The Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog made its debut in 1893. The catalogs carried everything: shoes, watches, jewelry, sewing machines, musical instruments, baby carriages, saddles, bicycles, Edison’s gramophones. And, yes, they even carried gravestones.
In 1906, the catalog advertised a monument featuring a sleeping baby, nestled into a pillow tucked into a sea shell. This style came in two versions—The Acme Dark Blue Vein Marble priced at $38. 40 or the White Acme Rutland Italian Marble priced at $40.20 (shipping was additional, of course). Some Internet wags refer to this style as “babies on the half shell.”
This gravestone design very well could be a metaphor for the shell that contains a pearl, the shell that opens and reveals a precious jewel, in this case, a tiny baby. The shell is also a symbol of baptism because of its obvious association to water. In fact, a shell is often used to scoop up and sprinkle water during the baptismal ceremony.
The sea shell is also associated with Saint James, sometimes referred to as James the Greater, who was one of the Twelve Apostles. In some church traditions, James’ mother is reported to be the sister to Jesus’ mother, Mary, making Jesus and James first cousins. Tradition also has it that the remains of the Saint were taken to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, which is in the north of Spain.
Saint James became the patron saint of Spain during the re-conquest of the country from the Moors and the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela became a popular site for Christian pilgrims. Galicia, noted for delicious seafood, including scallops, drew thousands of Christian pilgrims who often carried a scallop shell back with them as a souvenir of the trip. Before long, the sea shell became a symbol of Christian pilgrimage.
Samples of this style below:
This monument is in the Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia. Baby Maurine, the infant son of R. P. and Anna A. Robbins, was born January 7, 1896, and died April 1, 1896, just three months old.
This sea shell gravestone is in the Oak Hill Cemetery on Highway 46 on the way to Terre Haute, Indiana. It marks the grave of Arthur Connely, the son of William and Anna Hall. Arthur was born June 10, 1886, and died October 4th of the same year. Again, the baby, not quite four months old, is nestled comfortably into the sea shell, which serves as a bed.
The image of a sleeping baby most likely offered comfort to the mourning parents of Adelheid Viola Becker, daughter of B. F. & M. C. Becker. She was born November 27, 1881, and died February 19, 1884, just a few months past her third birthday.
This Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog and many other gravestone and monument company brochures can be found at the Stone Quarries and Beyond Website: http://quarriesandbeyond.org/cemeteries_and_monumental_art/cemetery_stones.html.
The Stone Quarries and Beyond Website was created by Peggy B. and Patrick Perazzo. It focuses on historic stone quarries, stone workers and companies, and related subjects such as geology. Whenever possible links of finished products are provided on the Website. There is a “Quarry Articles” section that presents articles, booklets, and links from the late 1800s to early 1900s, including the 1856 “The Marble-Workers’ Manual.” The “Cemetery Stones and Monuments” section provides references and resources, including many old monument magazines, catalogs, price lists, and a photographic tour “From Quarry to Cemetery Monuments.”