The Gift of a Pineapple

North Bend, Ohio, is where the tomb of William Henry Harrison is located across from the Congressional Green Cemetery which draws the odd history buff to its grounds in search of the ninth president’s grave.  As a president, Harrison is known for two things, his campaign slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too” and the fact that he only served 31 days in office before he died of pneumonia.  He gave his inaugural address in the rain, as a macho demonstration that, even though, he was 68, he was still a tough man.

But not far from there, the village of Cleves has its own cemetery, Maple Grove.  That cemetery has some obvious aliases, it is also known as the Miami Township Cemetery (so called for the Township in which it lies) and the Valley Junction Cemetery (named for the road that travels south of Highway 50 and leads to its gates).  The cemetery has five or six sections within the gates.  Generally, the most interesting sections are the older ones—displaying a variety, in this case, of symbols that were popular during the Victorian era when there was an explosion of motifs that replaced the grim and dour Puritan symbols of death and mortality.

However, a gravestone in one of the newer sections stood out.  It is a gray, unpolished granite stone built in several pieces.  The entire gravestone is topped with a pineapple, beautifully carved—nearly good enough to pull off the stone, slice and eat.  That pineapple carving rests on the cap—the piece that looks like the roof of a house.  The piece of stone that looks like a solid block is called the die and on one side has the names of the two people being remembered carved into it, and on the other features a incised design depicting James Earle Fraser’s “End of the Trail” sculpture.  That block or die rests of the plinth which has the family name carved on to it on one side and an epitaph on the other.  And that rests on the base.   That is a lot to decipher.  One thing at a time, so, let’s start at the top.

The pineapple is not a common motif in cemetery art.  Sometimes you will see it on metal work around a family plot but less often on an actual gravestone.  After checking several sources, including various books and websites on the topic, the consensus is that the pineapple represents “hospitality and a good host.” According to those in the know, the pineapple came to symbolize hospitality because seafarers often gave it as a gift after returning from a long journey.  These days, you are most likely to find the motive in tropical hotels.  The exotic fruit, in the context of a cemetery, seems curious.  If that is true, that it represents “hospitality and a good host,” who is the host?  Who is showing the hospitality?  Does it mean that the deceased was a good host?  Or that Heaven welcomes the deceased with open and hospitable arms?

On one side of the marker is a bas-relief replica of the sculpture, The End of the Trail, which was created as a powerful tribute mourning the loss of the Sioux people, by the famous western sculptor, James Earle Fraser, also recognized for the art he created for the United States Mint, for the “Indian Head” Nickel.  Fraser created the sculpture for the Panama Pacific Exposition held in 1915 in San Francisco.  The End of the Trail is also a fitting metaphor for the end of one’s life.

Lastly is a memorable and cautionary epitaph:

When you were born, you cried

And the world rejoiced.

Live your life so that when you die,

The world cries and you rejoice.

Even though, for the most part, newer gravestones don’t seem as interesting, make sure not to overlook what at first appears to be the mundane.  You never know when you will find a hospitable old sea captain’s gift of welcome!

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6 Responses to The Gift of a Pineapple

  1. gsb03632 says:

    Wonderful! I’m wracking my brain to remember where I saw another incised example of Fraser’s sculpture. A pineapple, however, I’ve never seen!

    • I have seen others that I can think of–one in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta. That one is a deep bas-relief and one in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown.

      • gsb03632 says:

        Yes, Tarrytown, not far from the Rockefeller mausoleum. Thanks! But there’s another one and it’s now really bugging me to remember it. Alas, I’ve never been to Oakland.

  2. Lou Malcomb says:

    Excellent article especially about the artist … but who is buried in this grave?

    • There are two names carved into the face of the stone and one of them is still alive. Because of that I think it is almost an invasion of privacy to reveal the names. Do you agree?

      • gsb03632 says:

        I often feel wary about treading upon recent grief. But a grave marker is, I think, a public work of art, meant to commemorate the dead. As long as those of us who write about them do so respectfully, I think it’s OK to name names. But I admit I have dozens of wonders in my files I will never use because (for one reason or another) it wouldn’t be right.

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