What’s In a Name?

Isaiah Sellers

1802 – 1864

It seems that in many social gatherings, one of the first questions people ask one another is, “What do you do?”  It is as if a person’s occupation is who they are.  And, in fact, some occupations carry with them a title that becomes part of their name—a doctor, for instance, Dr. Fauci—I don’t even know his first name; or someone in the military, such as, General Pershing.  Or even an honorary title that they carry with them throughout their lives, such as, the Kentucky Fried Chicken founder, Colonel Sanders. 

Another example of this is a ship’s captain, always referred to by the title, Captain, followed by their surname.  Isaiah Sellers is one such person—Captain Sellers took it one step further, with his occupation on full display on his monument in the Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.  Sellers is credited with hundreds of accident-free trips between St. Louis and New Orleans.  That was during a time when the Mississippi River was rife with snags and sandbars that sank or damaged many a steamboat paddling up and down the river carrying goods.

According to various accounts, Sellers himself commissioned the white marble sculpture that now serves as his gravestone; clearly indicating that his occupation was central to who he was.  The monument shows the commanding river boat pilot at the helm.

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Mystery Solved!

Mystery solved thanks to three readers who have great detective skills.  Chris, Mary, and a reader only known by the alpha—letter combination “gsbo3632” jumped in and found pins on eBay for sale that gave the clue to the society known as the Modern Brotherhood of America (the MBA on the metal grave marker).  Turns out the Modern Brotherhood of America was a membership organization founded in Tipton, Iowa, in 1897, whose main purpose was to provide insurance to its members.

Readers coming to the rescue could be called crowdsourcing, which the dictionary defines as, “obtaining (information or input into a particular task or project) by enlisting the services of a large number of people, either paid or unpaid, typically via the internet.”  But I call it friends helping friends!



1887 – 1910

The metal marker next to the George Van Deusen gravestone in the Woodland Cemetery in Jackson, Michigan, is no longer a mystery. 

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Metal Marker Mystery



1887 – 1910

The metal marker next to the George Van Deusen gravestone in the Woodland Cemetery in Jackson, Michigan, is a mystery.  The handshake appears to signify membership in a brotherhood, but I can’t unravel what the meaning behind “MBA 841.”  It seems to be a lodge number—perhaps.  I also can’t find a reference for the letters “FLP.”  Any ideas?

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Zinc Open Book Marker





BORN DEC. 10, 1858

DIED APR. 11, 1888





The Riverside Cemetery, on a hillside just outside the city of Mahomet, Illinois, has several zinc markers produced by the White Bronze Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  The company produced catalogs that salespeople could carry with them to show prospective buyers the many marker design options and large array of symbols were available.  The various symbols could be bolted in place on many grave marker styles by special order much the same way that an erector set is bolted together.

In this example, the marker is in the shape of an open book.  The open book is a fairly common symbol found on gravestones. The motif can represent the Book of Life with the names of the just registered on its pages.  This book, like any book in a cemetery, can also symbolize the Word of God in the form of the Bible.

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Ghost Figure

For me, the most poignant and tender gravestones are those for children.  The loss of a child is devastating, a loss that even time cannot heal.  And, many cemeteries have special sections specifically for child or infant burials—sometimes labeled “Babyland” or something similar.  Often these sections are centered around a sculpture of Jesus surrounded by children—or sometimes a lamb.

In the Resurrection Cemetery in Madison, Wisconsin, a sculpture atop a columbarium features a mother and father who have lost a child to death.  The mother is doubled over with grief, her head in her hand, while the father longingly reaches for his child—a child who appears in the sculpture as glass.  The light clay-colored sculptures of the parents contrasted against the clear sculpture of the child is haunting—as if she is disappearing before our very eyes—a ghost figure.   

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The Dogs of Springdale

There has always been a debate between dog and cat lovers about which furry little friend makes the best companion. I have many friends who have cats galore and swear by them, while others like myself, have dogs and always have. We see dogs as the old bromide tells us, “as man’s best friend”.  And, dogs have long been considered man’s best friend!

In fact, way back in 1821, the New York Literary Journal, Volume 4 ran a poem by C. S. Winkle that extolled just that:

The faithful dog – why should I strive

To speak his merits, while they live

In every breast, and man’s best friend

Does often at his heels attend.

According to the latest pet ownership statistics from 2012, 36.5% of American households (43,346,000) own an average of 1.6 dogs. That adds up to a whopping 69,926,000 dogs living with families in the United States. (Incidentally, fewer households own cats, but each of those households own more—2.1 per household for a total of 74,059,000 cats.) 

Given that love for our dogs, it is no wonder that dog owners want to honor their love of dogs with carved tributes to them on their graves.  These three examples are from the Springdale Cemetery in Peoria, Illinois.

Oh, and one cat!

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Poem Mash Up

The zinc marker in the City Cemetery in Warsaw, Missouri, manufactured by the White Monument Company in the same city, has a trap door, unique to the design, that reveals an obituary for two—Martha Elmy Shrum and her daughter, Jennie Myrtle Shrum.  The obituary gives the life and death details for both—Martha was 33 years old, while her daughter was just shy of 4 years old.  While many epitaphs found on gravestones were chosen from a book and are fairly common, their epitaph is a combination of poems by two different poets—a mash up, if you will.

Martha Elmy Schrum

Daughter of Rev. W. K. and Mrs. Charlotte White.  She was born in New Market, Montgomery county, Indiana Aug. 13, 1865, and came with her parents to Benton county, Mo., in 1875.  In early life she joined the M. E. church, South.  She was married to Wm. J. Schrum, July 23, 1884.  She died at Warsaw, Mo., Sept. 5, 1898, after two years of suffering, which she endured with Christian resignation.  Her husband and two children—Ethel Maria and Frances J.—survive her.

Jennie Myrtle,

Daughter of Wm. J. Schrum and Martha Elmy Schrum was born July 2, 1885 and after nine weeks of suffering died May 16, 1889.

“There is a reaper whose name is Death,

And with his sickly keen

He reaps the bearded grain at a breath,

And the flowers that grow in between.”

  .           .         .        .         .

Death waits not for the lapse of time,

Nor spares the young in years:

He cometh in the glad spring time,

When hopes begin with fears;

‘Tis sad to lay so fair a thing,

Beneath the damp, cold, ground;

While all the fairest flowers of spring

Are blossoming all around.”

              Yes, it is sad, but we mourn not as those that have no hope, but look to the resurrection morn, when all the children and those that “die in the Lord” shall stand glorified with God.  Pray and trust on, loved ones, for “there remaineth, therefore, a rest to the people of God.”

              Hope may vanish away in this life; but there shineth a star that shall never grow dim; the one that stood in Bethlehem.

              Look up, ye saints, and ever wait, till God doth say, “it is enough.”

The first quatrain is from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poignant poem, “The Reaper and the Flowers” first published in 1839.  It is significant, in this case, because the poem was written after Longfellow’s wife died having had a miscarriage.  Here, as with Longfellow, William Shrum lost his wife, and his daughter, Jennie, as well.

The second next eight lines, are from a second poem, this one written by Rose Ringgold, which appeared on pages 261-262 of the Southern Lady’s Companion which was a monthly periodical devoted to literature and religion and published in the late 1840s.  The book was printed in Nashville for the Methodist Episcopal Church.  Martha Shrum, as the obituary states, was a member of the ME Church and her father was a minister in that church, as well.  It is likely that the book was part of their personal library and the poem “Addressed to Mrs. – of Vicksburg, Miss.” was most likely known to the family.

Lines from the poem are in those eight lines, with two lines changed:

Death waits not for the lapse of time,

Nor spares the young in years:

He cometh in the glad spring time,

When hopes begin with fears;

‘Tis sad to lay so fair a thing,

Beneath the damp, cold, ground;

While all the fairest flowers of spring

Are blossoming all around.”

In the original poem the second couplet reads:

He cometh in the glad spring mourn,

When hopes begin to bloom

And ends with:

And when the tufted moss has grown

Above each loved one’s tomb!

Perhaps that was just too grim and sad for them to quote the poem in its original verse.  Below is the poem in its entirety.

I KNOW thee not—may never hear

Thy sweet-toned voice of love;

May never clasp they gentle hand,

Till friend meets friend above,

And yet if in the world of ours

The spirit wanders free,

May I not seek thy home of flowers,

And sigh or weep with thee?

Thine is an early grief—too soon

Thine eyes are dimm’d with tears;

Ah! Death waits not the lapse of time,

Nor spares the young in years!

He cometh in the glad spring morn,

When hopes begin to bloom—

And when the tufted moss has grown

Above each loved one’s tomb!

I know not the delicious thrill

Of thy maternal breast,

When first to thy young, trusting heart

The infant boy was prest—

The delicate young blossom

Of thy warm and tender love—

With thy white arms folded o’er him,

Like the white wings of a dove!

Yet I have wept as thou dost weep—

Have sigh’d as thou dost sigh—

For a gentle one, that fell asleep,

To waken in the sky.

We could not call it death, so sweet

The lips unshadowed close!

She looked a sleeping cherub,

In her beautiful repose!

‘Twas sad to lay so fair a thing

Beneath the damp, cold ground,

While the fairest buds of early spring

Were blossoming around!

We raised no marble o’er her mould—

No sculptured columns rare—

But soon the simple violets told

How young she was and fair!

Three summers, and three autumns,

And three winters have passed by—

And three gay springs have blossomed

Since we saw this loved one die!

She lies in the lone church-yard,

Yet her grave is ever green,

And flowered by angel footprints,

Though the angels are unseen.

God stay thee, stricken mother,

In thy agony and tears—

And bend the bow of promise

Where the shadow now appears!

Oh! Turn thy gaze, mourner,

Where the stars are hung on high,

Thy cherub boy smiles on thee,

From the portals of the sky!

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Grief, in Bronze

Many Victorian cemetery monuments are imbued with a multitude of symbolism.  In David Robinson’s book, Saving Graces, mourning figures from some of the most beautiful and famous cemeteries in Europe show sculpted beautiful, young, and voluptuous women often wearing revealing clothing mourning the dead.

Robinson identified four categories of “Saving Graces”–first, women completely overcome by grief, often portrayed as having collapsed and fallen limp on the grave. Second, are the women who are portrayed reaching up to Heaven as if to try to call their recently lost loved one back to Earth.  Third, are the women who are immobile, and grief stricken, often holding their head in their hands distraught with loss.  Lastly, he describes the last category of “Saving Graces” as the mourning figure who is “resigned with the loss and accepting of death.”

In this example from the Chippiannock Cemetery in Rock Island, Illinois, the monument of prominent railroad builder, Philander Cable (1817-1886), displays a young classically clad female figure leaning against the base of the sarcophagus. In her right hand she holds a long palm frond.  The palm frond is an ancient symbol of victory, dating back to Roman times when victors were presented with palm fronds. The palm fronds were also laid in the path of Jesus as He entered Jerusalem. So, for many Christians, the palm represents righteousness, resurrection, and martyrdom, symbolizing the spiritual victory over death associated with the Easter story. In this example, the mourning figure seems to fall within the second and fourth category.  She is reaching upward placing the palm frond but is also forlorned and grieving.

The spectacular bronze monument was commissioned in 1891 by Philander Cable’s son in honor of his father and cast in Brussels. The monument was sculpted by the Belgian artist Paul DeVigne (1843-1901).  DeVigne was born in Ghent and trained by his father, who was also an artist.  DeVigne began exhibiting his work as early as 1868.  Most of his works were created for public monuments in Belgium and France.   

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A Soldier’s Last March


memory of

Benjamin Buckman

A revolutionary


Who was born in Hadley,

Mass. April the 16th 1759;

Died Oct. the 1st 1842.

About 2,400 soldiers, commanded by General George Washington, gathered at the water’s edge of the Delaware River late on Christmas day, 1776.  Earlier, a large collection of boats of various sizes and kinds had been assembled to ferry the troops and artillery across the icy waters.  The plan was to cross the river and mount a surprise attack on the Hessian soldiers stationed in and around Trenton.  The plan was daring and a victory for the rag-tag army was much needed—the Continental troops were demoralized, and the force was shrinking due to expiring enlistments and desertions. 

In the face of driving winds and hard rain, Washington and his men successfully completed the crossing in three hours.  However, two other contingents of the army were not able to cross and join up with Washington.  Against mounting odds, Washington made the fateful decision to march his army to Trenton on the morning of December 26—the trip took about four hours but positioned the Continental Army in Trenton early with 18 pieces of artillery aimed at the Hessian barracks.  The two armies skirmished and over 1,000 Hessian soldiers were captured.  Washington’s bold plan gave the Continental Army a much-needed victory and re-ignited the cause of freedom.

One of the brave soldiers who fought alongside General Washington that bitterly cold night, was 18-year-old Benjamin Buckman, who enlisted right after the Battle of Bunker Hill.  Buckman first served with General Arnold in his wilderness march through Maine.  Buckman was taken a prisoner at Quebec and held for six months before his release.  His next harrowing battle was with the Continentals at Washington Crossing.

After the war, Buckman moved to Salem, Indiana, where he lived until his death at the age of 84. Benjamin Buckman was buried in the Masonic Cemetery on October 1, 1845.  However, after the cemetery was abandoned, his remains and limestone tombstone were moved the more than 30 miles to the Fairview Cemetery in New Albany, Indiana—”his last march.”  His tombstone gives a nod to his membership in the Masonic Lodge.  The eagle with a ribbon in its beak with the simple inscription “Independence” bears witness to his service in the cause of freedom and our fledgling country.

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The Rival

Much has been written and documented about the zinc markers produced by the Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Though the company billed their markers as “white bronze” they were actually cast zinc.  The markers are distinguishable by their bluish-gray tint and easily identifiable. The company set up their first subsidiary in Detroit, Michigan. Others followed in Philadelphia, New Orleans, St. Thomas, Ontario, Des Moines, and Chicago. Enterprising salesmen carried a catalog door-to-door with them to show customers the many styles and price ranges of the product line. In many cemeteries you can find evidence of highly successful salesmen who sold large numbers of the markers. These grave markers came in a wide assortment of sizes and shapes and were somewhat like grave marker erector sets. The more elaborate markers had a shell of sorts and then various panels could be bolted on according to the tastes of the family ordering the grave marker. In this way, each marker could be “customized” to the tastes of the individual.  The company began manufacturing in the 1870s until the company closed shop in 1912.

There was another company producing zinc markers, as well.  The White Monument Company of Warsaw, Missouri.  According to The History of Benton County, Missouri: Volume 3—The People, written and complied by Kathleen Kelly White and Kathleen White Miles, 1971, page 459, “Behind his furniture store was the Monument Works operated…by Mr. Mahlon White. The plant manufactured monuments or tombstones from zinc and finished [them] in a dull satin finish by sandblasting the smooth metal.”  The company held two patents issued to Thomas Benton White.  The first patent, issued on December 2, 1901 (No. 688,043) described how the markers were to be constructed, “The structure embodies an outer metallic casing combined with an inner metallic casing or core with an interposed filling and means for permitting a circulation of air for the purpose of equalizing the temperature and for allowing for expansion or contraction of the metallic parts without danger or fracture.”  The space between the outer core of zinc and the inner core of zinc had a composite filling to give the structure stability.

The second patent, also issued to Thomas Benton White (patent no. 695,774 March 18, 1902) was for an unique and inventive way to display a image and/or obituary of the deceased, “An inscription-frame for monuments and the like, comprising a continuous internal bead, a door enclosed by the frame at one side of the bead, an inscription-holder enclosed by the frame at the opposite side of the bead consisting of transparent parallel plates, a weatherproof binder-strip uniting all of the edges of said plates, a cushion of metal fiber surrounding the edges of the holder, a layer of flexible cement arranged next to the cushion and serving to enclose the same, and a seal of weatherproof cement covering the flexible cement.

The name plates were affixed to the markers with a cement.  These zinc markers manufactured by the White Monument Company produced several different models, several of which can be seen in the Warsaw City Cemetery and other cemeteries in central Missouri.  Four have been spotted in the country West Haven Cemetery outside Washington, Iowa, and some as far away as Colorado.  These zinc markers, often referred to as “zincies” by cemetery aficionados, mimicked designs that were commonly found carved from stone.

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