Grass Marker Beauty

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Sociologist W. Lloyd Warner was one of the first to study graveyard iconography and burial practices. In 1959 Warner wrote a monograph, The Living and the Dead, where he asserted, “cemeteries are collective representatives which reflect and express many of the community’s basic beliefs and values….” Life is reflected in the cemetery. One of the 20th Century changes that is evident is the influence of technology and rising labor costs. That can be seen in a type of gravestone called the grass marker. That is a gravestone that is absolutely flat with the ground—level with the grass—hence the name.

By designing markers in this way, large swaths of grass can be moved with ease on riding lawn mowers, reducing the cost of labor to move around various shaped gravestones. Now whole cemeteries often called Memorial Parks have nothing but this type of gravestone.

The unfortunate aspect of this, is that quite often these grass markers can be unique but are often overlooked.

One example of a beautiful gravestone in the Lake View Cemetery at Seattle, Washington, is for Michael Joseph Ehle, an artist from the Seattle area. Ehle grew up in Salinas, California, and started drawing at a very early age and he never stopped. Even when he was barely getting by as an artist, he washed dishes and took odd jobs to continue his art. His diligence and hard work paid off—now his works hang in the Tacoma Art Museum and the University of Washington Medical Center and the offices of Microsoft.

Ehle’s flat gray grass marker is designed with the graphic quality of a woodcut. While I don’t know what the symbolism is for the piece of artwork chosen for his marker, it is definitely of reminiscent of his bold expressive artwork. The young man smoking with a raven on his shoulder looks wryly toward the passerby with a knowing expression.

If you don’t look down once in a while in a cemetery, you could miss the lowly grass marker that might have some surprises carved into the face of the granite.

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Lovebirds

 

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Marriage is tough. So tough that in the United States one in three marriages end in divorce. That, though, is nothing compared to how mating works in the animal kingdom. The female black widow spider, which is about half again bigger than the male, mates and then attempts to EATS the male! Most of the time the daring male escapes to romance another day.

The male praying mantis, however, is not so lucky. The unsuspecting male is lured to the female praying mantis who sets her trap with pheromones like the spray of perfume that attracts him into her orbit. When they mate the green femme fatale chews off her partner’s head. Ouch!

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Not every critter, though, is heartless. Lovebirds are the veritable poster animals for romance and commitment. Lovebirds mate for life—a romance that starts when they are 10 months old and is continued for their lifespan that lasts for nearly 15 years! And they are committed to each other. The tiny little colorful lovebirds sit next to each other for hours and even tenderly feed each other! When they are separated the lovebirds exhibit nervous and erratic behavior until they get back together.

So, it is right that the lovebirds atop the polished red granite gravestone that marks the graves of two couples buried in the Lake View Cemetery at Seattle, Washington, who celebrated long marriages.

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Cat Lover

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In Loving Memory

WHITFIELD

Hal

1937-1984

Jean

1936-2008

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The Hal and Jean Whitfield monument in the Lake View Cemetery at Seattle, Washington, has a whimsical look and message. Atop the gray polished granite shaft sits a sculpture of a round, highly-stylized cat with a bird sitting on its back. The two are looking directly at each other. The bird looks as if it might be daring the cat—the cat looks with suspicion at the bird as one natural enemy might to another. There they sit—coexisting.

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Written in gold lettering tracing around the statue is an epitaph that is surely shared by many cat lovers, “The More People I Meet, The More I Like My Cat”.  The epitaph is punctuated by a paw print carved into the stone.

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Weeping Angel

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William Wetmore Story (February 12, 1819 – October 7, 1895), the son of Joseph Story—Supreme Court Justice from 1811—1845, was a multitalented Renaissance man. Story was an editor, poet, art critic, and an incredible sculptor. Though trained as a lawyer at the Harvard Law School, he abandoned the legal profession to follow the arts.

His body of art work includes among others, a sculpture of his father, Joseph Story, fittingly at the Harvard Law School and a statue of another famous jurist and judicial colleague of his father’s, Chief Justice John Marshall. But the sculpture that has become replicated and imitated in cemeteries in Europe and America is the monument that he carved for his wife’s grave in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, Italy.

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An article written in the Sept. 1896, issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine stated:

The loss of the wife of his youth whom he survived but a year, was a bitter blow; and with her passed his interest in affairs. It was only when his children suggested that he should make a monument to her memory that he consented to resume work; the design he chose was the “Angel of Grief”, and it is wrought to exquisite finish…When this was done he left the studio never to return.”

The statue marking Emelyn and William Wetmore Story’s grave depicts an angel collapsed and distraught in grief. The statue is dramatic and evokes the solemn loss of a loved one. The statue is known, aptly as the Angel of Grief perhaps because of its ability to capture devastating grief from departure due to death.

The statue’s imitators can be found in many cemeteries including the ones below:

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Perhaps one of the most elegant examples can be found in the Metarie Cemetery at New Orleans in the Chapman H. Hyams mausoleum. The blue light from the stained glass showers the statue in a calming hue.

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This example is in the Mount Hope Cemetery at San Diego, California, and marks the grave of Marjorie Marie Pierce.
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Marking the grave of the Hill Family in the Glenwood Cemetery at Houston, Texas, is a replica of nearly exacting quality.

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Irene Bagby’s marker in the Serbian Cemetery at Colma, California.

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Jennifer Roosevelt Pool’s monument in the Cypress Lawn Cemetery at Colma, California. Pool was the cousin of President Theodore Roosevelt.

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Two examples in the Green-wood Cemetery at Brooklyn, New York, have a slightly deviated design. In this version for the O’Donohue Family has the angel holding a wreath. The laurel wreath dates back to Roman times when soldiers wore them as triumphal signs of glory.  The laurel was also believed to wash away the soldier’s guilt from injuring or killing any of his opponents.  In funerary art the laurel wreath is often seen as a symbol of victory over death.

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This example is also found in the Green-Wood Cemetery at Brooklyn. It marks the grave of Michael and Shamsi Kaydouh.

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This example is found in the St. Luke Cemetery at Chicago. It is a small version and does not mark a grave but is used as a piece of artwork for the cemetery.  On the front of the monument is the poem:

The bud was spread, To show the rose

Our Savior smiled, The bud was closed. 

Anon.

 

 

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The Four Evangelists

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The Catholic Calvary Cemetery in Erie, Pennsylvania, has many tombs, gravestones, and markers imbued with Christian symbolism. One of the monuments in that cemetery has a display of all four of the Evangelists—St. Mark, St. John, St. Matthew, and St. Luke. The monument has four sides and in each alcove stands one of the Apostles. Under each statue of an Apostle is the symbol associated with Him.

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St. Mark is depicted as a winged lion. The emblem refers to Christ’s power and regal dignity.

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St. John is represented as an eagle because of his soaring writing in the Gospel that bears His name. Lecterns are often carved into an eagle in His honor.

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St. Matthew’s emblem depicts the Evangelist as a winged man to represent the divine inspiration that is possible for all of mankind. In statuary St. Matthew is often shown with a quill.

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St. Luke’s emblem is a winged ox. The Gospel written by St. Luke emphasized the sacrifice of Christ—the ox was an animal of sacrifice and associated with Luke because of his writings. The wings symbolize that Christ’s message is to travel throughout the globe. St. Luke is the patron saint of butchers.

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Still Missing, Mystery Unsolved

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The first private mausoleum built in the Crown hill Cemetery at Indianapolis, Indiana, is an example of the Egyptian Revival architecture found in many large urban cemeteries.

The large sandstone mausoleum has many features of Egyptian temples–the cavetto cornice that curves into a half circle at the top of the tomb and above the doorway, the torus molding at the bottom of the cornice, around the door, and the corners of the mausoleum that are designed to emulate long bundled plants, and the heavy columns with the palm leaves at the top that flank the entrance to the tomb.

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Funerary art and architecture was designed to illicit emotions, such as the finality of death and the Christian ideal of eternity. The tomb also features a winged globes with uroei.  The globe represents the Egyptian god, Horus.  The uroei, snakes, are waiting to strike.  They symbolize the king’s ability to ward off evil spirits.

Carved on the top of the tomb is the Ouroboros ophis, an ancient symbol depicting a snake eating its tail. The word, Ouroboros, is Greek—oura meaning tail; vora meaning eating, and ophis meaning serpent or snake. In ancient Egypt, the Ouroboros represented the daily passage of the sun.  The snake eating its tail in cemetery symbolism represents the cycle of life—birth and death—and eternity.

The massive tomb gives one the sense of solemnity and a sense of eternity, just as did the temples of the pharaohs. It was built to hold the remains of Caleb Blood Smith (April 16, 1808 – January 7, 1864), a towering political figure in 19th Century politics. Smith was admitted to the Indiana bar and hung out his shingle to work as an attorney. He was elected to several terms in the Indiana state legislature. In 1843 Smith was elected to Congress as a Whig representing the 4th Indiana District and served until 1849. Smith campaigned for Abraham Lincoln and as a reward Lincoln appointed Smith Secretary of the Interior—a post he only held for less than two years. Smith was appointed as District Court Judge for the District of Indiana, which he held until his death on January 7, 1864.

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According to Memories of the Past: A Tour of Historic Crown Hill Cemetery by Wayne L. Sanford (page 11), “Smith’s wife, the former Elizabeth B. Watson, buried him temporarily at City Cemetery and was on hand during the first public sale of Crown Hill property held June 8, 1864. On that occasion she selected this property on which she immediately constructed this mausoleum. The structure was completed that year, but for unknown reason she never entombed her husband inside. For that matter, there is still some mystery as to what Elizabeth actually did with Caleb’s remains.”

Caleb Smith’s wife, daughter and son are buried in the tomb—but not Caleb Smith. His body is still missing.

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“Cogito ergo sum”

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CARL A. NORGREN

1890 – 1968

JULIET E. NORGREN

1896 – 1987

On a bronze plaque on the side of the marker:

“I CANNOT HELP BUT WONDER

HOW I CAN CARELESS BE

OF THE SWIFTLY PASSING MOMENTS

THAT SEEK OBLIVION’S SEA;

METHINK THEN – HOW MUCH BETTER

TO IMPROVE THEM AS THEY FLEE.

THOUGH I LIVE BUT A MOMENT,

MY DEEDS – ETERNITY…”

C. A. N.

The two gravestones in today’s blogpost are topped with sculptures with the same theme—thinking.

The first gravestone from the Fairmont Cemetery at Denver, Colorado marks the grave of Carl and Juliet Norgren. Carl Norgren was a mechanical engineer who founded a successful manufacturing company, still in existence today.

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The bronze statue on top of the Norgren’s marker is a replica of the great Rodin statue of the “Thinker”, originally called “Le Pensuer”, in Rodin’s native French. The “Thinker” is most likely one of the most well known and most parodied statues ever created.

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The second monument in the Lakeview Cemetery at Seattle, Washington, for Everett George DuPen and his wife of 65 years, Charlotte Nicks, is a shaft of black polished granite with a bronze of a statue he sculpted himself, titled, “Pensive.” DuPen was a famed artist and acclaimed teacher of sculpture with a long and distinguished career that spanned eight decades.

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What is not clear from either monument is the meaning of the sculptures chosen for their markers. It could be that the Norgren family chose the “Thinker” because it was their favorite sculpture. It could also be that “Pensive” was chosen because it was of Everett DuPen’s favorites. Or it they could both be a call to action—to think about death or maybe more importantly—life.

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Both statues could both be an ode to René Descartes’ statement, “Cogito ergo sum“, Latin translated in his native French as, “Je pense, donc je suis” (1637). The statement, in English, means, “I think, therefore I am”.

DuPen

Everett George

1912 – 2005

Father

Sculptor

Professor of Art

 

Charlotte Nicks

1914 – 2012

Mother

Muse

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