Milton T. Barlow Monument

Nellie Verne Walker was an Iowa sculptor who gained fame for her monumental works such as the statue she created of Chief Keokuk, the Lanning Fountain, and The Lincoln Trail State Memorial.  The Lincoln Trail State Memorial was designed in 1937 and installed in 1938, to commemorate the first time Abraham Lincoln trekked into Illinois.  Lincoln was 21 years old at the time on hard times when he and his family moved from Indiana to settle in Illinois.

The Freeport Journal Standard, Freeport, Illinois, Tuesday, June 14, 1938, edition of the page wrote about the dedication of the monument on its front page, “Lincoln Monument Presented to State by Illinois D. A. R. Lawrenceville, Ill., June 14, (AP)—The Illinois Daughters of the American Revolution presented the Lincoln Monument at Lincoln Trail Monument State Park to the State of Illinois in a dedication ceremony today. 

The monument in the 32-acre park on the Illinois side of the Lincoln Memorial bridge of U. S. 50 narks the spot where Abraham Lincoln and his family first touched foot on Illinois soil.

Formal presentation was made by Mrs. Jacob Friedrich Zimmerman, state regent of the D. A. R. with Director F. Lynden Smith of public works representing Governor Horner. 

A limestone panel of the monument depicts the Lincoln family entering the state.  Lincoln at 21 is represented in bronze walking with his family.  Nellie Walker of Chicago designed and executed the monument.”

In addition to her public works, Walker, like most sculptors at the time, took private commissions which were often funerary monuments like the shrouded figure bronze statue she created for Milton T. Barlow of Omaha, Nebraska. 

According to the Lincoln Journal Star, Lincoln, Nebraska, Wednesday, July 2, 1930, edition, reported, “MILTON T. BARLOW DIES: Aged Omaha Banker Was Chairman Board U. S. National Bank.  OMAHA—(UP)—Milton T. Barlow, eighty-six, who had been in the banking business here for sixty-seven years, died at his home late Tuesday.  He had been in a semi-conscious state for several days.

Barlow was, until he resigned a month ago, because of ill health, chairman of the board of the U. S. National bank.  He retained a position as a member of the board until the end.

Born in Greencastle, Ind., in 1844, Barlow came here in 1863 and entered the private banking firm of Barrows and Millard as a clerk.  A few months later he enlisted in the Civil war and marched with Sherman to the sea without seeing active fighting.

At the close of the war, he returned here and rejoined the banking firm, being admitted as a partner in 1868.  The institution became the U. S. National bank in 1883 and Barlow was made cashier.  In 1897 he was made president, becoming chairman of the board in 1920.  Funeral services are to be held Thursday.”

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The Butterfield Celtic Cross

Roger Williams Butterfield

April 23, 1844 – July 17, 1920

Lenora Drake Butterfield

October 25, 1849 – October 30, 1920

In the north end of the Oakhill Cemetery in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is the Butterfield Celtic cross marking the graves of Roger Butterfield and many of his family members.

Roger Williams Butterfield was a prominent attorney in Grand Rapids, and the son of Reverend Isaac Butterfield, a well-known Baptist minister recognized for his rousing sermons.  Though the Reverend had urged his son, Roger, to follow in his ecclesiastical footsteps, the young Butterfield eschewed the clergy to pursue what became a successful career in the law.

After his death, the Butterfield family erected a Celtic cross to commemorate the family’s burial plot. The Celtic cross is one of the most easily identified and plentiful crosses found in American cemeteries. The Celtic cross is much like the Latin cross with a long stem and crossbeams toward the top third. But the feature that distinguishes it from other crosses is the circle, called a nimbus, that encompasses the intersection of the crossbeams.

The cross itself has a very long history that predates Christianity. The Celtic cross has pagan origins—some say representing the moon goddess. Others believe that the crossbeams of the cross symbolize the male while the circle represents the female. When Christianity spread throughout the Emerald Island, the Christians adopted the Celtic cross as their expression of the cross.

The Butterfield family commissioned Nellie Verne Walker to sculpt their monument.  As is common, the cross was created from one piece of stone—a rose-colored slab of granite.  The cross measures 20 feet in height, the tallest such cross in the Oakhill Cemetery.  The cross features three allegorical figures—Hope, Faith, and Charity, which Christian scholars refer to as the Theological Virtues as seeking to live a good and moral life.  The figures are inhabited in the cross meaning the figures are carved into the tapering shaft underneath the nimbus. 


The representation of Hope can be easily found in American cemeteries.  Hope is most often portrayed as a woman standing and leaning against an anchor.  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.


The figure often holds a cross in her hand as she looks upwards to the Heavens. The Cross symbolizes her Christian faith. Often, Faith is also depicted carrying a palm which represents victory over death.  Another symbol often seen in conjunction with the cross is the laurel wreath, which dates to Roman times when soldiers wore them as triumphal signs of glory.


Quite often in Renaissance paintings, the figure of Charity is depicted as a woman breast-feeding an infant.  However, in the more staid and modest Victorian era, Charity is shown in the process of pulling her garment to one side to reveal her breast.  The allegorical figure can also be found holding food for the hungry or clothes for the unclothed.  The great theologian, Thomas Aquinas, reckoned that Charity was the most excellent of the virtues because it united man to God and that the habit of charity extended to love for one’s neighbor, as well as to God.  In this depiction of Charity, the virtue holds a staff.

In the book, The Art of Memory: Historic Cemeteries of Grand Rapids, Michigan, by Thomas R. Dilley, published by Wayne University Press, 2014, page 182, Dilley writes, “The reverse side of the Butterfield cross is entirely covered with the Celtic knot patterns, symbolic of the intricate complexity of life.  The Butterfield monument sits atop two hewn boulders, consistent with the original placements of such crosses atop a mound of earth or small stepped pyramid of stone emblematic of the earth joined by the tapered shaft (world axis) to the sky, the latter symbolized by the circular nimbus.”

This monument is another example of the craftsmanship and artistry of the sculptress, Nellie V. Walker.

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Crying Mary

Johannes Decker 1839 – 1910

Ruth Decker 1840 – 1925

Lila Decker 1869 – 1872

Baby Decker 1875

Often legends that spring up about gravestones and monuments in cemeteries are born of fantasy and imagination.  One such example is the so-called “Crying Mary” statue in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Battle Creek, Michigan.

The statue was commissioned by Ruth Decker in 1911, after her husband Johannes Decker died.  Nellie Verne Walker, an Iowa sculptress who was working in Chicago at the time, created the monument.  The monument now marks the graves of Johannes, Ruth, and their two children—Lila, who died of scarlet fever, and Baby, who was born stillborn.

The bronze statue of a woman symbolizes “Memory.”

Currently, the statue has been polished to reveal the original bronze color.  But after the statue was placed in the cemetery in 1911, after many years the bronze oxidized, and a green patina appeared.  The pattern around the eyes made the goddess Memory appear to be weeping.  She looked as if she had tears streaming down her face.  Then someone reported that they had actually seen the statue weep and she wept every night at midnight.  The legend continued to grew—people were whispering that it wept because she had murdered her six children.

Some, trying to explain the myth with an “logical” explanation, falsely claimed that tubing was inserted in the base of the statue up to the eyes to draw up moisture and make “Crying Mary” cry!

Of course, the rumors and the legend surrounding the statue are untrue but even with the statue sandblasted and the original bronze color revealed, it continues….

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The Learned Angel








The February 10, 1928, Evening State Journal and Lincoln Daily News, Lincoln Nebraska, front page, announced, “Myron Learned Dies: Myron L. Learned, sixty-one, prominent Omaha attorney and a former powerful figure in republican state and county politics, died here last evening following an emergency operation for appendicitis.  Learned came to Nebraska from Vermont in 1888 and for twenty years was law partner of John L. Kennedy here.  He served on state, county and city republican central committees and was delegate to several national conventions.  He never ran for public office.”

Learner was married to Mary Poppleton Learned who was a member of a prominent pioneer Omaha family.  Her father was A. J. Poppleton, a member of the First Nebraska Territorial Legislature and the second mayor of the city of Omaha.

After the death of Mr. Myron Learned in 1928, his family commissioned Nellie V. Walker to create the angel to mark his grave in the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Omaha, Nebraska.  The art deco design, completely in 1929,  is evident in the lettering on the base of the monument.  The angel recedes into a plain unadorned granite surround.  The oval behind the angels head gives the grieving angel a halo effect. The angle’s outstretched arms indicate a protective posture. The water stains from the angle’s eyes give the statue an appearance that she has been weeping.

Nellie Verne Walker, a diminutive woman standing only four foot eight inches tall, not only created commissions for individuals but also large public monuments, such as the one she created for the City of Keokuk, Iowa, and cast by J. Berchem of Chicago, Illinois. 

The October 22, 1913, edition of the Decatur, Illinois, Daily Review posted a front page article about the dedication of the statue of Chief Keokuk, that read, in part, “Members of the Daughters of the American Revolution from all parts of Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa attended the dedication here today of the statue in memory of Chief Keokuk of Black Hawk fame for whom this city was named. With Mrs. William C. Story, of New York City, president-general of the Daughters of the American Revolution, in attendance…[other prominent people in attendance] include Lorado Taft, the sculptor, Dr. Frank Wyman of the Department of Indian Affairs, and Mrs. H. R. Howell, state regent, D. A. R., John Keokuk, of Oklahoma, the great-great-grandson of the Indian Chief, brought a message from the Sac and Fox Tribe, over which Chief Keokuk ruled while in his prime.”

The article went on to further state, “The statue of Chief Keokuk is of bronze ten feet in height, resting on a base fifteen feet high.  It is the work of Miss Nellie V. Walker, an Iowa girl, now living in Chicago.  Great care was taken in the reproduction of Chief Keokuk’s dress, and Miss Walker made frequent trips to the Smithsonian Institute  and to numerous historical societies throughout the central states in order to give a correct picture of the Indian as he lived.” That last sentence in the article was a tribute to the thorough and meticulous nature of Walker to her work as a serious sculptor.

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The Delos and Esther Diggins Monument


May 16, 1852

Sept. 7, 1907


May 31, 1858

Oct. 19, 1915


In an article from the “The Lumber World” journal, dated December 15, 1910, Volume 11, page 34, the magazine highlighted the Delos F. Diggins monument erected in the Maple Hill Cemetery.  The article read, “A SPLENDID WORK OF ART: Monument to the Late D. F. Diggins Erected at Cadillac, Michigan.”

It further stated, “Mrs. Esther C. Diggins, widow of the late Delos F. Diggins, of the Cummer-Diggins Company, Cadillac, Mich., has recently caused to be created a handsome memorial to her late husband in the cemetery at Cadillac.  The monument is made from a special design by Miss Nellie Walker, who was a student of Lorado Taft, and who is now associated with him in sculptural work.  The memorial is cut from a solid block of Westerly granite: is 9 feet high, 9 feet wide, and 4 feet thick.  The block weighs 42,000 pounds and was furnished by Charles G. Blake & Co., of Chicago, at whose establishment the work of the sculptress was done.  On the base of the column is chiseled this statement, “That Best Portion of a Good Man’s Life—His Little, Nameless Unremembered Acts of Kindness and Love.””

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Mitchell Family Monument



JUNE 3, 1854 – NOVEMBER 8, 1915


JULY 2, 1855 – JUNE 11, 1945



William Whittier Mitchell was a successful businessman—who took over his uncle’s sawmill upon his death and expanded the operations. He and his wife, Ella Yost Mitchell, are buried in the Maple Hill Cemetery in Cadillac, Michigan. 

The couple has an impressive monument—the exedra on each side of the sculpture is made of polished granite.  The centerpiece of the monument, however, is the bronze statue of a goddess-like woman, described by the Smithsonian Art Survey as a “heroic-sized female figure dressed in a long, flowing garment and coat stand[ing] on a pedestal.  Here hair is in a bun and her arms are partially outstretched.  The pedestal is flanked by exedras which slope downward towards large urn which stand at each end.” 

The bronze cast by the Florentine Brotherhood Foundry of Chicago, Illinois, was sculpted by Iowa artist Nellie Verne Walker (1874-1973).

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The Shippey Family Monument





Charles Webster Shippey was a real estate dealer who was struck down by a locomotive killing him just a few feet away from the station where he was to board a train.  According to the August 13, 1906 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune, Shippey was crossing the tracks to climb aboard a train to carry him to join his family who were already vacationing.  He was buried in Grand Haven, Michigan and likely his remains were removed and reburied in the family plot in Chicago’s Rosehill Cemetery.

The Shippey Family monument is a sculpture of a hooded female figure holding a scroll. The scroll represents both the life of the deceased and the time spent on Earth. Like so much symbolism found in the cemetery, the scroll can have many meanings.  The scroll likely represents the life of the deceased that has come to an end and been recorded by the angels.


1858 – 1906


1862 – 1941


1896 – 1981


1898 – 1991

The monument was carved by Nellie Verne Walker.  Walker was a protégé of the great American sculptor Lorado Taft.  She was born December 8, 1874, in Red Oak, Iowa. She first picked up a hammer and chisel in her father’s Moulton, Iowa, shop carving gravestones. But, by age 17 she carved her first work of art—a limestone bust of President Abraham Lincoln. In a mere 24 days, she had created the bust for the Columbian Exposition being held in Chicago in 1893. Her first piece is now on display in the Moulton City Library.

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Quakers, Shakers, and Lollipops

The Protestant Reformation spawned many different religious sects, including splinter groups from sects that had already broken away from mainstream Protestant churches.  One such group was known as The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing.  This group became known colloquially as the “Shakers” and was an offshoot of the Quakers and the French Camisards. 

The Quakers, or Society of Friends, founded by George Fox in 1652, were named such because of the tremblings and “quakings” during worship.  The “Shaking Quakers” or “Shakers” split from the Quaker church.  Ann Lee, daughter of a blacksmith in Manchester, England, joined the Shaker sect in 1758.  On May 10, 1774, after receiving a vision to establish the church in American, Ann Lee and a small band of believers set sail for America.  She led the group to the US and became the leader of the Shakers in America establishing over 20 communities of Shakers in the Northeast, Ohio, and Kentucky.

The Shakers became known for their enthusiastic and physical worship including spontaneous dancing, trembling, shaking, and whirling—hence their name. In addition to their ecstatic practices during church ceremonies, the Shakers held many beliefs that were considered radical at the time—celibacy, pacifism, racial and gender equality, and communal living.  Because the Shakers remained celibate and therefore did not believe in procreation, the members adopted children and recruited converts to the religion to be able to grow the church membership.

Ann Lee settled in the community of Colonie, New York, the first Shaker community in the United States.  Mother Ann Lee, as she was known, the charismatic leader, is buried in the small Shaker Cemetery close to what is now the Albany Airport.  The communities’ egalitarian beliefs are conspicuously on display in the cemetery.  One of the first things you notice as you look at the orderly cemetery is that all 445 gravestones are square-top white marble tablets—the same shape and the same size.  Only the name, the date of death, and the age of the deceased appears on the stone.  They are buried as they died one after the other.  The exception is the gravestone of Mother Ann Lee, whose gravestone is taller than all of the rest of the gravestones in the cemetery and also contains more information:





Feb. 29. 1736.


SEPT. 8. 1784.

The historical sign just outside the cemetery fence reads in part:

This cemetery is part of the first Shaker settlement in the US.  Following their charismatic leader Mother Ann Lee, a small band of Shakers traveled from Manchester, England to New York City in 1774 seeking a place to worship freely.  Twelve Shakers arrived in Albany in 1776.  Known as the Watervliet or Niskayuna Shakers, they eventually established four “Families” or villages within a mile of this sit.  They owned or leased over 4,000 acres between here and the Mohawk River.

The 445 burials reflect the equality of all Brethren and Sisters.  There are a number of African-Americas, including Violet Bennet who was the first burial in 1785.  A few Shakers who committed suicide are included among the burials, not shunned.  Graves in the first row re “World’s People” (as the non-Shakers were known) who had lived with the Shakers or wished to be buried near their Shaker relatives.  While the Shakers were pacifist, you may see flags marking some graves.  There were veterans who joined the community after they fought in the Revolutionary War of other conflicts.  The original stones were replaced by the Shakers in 1880.

Mother Ann Lee, her brother William Lee and one other man were originally buried on what is now Albany Airport property.  Their graves were move here in 1835.  Mother Ann’’s stone is the only one that does not reflect the equality of all other community members….”

Another Shaker cemetery, this one in Harvard, Massachusetts, displays the same orderly layout as the cemetery in Colonie, New York.  The grave markers also contain only the name, the date of death, and the age of the deceased on the markers.  They are buried as they died one after the other in the order of death.  The difference is that each of the more than 300 markers, with the exception of about a dozen marble tablets, are made of cast iron and from a distance have a shape roughly appearing to look like a lollipop. 

Because of that, Harvard Shaker Cemetery has been nicknamed the Lollipop Cemetery.

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Firefighters Monument

Leonard Wells Volk, written about in the two previous blogposts, is not only buried in the Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois, but two of the monuments he designed are also in the cemetery. 

As you drive through the main gate toward the Our Heroes Monument and look to the right, you can see the 40-foot-tall white Carrara marble monument built to honor Chicago volunteer firefighters.

Volk entered his design in an heated competition.  Many designs were entered in the contest and considered but the Firemen’s Benevolent Association committee chose Volk’s.  The monument was erected in 1864 at the cost of $15,000 remains an inspirational commemoration and memorial to firefighters. 

Atop the Doric column stands a vigilant firefighter holding a trumpet to sound the call to action. 

At its base is a firehose wrapping its way round the column.  The four corners of the memorial display old-style fire hydrants.  Three of the four panels on the lower part of the monument depict bs-reliefs of old-style fire hand-pump fire engine and hook and ladder trucks.  The fourth panel depicts a scene of firemen fighting the conflagration on Lake Street where 23 firefighters lost their lives. Unfortunately, all but one of the panels is very badly eroded.

The memorial commemorates the firefighters who were killed in the line of duty and a granite marker at the base of the monument lists their names and the year they died in the line of duty.

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Tribute to War Heroes and to Volk’s Artistry

Leonard Wells Volk, written about in the previous blogpost, was buried in the Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois.  Not only is there a statue monument commemorating his burial plot, but one of the first monuments one sees through the castellated main gate—driving up the motorway is the soaring heroes monument designed by none other than Leonard Volk—another monument to him, this time displaying his talent as an accomplished sculptor.

Each of the four sides of the column honor a different branch of service:





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