knowing expression.

If you don’t look down once in a while in a cemetery, you could miss the lowly grass marker that might have some surprises carved into the face of the granite.



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