The Mori monument in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx was a collaboration between sculptor Charles Keck (September 9, 1875 – April 23, 1951) and architect Raymond Mathewson Hood (March 29, 1881 – August 14, 1934).


SEPT 11 1868 – JULY 17 1927


SEPT 5 1897 – NOV 4 1951


Hood was an American architect who had an outsized influence that dominated twentieth century architecture.  His designs include the Tribune Tower in Chicago and Rockefeller Center in New York City, an iconic Art Deco masterpiece. Charles Keck was a famed sculptor born in New York who studied at the National Academy of Design, the American Academy in Rome, the Art Students of New York, and was a protégé of the renowned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. His masterpieces include Lifting the Veil of Ignorance at Tuskegee University, the statue of Huey Long in Statuary Hall, and the Lincoln Monument in Wabash, Indiana, among many many others.

Together Hood and Keck collaborated to create the Mori Monument in Woodlawn Cemetery.  The monument is an Art Deco masterpiece.  Art Deco was a design movement from the 1920s that marked a break from the fluid and flowing Art Nouveau designs of the 1890s.  The term ‘Art Deco’ is derived from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, an exhibition of artists that showed their work in Paris in 1925.   Arts Décoratifs was eventually truncated to Art Deco.  

Here the simple lines of the platform are a contrast to the curved lines of many of the monuments seen in funerary art that feature Art Nouveau and Gothic designs.  The mourning figure looks off in the distance in a contemplative stare.  The basket with the flowers reinforces the feeling of melancholy and sadness as the strewn flowers are a symbol of grief and loss.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Legacy

John Walz (1844—1922) was a popular sculptor in Savanah who was commissioned to create many monuments that can be found in the famed Bonaventure Cemetery.  Walz, a talented German immigrant, began his career as a stonecutter but only as a means of saving enough money to gain a classical education in sculpture.  After working as a stonecutter for eight years, he’d saved enough to travel to Europe to study in Paris and Vienna before returning to the United States to ply his artistry.

The gravestone he carved for the Wheless family depicts two children’s winged heads that appear to be floating on a cloud.  The cloud is atop a cartouche with the letter “W” carved into it signifying the last name of the family.  The names and birth and death dates of the Wheless children flank the carving:


June 28, 1904 – Oct 25, 1906


Sept 21, 1892—May 24, 1895

The most famous gravestone carved by Walz and most likely the most photographed in the cemetery was created for Gracie Watson (1883-1889) who died of pneumonia.  The story told and re-told is that the father of the little girl was so grief stricken that he could not speak when he met with Walz to commission a monument for his sweet six-year-old girl, Gracie.  Instead, he handed his only photograph of Gracie to the sculptor—who went to work creating a chillingly accurate replica of the young girl.  The white Georgia marble monument depicts Gracie seated next to a tree stump with ivy leaves twinning round it.  The sculpture of the little girl rests on a plinth sitting on a base.  In front of the base is a small planter with a cartouche folded over with the letter “W” emblazoned on it—a noted hallmark of Walz’s work.  Gracie’s gravestone is the only one in the family plot.  Her parents, W. J. and Frances Watson, hoteliers in Savannah eventually moved from the city.

These two monuments represent only a small part of Walz’s legacy.  His sculptures can been seen in the Bonaventure and Laurel Grove Cemeteries in Savannah as well as other works in the city.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Sheltering Branches of the Willow

On a slope south of Nashville, Indiana, lies the rural New Bellsville Cemetery founded in 1853.  The cemetery has a mix of old and new gravestones.  Among them, a limestone gravestone carved for Solomon Moore who it looks like died in 1856—the last two numbers of his death date are still discernable.  Unfortunately, much of the stone has flaked off and the rest of the inscription is gone.  However, the symbolism is clear—a Willow tree with its branches sheltering an obelisk and a sleeping lamb.

The obelisk on this gravestone is on top of a plinth and a base. 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.

The willow motif represents what one might expect; sorrow and grief, it is after all a “weeping” willow.  The lamb is the symbol of the Lord, the Good Shepherd. It also represents innocence, likely the reason why this motif often adorns the tombstones of infants and young children.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sunset or Sunrise?

The sun is a potent symbol throughout the world—ancient and modern.  In funerary symbolism it is depicted in many ways: as a yellow sphere; as spreading rays of light; as a geometric pattern shaped like a many-pointed star; as lines emanating from a single point outward in a fan pattern.  The ancient Egyptians depicted a single ray of the sun as an obelisk in honor of their sun god Ra.

Like many symbols, there is a duality to the sunburst.  For instance, when looking at the symbol, it is difficult to discern if it is a rising sun or a setting sun—which leads to its dual meaning.  The rising sun represents the resurrection, rebirth, and eternal life.  In fact, many Western cemeteries were oriented to bury the deceased facing the rising sun in anticipation of the return of the Savior God Jesus.  The setting sun, however, represented death and the end of the mortal life.

So, which do you see–the rising sun or a sunset?

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

From Rages to Riches

Our history is full of stories about smart and ambitious immigrants who “struck it rich” after they came to America.  One such story about Irish immigrant, James Graham Fair, who was born December 3, 1831, in Clogher, Ireland, to a poor family, recounts how he and his father moved to America.  The family tried farming in Illinois, but Fair moved West to seek his fortune in the gold country of California.  Eventually moving to Nevada to mine silver, he and three business partners literally struck it rich.  Fair became known as one of the “silver kings” who made millions on the Comstock Lode when they tapped into a large silver vein that was dubbed “the big bonanza!”

Fair invested in real estate, railroads, and banking increasing his vast fortunes. As his fortunes rose, so did his political fortunes—in 1881, Fair was elected to the U.S. Senate representing Nevada for a single term.  Though, Fair had been very successful in business, his personal life was less so.  His long-time marriage to Theresa Rooney, mother of his children, ended in 1883, when she requested a divorce because of his habitual infidelity.

Fair is buried in a towering mausoleum in the Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery at Colma, California.  The mausoleum is a masterpiece of eclectic architectural styles.  The half circle façade is reminiscent of the Baroque and Rococo, which used rounded shapes to exploit curves for plan forms.  The two “wings” of the façade envelope the viewer and are punctuated by modified and decorated Tuscan columns that support an elaborate cornice.  The cornice is decorated with lionheads while the friezes above the columns display Greek letters—alpha on the left and omega on the right. Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and omega is the last—they are respectively the “A” and “Z”. In this case, alpha and omega are a reference to the Biblical passages found in the Book of Revelation, Chapter 1, Verse 8: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty”.

There are three steps to the doorway to the mausoleum. This may be a nod to Christian symbolism, each step representing a different virtue—“Faith in the will of God…Hope for the dawn of that yet more glorious day and Charity toward all men.”

Even though, the doorway is a practical way to enter the tomb, even the door as a motif in funerary art symbolizes mystery.  The door represents the pathway from the Earthly realm to the Heavenly realm—the doorway is the portal the next and better life.

Carved in a low bas-relief above the doorway, is a winged angel.  Winged figures in a cemetery are instantly recognize as angels–messengers of God.  However, Christian art did not depict angels with wings until the fourth century.  Before then, angels were represented in several different forms–sometimes in human form, but also represented as a dove, or even just as a hand reaching down to Earth from the Heavens.  Beginning with the reign of Constantine, angels began being depicted with wings, as we commonly portray them today.  “Based on the winged Greco-Roman Nike or Victory, their form thus embodied Christianity’s promised triumph over death.  Medieval and Renaissance tombs often featured angels that attended images of the deceased.”

This angel is seated with an open book resting on her lap.  She looks down to view the register of names that have been recorded in the book.  In Judaism and Christianity, the names of the righteous were recorded in the Book of Life; they were assured entry into Heaven.

In her article, “Embodying Immortality: Angels in America’s Rural Garden Cemeteries, 1850—1900”, pages 56 – 111, 2007 edition of Markers, XXIV, Elisabeth Roark categorized the eight most commonly found types of graveyard angels—which included recording angels.  The “Book” is referenced many times in the Bible (King James Version), including Revelations, Chapter 20,Verse 12: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God: and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”

Verse 13: “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.”

Verse 14: “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death.”

Verse 15: “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Profusion of Flowers

The Amadeo Pietro Giannini (May 6, 1870-June 3, 1949) and Clorinda Agnes Cuneo Giannini (March 4, 1869-December 21, 1941) gravesite in the Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Colma, California, marks the grave of A.P. Giannini and his wife, Clorinda, and many of their children who are also buried in the family plot.  A.P. Giannini, the progenitor of the family, was a prominent and successful businessman who founded the Bank of Italy which later became Bank of America.

The family plot is surrounded by curbing with a stone black and white checkerboard pattern covering the entire floor.  In the center of the gravesite is a monument featuring a seated mourning figure.  Behind the woman is a bas-relief of Jesus Christ in a roundel in the center of the Latin cross. 

Surrounding the cross is a profusion of flowers.  Without the benefit of color, the erosion of the marble, and the stylistic devices of the carver, it is difficult to discern the types of the two flowers displayed on the stone with certainty.  However, the flowers in the upper portion of the stone appear to be pansies. In the lower half, the flowers are most likely chrysanthemums.  In Victorian times, flowers took on significance as a way to send coded messages; this was known as floriography from the Latin combining flora—“goddess of flowers”—and graphein—“writing.”

In 1884, Kate Greenaway, a popular author and illustrator published a book titled, the Language of Flowers.  According to her book, each flower had a meaning that was conveyed to the viewer or receiver of the flower or bouquet of flowers—for instance, the weeping willow represented mourning, the white lily represented purity, the Easter lily represented the Resurrection, and so on.  The book is a nearly complete listing of flowers along with their “secret” or symbolic meanings. 

In Greenway’s book, most flowers have a one-word descriptor or meaning.  In the case for the flower pansy the word is thought. Greenway used thought, no doubt, because pansy is derived from the French word pensée which translates to thought which is recorded in her book.  It wasn’t only the Victorians who identified the meaning of pansies in that way.  Pansies are mentioned in Shakespeare’s Hamlet Act 4, Scene 5, when Ophelia is talking to Laertes about her father’s funeral—“There’s  rosemary, that’s for remembrance.  Pray you, love.  And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.”  In gravestone symbolism the pansy has come to represent the remembrance of a loved one—fitting with which to decorate a stone.

The chrysanthemum is more problematic.  Greenway breaks the meaning out by color—red for “I love”; white for “truth”; and yellow for “slighted love”.  But obviously, the white marble doesn’t give a hint to the color of the flower intended.  But European tradition gives a clue to the meaning on a gravestone.  In many countries, including Italy where the family originated, the chrysanthemum was frequently used to decorate coffins and graves and became to be used as a token of comfort and condolence to the grieving family.

The language of flowers is quite beautiful, if you know it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Draped Cannon


SON OF S. P. & M. E.


BORN JULY 5, 1877

DIED NOV. 6, 1898



A precious one from has gone

A voice we loved is still

A place is vacant in our home

Which never can be filled

Luther, the son of Simeon P. and Mary E. Winklepleck, joined the Army and was training at Fort Sam Houston when he died of typhoid fever. He had a military funeral and was buried at the San Antonio National Cemetery. But, on November 16th, 1898, according to the U. S. Burial Registry, Military Post, and National Cemeteries records, his body was exhumed and shipped home to Odon, Indiana, where he was re-buried in the Walnut Hill Cemetery, on the land near where he grew up.

His tombstone is in the rustic style which was popular the late 19th Century and the very beginning of the 20th Century, coinciding with the Rural Cemetery Movement. The rustic movement of the mid-nineteenth century was characterized by designs that were made to look like they were from the country, complemented the rural cemetery movement which began in the United States in 1831 with the opening of Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The rustic gravestones were a funerary art contrivance mimicking the natural surroundings of the cemetery and were most popular for a twenty year-period from about 1885 until about 1905.

Most of these rustic designed tombstones were carved from limestone to look like tree stumps.  In this case, however, the branches on the outside of the block face surrounding the inscription and the branches at the bottom of the plinth are consistent with rustic design.  But the crowning glory of this monument is the draped cannon that tops the tombstone, a nod to Luther Winklepleck’s short service in the Army. Here the cannon, in all of its rich detail including the bolts, is at rest and draped. Drapery seen on gravestones often symbolizes the veil between life and death and the passage of the soul from the Earthly plane to the Heavenly plane.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Real or Imagined?

Stories abound of the supernatural—apparitions that appear in gossamer gowns that fade into the murky night air, screams emanating from the “haunted” cemetery, sculptures that have eyes that glow red after dark.  How do these stories get started?  Are the stories true?  Are there things that just can’t be explaine

The Stepp Cemetery

One such tale has been repeatedly told about the Stepp Cemetery in the Morgan Monroe State Forest near Bloomington, Indiana, reportedly the most haunted place in the state. The stories that swirl around the cemetery first started around a fallen tree that resembled a chair that became known as the Witch’s Throne. That throne, however, was not a royal seat but a place of mourning and sorrow from a distraught and inconsolable mother. The legend told and re-told is of a young family. The husband works long days at the quarry—the mother busy in the cabin with a newborn girl. Tragically the husband is cut down in his prime in a quarry blast leaving the young mother to raise their little girl alone. She pours herself into the little girl, thinking of her every waking moment—protecting her, over-protecting her. The little girl becomes a young woman and catches the eye of a young man. Reluctantly and fearfully the mother agrees to let the boy escort the girl to a dance.

In a race to get back to the girl’s home before the curfew, the couple drove too fast on the country road slick with a gentle rain sliding off the road. The young girl didn’t survive the accident—the Mother’s heart broken, her dreams shattered, her spirit sent adrift with anguish and heartbreak.

Many campers and hikers have reported that they have felt warmed air as if a hot breath was on their necks. They have reportedly seen a dark fluttering presence hovering over what must be the long-forgotten grave near the Witch’s Throne and heard a faint sobbing.

While pictures of the apparition don’t exist or what we would call empirical evidence there are those who swear it to be true—their senses alive by the touch of the warm air and the sight of figure in the dark night. Is it real or imagined?

The Voodoo Queen

Marie Laveau was known as the Voodoo Queen and one of the most notorious practitioners of black magic in all of New Orleans.  Born in 1794 in Santo Domingo, Marie was well known throughout her adopted city of New Orleans for the potions she concocted and the spells she cast.

Marie lived a long life, giving birth to 15 children, including her daughter and namesake, Marie II, who took over for her mother when she died in 1881, casting spells for the denizens of the dark and believers in the cult.  For years after Marie died people claimed to see apparitions of Marie.  To this day, candles, coins, beads, and other gifts are still left at the crypt that is said to hold the remains of Marie and her daughter, Marie II.

The Black Angel

The black angel is in the Oakland Cemetery at Iowa City, Iowa, has dark stories surrounding it which probably began to swirl when the bright bronze statue turned black.  Teresa Dolezal 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.  No one remembers for sure when the angel turned color but that is when the rumors started.  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.

Leave it to a college town to turn the stories of evil into a reason to challenge the mysterious circumstances behind the color change of the sculpture and even build upon them making it a place for college co-eds to kiss!  The Iowa City college students created even more fanciful myths.  They say that if a college girl is kissed in the moonlight near the black angel, she will die within six months.  They also say that if you kiss the black angel you will die instantly.  Or touching the black angel at the stroke of midnight will bring death within seven years.  They also say if a virgin is kissed in front of the black angel the curse will be lifted and the angel will turn back to its original bright bronze color.  Hawkeye co-eds have performed many experiments of the kissing nature in front of the black angel and the sculpture is still black.  No deaths have been reported either as a result of the efforts of the college students—yet the rumors are retold with vigor and enthusiasm.

Black Agnus

The sculpture created by Karl Bitter for John E. Hubbard in the Green Mount Cemetery at Montpelier, Vermont, also has lore that has been promulgated.  Supposedly, if you sit on the lap of the sculpture, something bad will happen to you—some say in seven hours, some say seven days, some say seven months; the amount of time varies depending on who retells the story of the curse. Locals also tell of screams coming from the cemetery at night in the vicinity of the monument.  Others report seeing the eyes of the sculpture turn to glowing red, though, no photographic evidence of that has surfaced.

Share this:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Tree of Life

This gray granite Steele in the Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, depicts an intricately carved Tree of Life with two opposing figures facing each other. The Tree of Life is found in many cultures and is an archetype found in religion, folklore, fiction, and culture.  Often depictions show two figures facing each together with the Tree in the middle.  Sometimes the characters represent deities or rulers.  In this case however, as the inscription on the bottom of the stone indicates, the figure on the right holding the lily represents youth while the bearded figure to the left symbolizes age—both standing before the Tree of Life. 

In funerary art the Tree of Life represents earthly or heavenly spiritual life with its meaning coming from Christian origins. The Tree of Life is first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 2:9, “And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”  Later, again in Genesis 3:22, 23, and 24, “And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.  So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.”

To Catholics the Tree of Life represents the purity of life free from sin before the Fall. According to Saint Albert the Great, if the Tree symbolized Life, the Blood and Body of Christ represented the “fruit”.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Portals—Heavenly and “Not So Much”

Additional photos

A common and oft heard remark from Christians is that when they die, they will go to Heaven and meet with St. Peter at the “Pearly Gates” when they enter the Kingdom.  This is such a popular scenario that there are entire Web sites devoted to St. Peter-at-the-Pearly-Gates jokes!  There are also many and varied representation of the Gates of Heaven that can be found in cemeteries across the United States.  Often the Gates are shown in conjunction with other symbols, such as the star, or a dove, or an upward pointing finger, or a crown.  And nearly always, the Gates are open, as if they are inviting the soul of the deceased to enter.

In religious paintings, St. Peter is often shown with keys, referring to the Matthew 16:18-19: “And I say also unto thee, That thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

The term “Pearly Gates” also has its origin in a Biblical passage, Revelation 21:21: “And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate (sic) was one pearl; and the street of the city pure gold, and it were transparent glass.”

The Crandall Family gravestone, in the Springdale Cemetery in Peoria, Illinois, is in that tradition, gates slightly ajar as an invitation.  But what makes this gravestone different is that it is free-standing and not an incised design carved into the face of a column.  And, there are two elements not usually found in front of the gates—the master’s dog and his tools of trade.   

Interpreting gravestone symbolism can be tricky, especially without the benefit of knowing the deceased, the person or person’s responsible for commissioning the gravestone, or being able to discuss the symbolism with the carver.  But at first glance, it almost looks as if the deceased got to the gates with his dog and tools and had to leave them behind to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Some of the symbolism is well known.  The open gates are central to the Last Judgment.  As a funerary symbol, the gates represent a passageway from one realm to the next.  The gates are the portal for saved souls to make their passage from the Earthly realm to the Heavenly realm upon Christ’s return.  The dog is typically seen representing fidelity and loyalty.  And, it is highly likely that Eugene Crandall was carpenter given the tools—saw, plane, square, and hammer—left in front of the gates.

What is also clear from the gravestone, is that it was carved by an expert.  Often the carver’s identity is lost, but in the case, the carver was Italian immigrant, Joseph Petardi/Petarde, who was born into a family of stone carvers in Rome, Italy.  Joseph immigrated to New York and was soon working for a building firm.  One of his early jobs took him to Peoria where he was to cut stone for bridge pilings.  As fate would have it, Joseph met Hannah Partridge and the two met, married, had eight children, and he stayed the rest of his life in Peoria. 

One of his sons, Clyde, followed in Joseph’s footsteps, and the two of them carved some intricate statues for their own home in Peoria.  One porch support depicted a man holding up his loin cloth.  Typically, male supports were referred to as Atlas figures and were popular in Classical and Baroque Architecture.  The porch also had two female figures holding up the front porch.  Columns that were personified as females are referred to as caryatids and common in Greek architecture.   

In Greek Revival architecture the caryatid “represents the way women have traditionally carried large burdens on their heads.”  But to the horror and shock of the neighbors, all three support figures were semi-nude and too much for the neighbors’ Midwestern sensibilities.   In fact, the next-door neighbor who was an occasional visitor to the Crandall residence refused to pass through the door on the front porch in protest of the scantily-clad sculptures!  That was one portal that was “not so” Heavenly!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment