As the story goes, while listening to a Sunday sermon at the First Congregational Church in Lyons (now Clinton), Iowa, given by Pastor Sydney Crawford, Joseph Cullen Root heard the pastor tell a parable about the good that came from woodmen clearing away the forest to build homes, communities, and security for their families.
Cullen was a strong believer and joiner in fraternal organizations, himself belonging to the Free Masons, the Knights Templar, the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows, and the Knights of Pythias. But he felt compelled after hearing the stirring sermon to create a fraternal organization with a mission to make sure families that lost their breadwinner would have some monetary payout that would help them stay on their feet.
Cullen, a serial organizer, and in keeping with the heart and message of Crawford’s sermon founded the Woodmen of the World. In keeping with the woodmen theme, Cullen adopted symbols of the woodsmen and their stock and trade – the axe, beetle and wedge – symbolizing industry, power and progress.
Root died in 1913 and by the time he died the Woodmen of the World Organization had nearly 700,000 members. The insurance in force in that year alone amounted to nearly a billion dollars. And according to some accounts, some 45,000 Woodmen monuments in all shapes and sizes can be seen marking the graves of members in every part of the United States.
The monuments, many of them carved to look like tree-stumps, fit in perfectly with the rustic movement. The rustic movement of the mid-nineteenth century was characterized by designs that were made to look like they were from the country. Elegant and slim curved lines in furniture gave way to bulkier and heavier forms made from pieces that came directly from the trees often with the bark still intact. Homes, cabins, and garden houses were designed in the rustic style eschewing classic designs. In decorative furniture this often took the form of chairs made from rough tree limbs curved to form arms and chair backs, chair legs made from tree roots growing upwards. But, the Genesis of the look was undoubtedly from the parable about the “woodsmen clearing away the forest to build homes, communities, and security for their families.”
Many of the monuments, all from the Elmwood Cemetery at Charlotte, North Carolina, don’t follow the rustic look—some do:
This towering rose-colored granite monument to Woodmen of the World members buried in the Elmwood Cemetery at Charlotte, North Carolina, commemorates their names and the “camp” to which they belonged. Members were from North Carolina, Virginia, Missouri, Arkansas, Alabama, and Connecticut. The top of the monument has the axe, wedge, and beetle—the familiar symbols of the organization. The tree stump tops the monument.
The Robert Lee Thompson (Jan. 24, 1868 – July 19, 1920) monument above and the William W. Severs (Feb. 22, 1854 – Feb. 6, 1905) monument below are clearly carved to resemble a tree stump. The cartouche on the face of the Thompson marker lists the name, birth and death dates of the deceased and the Severs monument replicates that but the marker in this case is made to look as if part of the bark from the tree has been removed, which is where the inscription is carved. In both cases the Woodmen of the World medallion is above the name. In both cases the medallion depicts a tree stump. And in both cases the bases of the markers have a calla lily carved into them. The calla lily represents majestic beauty and is often used on funerary art to symbolize marriage. In some cases, they can also represent the resurrection.
The Seburn G. Phifer (Dec. 24, 1868 – July 15, 1939) monument below is a plain gray granite block. Again, just above Phifer’s name is the Woodmen of the World medallion with the motto clearly carved in a ribbon below the tree stump is the Latin phrase DUM TACET CLAMAT which means “though silent, he speaks.”
The John K. Rea (Jan 31, 1875 – Apr. 14, 1913) monument is an obelisk with the Woodmen of the World medallion on the base of the marker.
The HENRY C. SEVERS Monument (Nov. 2, 1842 – Nov. 24, 1915) in the Elmwood Cemetery at Charlotte, North Carolina, is one of the largest and most elaborate Woodmen of the World monuments built. It is free-standing and carved to look like a log cabin reminiscent of those woodsmen clearing away the forest to build homes.