The Open Door

The neo-classical mourning figure in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn stands next to the grave of a mother and father and their children.  The unfurled scroll in her hands often represents both the life of the deceased and the time spent on Earth. In this case, however, the motif is used to reveal a long poem.  The soft white marble erodes easily and some of the poem has become unreadable, though most of the lines are legible and reveal the love of a mother for her children.


………………..take your hand

…. you through the open door

……..a strange and beautiful land

….there is another land

That exists for your & me

A magic place of love & rest

Beyond Eternity

..a land beyond our life, you’ll see

Free from greed & hate

…do not be afraid my dear

God willed it to be our fate.

So fall asleep & your dreams will come true

And when you awaken, my sweet

…in this garden, a beautiful land

Where once again we shall meet.

You see may darlings. Once you have stepped

Beyond this open door

It’s where you shall find your loved ones

Waiting for you once more.

So, when you are tired and oh s weary

& you care no more to roam

Tap gently on the open door

I’ll be there to welcome you home.

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Nearly ten years ago, my oldest daughter, who was eleven at the time, said she wanted to start a blog.  I said, I would, too, as a sign of solidarity.  I hoped if we both blogged together it would encourage her writing and creativity.  So, my wife who is far more technical than I am, set each of us up with a WordPress blogsite.  As it turned out, my daughter wrote one blogpost and quit—I am still writing and now this is my one-thousandth post. 

I was going to repost my very first blogpost in honor of the event, but my youngest daughter suggested something different— “Why not write about your favorite gravestone?”  Well, that is a tough one—there are so many from which to choose!  But it got me to thinking about my first trip to Savannah, Georgia.  I had just read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt.  The image intrigued me—right in the center of the book cover was the statue made famous by the book—The Bird Girl sculpted by Sylvia Shaw Judson in 1936.  There she stands with her arms out holding a bowl in each hand like scales—weighing, I suppose—good and evil.  The statue is plain.  The girl is expressionless as she stands there, with her head titled slightly—not knowing whether it is a nod to the virtuous or the villainous.  I couldn’t wait to see it in its natural habitat—the graveyard. 

So, after I arrived in the charming city of Savanah, I checked into the hotel and headed for the famed Bonaventure Cemetery to see it.  Turns out one of the funerary memorials I like the most isn’t in a cemetery at all.  Because so many sightseers flocked to see The Bid Girl after the book and subsequent movie was released, the family, who had concerns about damage to the statue, had it moved.  Now it can be seen in the Telfair Museum of Art, and miniature reproductions of the statue for sale throughout the downtown area.  I had chased around to see it and was not disappointed.  After, I decided to treat myself to lunch at Clary’s.  A favorite place to eat described in the book.  The café has a stained-glass tribute to the statue which I enjoyed as I ate a hearty lunch. My trip was complete!

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Glass Angel

In David Robinson’s book, Saving Graces, mourning figures from some of the most famous cemeteries in Europe depict sculptures of beautiful, young, and voluptuous women often wearing revealing clothing as they mourn the dead. These sepulchral figures are not only found as sculptures in Victorian cemeteries but also memorialized in the less often seen stained glass windows that adorn many elaborate mausoleums.  The figures are often referred to as weepers and are intended to represent mourning and sorrow.  Since ancient times, women have been the ones in our families and in our society, who showed grief and shed tears over those lost to death. Like the women in ancient times, these sculptures are depicted as standing over the graves in sorrow.

In this example from the from the Wettengel family mausoleum in the Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the “weeper” is depicted as an angel in stained glass, with her head titled as she casts her eyes upwards, holding a sprig of white flowers—as if she is going to gently lay it on the grave.  The act of placing the flower is a recurring funerary motif which is designed to remind the viewer that life is short. The color white is loaded with symbolism representing humility, innocence, purity, reverence, spirituality, and youthfulness.

However, unlike her European counterparts, the Victorian weeper was usually not voluptuous but often portrayed as androgynous and dressed modestly in a diaphanous gown loosely fitted and flowing beyond her feet.  According to Victorian Cemetery Art by Edmund V. Gillon Jr., published by Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1972, “Sepulchral sculpture, with its prone effigies and kneeling weepers, had flowered in the past, but only for the rich and powerful.”

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Tribute to a Pilgrim


Here ended the Pilgrimage of


Who died February 23, 1672/3

aged above 80 years

He married Elizabeth daughter of


Who came with him in the

Mayflower December 1620

From them are descended a

Numerous posterity.

“Hee was a godly man and an ancient professor in the ways of Christ. He was one of the first comers into this land and was the last man that was left of those that came over in a Shipp called the Mayflower that lived in Plymouth.”        Plymouth Records

It is fitting to remember a Pilgrim on this, our Thanksgiving. The gravestone of John Howland is a replacement stone and it is presumed that he is buried in the Burying Ground at Plymouth as the first grave markers were made of wood and did not survive.


John Howland was born in Fenstanton, Huntingdonshire, England, in or around 1592. He was the son of Yeoman Henry Howland and Margaret Howland. John Howland came over on the Mayflower as an indentured servant of Mr. John Carver, who later became the first Governor of Plymouth. Howland’s trip across the Atlantic was a harrowing experience. During a harsh storm, while standing on a deck, a huge wave crashed over the ship and washed Howland into the icy cold waters of the sea. He was able to catch hold of a topsail halyard and hung on until his shipmates fished him back onto the deck to safety.

The Mayflower II, in Plymouth Harbor

The Mayflower II, in Plymouth Harbor

John Carver died and John Howland is thought to have won his freedom upon Caver’s death. John married his fellow passenger, Elizabeth Tilley on New Year’s Day (March 25, 1623—Old Style).

Pilgrim woman statue in Plymouth

Pilgrim woman statue in Plymouth

Elizabeth came over with her parents John Tilley and Joan Hurst Tilley. Her parents died during that first winter in the New World and she became the ward of the Carver’s who died the year after. John and Elizabeth had 10 children—Desire, John, Jabez, Hope, Lydia, Ruth, Hannah, Joseph, Isaac, and Elizabeth.

The only house still standing in Plymouth, in which a Pilgrim lived, is the Jabez Howland House. After, John Howland died, his wife, Elizabeth went to live the rest of her life as a resident in her son’s home.

Jabez Howland House, Plymouth

Jabez Howland House, Plymouth

I have recounted the story of John Howland’s crossing and rescue every Thanksgiving for my children. If Howland had not been pulled up on deck and saved, I wouldn’t be here because I can be counted among his “Numerous posterity” now numbering in 12 and 13 generations.


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The Safety Razor Inventors—and its not who you think!

Two of the inventors of the safety razor are buried in a whimsical mausoleum in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York—and neither is King Gillette.  While King Gillette gained fame for his razor and is often mistakenly given credit for his razor being the first, he was not the first to patent a safety razor or get one to market. Though they did not garner the lasting name-recognition of Gillette, on June 15,1880, Frederick, Richard, and Otto Kampfe, three immigrant brothers from Saxony, Germany, filed an application for a patent for the first safety razor to be manufactured in the United States.  Their invention put the straight razor on a path to become a thing of the past. 

The safety razor was a huge success and made the family wealthy.  Two of the Kampfe brothers, Frederick and Otto, used some of that wealth to build a mausoleum in the Green-Wood Cemetery.  Their names are stamped in bronze and emblazoned on either side of the entrance.  The Kampfe family name is carved into a light gray lentil resting on two columns flanking the doorway. The heavy granite mausoleum itself looks a little like a container that could have been found in your grandma’s canister set with its round shape topped with a polished ball.  The patinaed bronze door of the tomb features a classically-dressed mourning figure carrying an oil lamp—literally standing at death’s door. A flickering flame can be seen coming from the lamp, providing light.  In funerary symbolism the light emanating from the lamp represents the pathway to Truth and to Knowledge.  The Bible verse, II Samuel: Chapter 22, verse 29, says, “For thou art my lamp, O LORD: and the LORD will lighten my darkness.”

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Any Help? – Mystery Solved

One of this blogpost’s readers, Phyllis, solved the mystery. The metal marker connected to this grave represents the Switchmen’s Union of North America which was a labor union founded in 1894 and included members in the United States and Canada. Thank you, Phyllis, for doing some digging into the buried man’s history and solving the mystery!

Many graves are not only marked by a tombstone but also accompanied by a metal marker.  These metal markers usually are a display of the deceased’s membership in a fraternal organization such as the Fraternal Order of Eagles, the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks or the Loyal Order of the Moose.  Sometimes they mark military service and indicate a branch of service such as the Army or Navy, or often the war in which the deceased served, such as the Revolutionary war or the Civil War, or a more recent war—Korea, Vietnam, or the Gulf War.  But this marker found in the Woodland Cemetery in Jackson, Michigan, has me stumped.  Any ideas?

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The Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Engineers

The last five posts have been about accidents that occurred on trains.  The posts, in a way, also highlighted that trains in the 19th century and early 20th Century were not only an important mode of transportation, but carried cargo—human and freight, and communication in the form of mail.  The trains knitted the United States together—coast to coast.  It shortened the time it took to get from New York to San Francisco and destinations in between.  Tens of thousands of workers built and maintained the tracks to keep the trains running and tens of thousands more worked on the trains as engineers, porters, and conductors.  Trains were vital to the economy and could mean the economic death of a town if the train tracks didn’t go through it.  In the History and Description of Harrison County, Given in Townships, published in 1868 in Magnolia, Iowa, the author, G. F. Waterman, wrote, [the railroad was] “the destroying angel for small towns” if they passed by, leaving “the town in the most extreme throes of misfortune.” (page 25) The train could be the life blood for a community bringing goods, services, people, and business.  The two fledgling towns Waterman wrote of, Jeddo and Buena Vista, ceased to exist when the train track did not cut through them.

As one would imagine, workers knew of the importance of what they did and took pride in the jobs they had.  Workers joined organizations such as, Benefit Association of Railway Employees (BARE), Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers BLE), Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen (BLF), Brotherhood of Rail Road Track Men (BRRTM),  Brotherhood of Railway Carmen (BRC),  Brotherhood of Railroad Clerks (BRC), Brotherhood of Railroad Brakemen (BRB), and Brotherhood of Railroad Telegraphers (BRT).  They proudly joined the organizations in life and proudly displayed them in death, such as this metal marker from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Engineers (BLF & E).

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Train Wreck, 5

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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Train Wreck, 4 The Caboose and the Loose Wheel

Union Cemetery, Uhrichsville, Ohio

Union Cemetery, Uhrichsville, Ohio

Charles E. Witting

Died May 4, 1900

Aged 27 YR 6 MO 4 DA

This intricately carved gray marble caboose, track, and wheel displaying the letters: B of RRT can be found in the Union Cemetery at Uhrichsville, Ohio.  The tale told by the cemetery maintenance crew about the marker is that the man buried under the railroad car was killed by a wheel that came off the train, which is displayed in front of the car.

Besides being a cruel joke to show the weapon of one’s demise at one’s graveside, the story is only partially true. The wheel depicted in front of the caboose commemorates Witting’s membership in the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen.  BUT, it was the caboose that actually killed Witting NOT the wheel.

In an ironic twist, the very thing that killed Charles E. Witting became the image for his gravestone.  The caboose sculpture marking his grave also represented the job he loved and held for 8 years–again, the thing he loved, killed him.

According to the Ohio Democrat and Times, Thursday, May 10, 1900, Witting was crushed by a caboose, “One of the saddest accidents of its kind was that which occurred just west of Coshocton on Friday evening last, in which one of the best men in the employ of the Pan Handle railway company suddenly met death. Charles E. Witting of Columbus, acting as a flagman until his promised promotion to conductor, was crushed to death by an overturned caboose. The breaking of the axle on the front truck of the car next to the caboose caused part of the train to be derailed while going at the regular rate of speed. Witting and two others, one of whom was the conductor were in the overturned portion of the train. Witting jumped from the platform of the swaying car. The others who were in the caboose went over with it and received only bruises while Wittings lifeless body was extricated with difficulty from under the overturned car. He leaves his wife and infant son, a twin brother, William E. Witting, an aged father and mother who live in Frazeysburg and other relatives. Charles was only 27 years of age and had been in the employ of the Pan Handle railway company continuously for more than eight years. The funeral was held Monday at 2 p.m. from the home of his father-in-law Frank Davis in Uhrichsville and Charles Witting is now quietly sleeping away the years of his promising manhood in the beautiful Union Cemetery at that place.”

Charles Witting, at only 27, died leaving a pregnant widow, Margaret (Davis) Witting, with a small son, Charles E. Witting, named for his father.  Just 5 months after the tragic accident, Margaret gave birth to a second son, William, named for Charles’ twin brother.

According to an article printed by the Modern Mechanix, March, 1937, it was reported that Witting’s tombstone was, “designed after the old-fashioned type of freight caboose, the headstone is mute evidence of the work Witting so much loved.  Members of the Uhrichsville chapter of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, of which Witting was a member, helped to erect the marker.”

Note: I first saw the gravestone above on the Website:  Beth Santore, the Webmaster, has photographed hundreds of cemeteries in Ohio, as well as, making photo forays into neighboring states.  I highly recommend her Website, especially for those tramping around Ohio graveyards!

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Train Wreck, 3–His Last Trip


Killed at New Albany

North Y. while on duty for the

Monon R. W. Co.


SON OF J. N. & E. A.



SEP. 15. 1880


DEC. 20. 1902


C. R. Salyards of Orleans, Indiana, carved the train on top of the gravestone for Emory Titzel in the Mount Carmel Cemetery at Stinesville, Bean Blossom Township, Monroe County, Indiana.


Emory Titzel was a brakeman on the Monon Rail Way Company when he was killed in a accident.

In addition to the intricate carving of the train engine, there is a glassed compartment in the center of the gravestone that housed the flowers from the funerals. The flowers have long since decomposed.


Even though the train marked the untimely death of Emory Titzel and his “last trip” on the Monon, other children of Joseph Newcomer and Edwina Ann (Williams) Titzel are memorialized on the stone:













DAU OFN. & E. A.



FEB. 1. 1875.


SEP. 5. 1875


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