The Rustic Movement and the Tree Stump Gravestone


BORN OCT. 8, 1814 – DIED SEPT. 14, 1891


BORN APR. 17, 1817 – DIED AUG. 24, 1903


BORN MAR. 1, 1844 – DIED NOV. 10, 1900


BORN 8. 1847 – DIED APR. 16, 1891


NOV. 14, 1841 – SEPT. 11. 1933

Tree stump tombstones were a part of the rustic movement of the mid-nineteenth century which was characterized by designs that were made to look like they were from the country. The rustic movement complemented the rural cemetery movement which began in the United States in 1831 with the opening of Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The rural cemeteries were often located on the outskirts of town and laid out as a park would be—with broad avenues and winding pathways, featuring picturesque landscaping such as ponds, abundant trees, and shrubs. The tree-stump tombstones were a funerary art contrivance mimicking the natural surroundings of the cemetery. The tree-stump tombstones were most popular for a twenty year-period from about 1885 until about 1905.

In funerary art, tombstones took on the look of tree stumps. The gravestones were purposefully designed to look like trees that had been cut and left in the cemetery to mark a grave. Most of these tree-stump tombstones were carved from limestone, which is easier to carve, though some are made from marble and even a few from granite. Often, the gravestones were carved to look like rustic furniture. Benches and chairs can be found in many cemeteries. The creativity of the carvers was boundless. Thousands of tree-stump tombstones exist in nearly as many designs.

This tree stump tombstone in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Crawfordsville, Indiana, created for the Hall Family is a great example of the unique designs that the stone carvers used to display the individual tastes and interests of the persons they memorialized with their craft.  This example has many different motifs carved into it:

The Empty Chair

In funerary symbolism, the vacant chair usually symbolizes the loss of a loved one. This motif gives the feeling that the vacant chair is just waiting for the lost member of the family, who just stepped out for a moment, to return, but it stands empty, never to be sat in again. This example is different in that the chair has the words “REST HERE” carved on the front as an invitation for those strolling by to take a seat. The chair, in this tree stump monument is a rustic design, made to look like it was from the country. Elegant and slim curved lines in furniture from the fluid Art Nouveau period gave way to bulkier to 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. In cabins, railings and the siding were made from un-hewn logs with the bark still in place.

The Shock of Wheat

Carved on the side of the monument is a great shock of wheat. Wheat’s origins are unknown but is the basis of basic food and a staple in many cultures. Because of wheat’s exalted position as a mainstay foodstuff, it is viewed as a gift from Heaven. Wheat also symbolizes immortality and resurrection.  But, like many symbols found on gravestones, they can have more than one meaning.  For instance, because wheat is the main ingredient of bread, the sheaf of wheat can represent the Body of Christ.  Wheat can also represent a long life, usually more than three score and ten, or seventy years.

The Calla Lily

The calla lily is a stunner with its long slender stem, brilliant white flowers, and broad leaves seen on this gravestone growing from a pot.  Though it is called a lily it is not in the flower family liliacea.  The South African native is a cousin to the jack-in-the pulpit and is in the family of araceae. In Africaans the calla lily is called the Varkoor, or pig’s ear, because that is what they believed it resembled. The calla lily was imported out of South Africa in the later part of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  It almost immediately became associated with Easter and is sometimes referred to as an Easter lily. The calla lily represents majestic beauty and purity and is often used on gravestones to symbolize marriage.  In some cases, the calla lily can also represent the resurrection.

The Lyre

Here, carved on the back of the tree stump monument is an example of a lyre, traditionally seen as a symbol of Apollo, the Greek god of music. In Christian symbolism it can represent harmony and Heavenly accord and song in praise of the Lord.  In funerary art, however, the lyre can also represent the end of life. It is also found on the graves of musicians.

The Tree Stump

The tree-stump gravestones themselves were imbued with symbolism. The short tree stump usually marks the grave of a person who died young—a life that had been “cut” short.  This tree-stump, however, is very tall—hardly a stump. The Halls, James and Emma, lived to be 76 and 86 respectively, both having lived long lives.

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Carrara Angel



Even though, many famous people are buried in the Laurel Grove Cemetery (North) in Savannah, Georgia, the Louisa Porter grave site is one of the most visited and photographed monuments in the graveyard. Porter was known to Georgians of her day for her philanthropy and generosity to organizations that aided children even though she had none of her own. Porter served on the Savannah Free School Board, as director of the Savannah Female Society, and was instrumental in the creation of the Industrial Relief Society and Home for the Friendless, which, upon her death, was renamed the Louisa Porter Home for Girls in her honor.

Her monument includes a full-length figure of a female winged angel bending over a marble table-top marker. A scroll rests on top of a cross which is laying atop the length of the top slab. The angel’s right hand is hovering over the scroll which has the inscription, “THE GIFT OF GOD IS ETERNAL LIFE THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD.”  The top slab rests on four ornate columns which stand, as does the figure, on a larger base slab of granite. Each of the column capitals is adorned with lilies

The monument is intricately carved of Carrara marble by the Italian sculptor Antonio Caniparoli. While biographical details are difficult to discover it is known that his work can be found in the city cemetery in Palermo, Italy. A reference to his work on the Martha Thomas monument in Palermo lists Antonio Caniparoli as the “marble architect” and lists his birth and death dates as 1828-1914. From his studio he produced works that were sold in far-flung locations such as Ireland, England, America, Spain, and Australia. He not only produced funeral monuments but also elaborate fireplace mantels and statues.

A statue of Murillo in a square in Seville, Spain, rests on a carved Carrara marble base attributed to Caniparoli. His studio is also credited for the carving the high altar at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, County Armagh, Ireland.

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Happy Easter

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The “Hat” is the Clue.



BORN JAN 18, 1799 DIED MAR 12, 1873 AGED 74 YEARS




BORN FEB 19, 1801 DIED FEB 19, 1877




BORN JULY 24, 1824 DIED APRI 4, 1870 AGED 16 YEARS




BORN SEP 12, 1823 DIED MAY 1, 1836 AGED 8 YEARS




BORN AUG 12, 1825 DIED MARCH 4, 1837


The limestone monument that marks the grave of Charles Petit McIlvaine has a heavy architectural design.  From the front it looks like a heavy and plain Gothic building that is barren of detail except for the ivy that twines underneath the two-tier roof line and the ornamented and pointed arched alcove that contains the decaying bust of monument’s focus.

Except for the inscription there is not an indication of who the man was or his importance.  But once the side of the monument is studied the “hat” gives it away.  A mitre on an open Bible rests on a tufted and tasseled pillow.  The mitre has been worn by bishops of the church since the 11th Century with origins dating back much further.

Bishop Charles McIlvaine was born January 18, 1799 in Burlington, New Jersey, into a prominent political family.  His maternal grandfather, Bowes Reed, was the New Jersey Secretary of State and his father, Joseph McIlvaine, was a United States Senator.  McIlvaine himself served in the United States Senate twice as chaplain.  McIlvaine studied theology at the seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, and then went on to have a prestigious and impressive career as a clergyman and professor.

McIlvaine served as a chaplain and professor of ethics at the United States Military Academy at West Point.  Notably two of his students were Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis.  Held a number of other posts—minister to St. Ann’s Church in Brooklyn, professor of the evidences of revealed religion at the University of the City of New York, president of  Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, and the second Episcopal Bishop of Ohio.   McIlvaine also became a prolific and noted author who caught the attention of President Abraham Lincoln, who appointed him to act as a special envoy to dissuade the British from support the Confederacy during the Civil War.  His eloquent and persuasive writings and oratory gained him many influential friends and admirers.  So much so, that when McIlvaine died in Florence, Italy on March 14, 1873, his body was shipped to Ohio for burial.  However, on the long journey, his body was rested for four days in Westminster Abbey, the only American to ever lie-in-state to be so honored.

There is often a story behind the “hat” or should it be under the hat?

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The Baldwin Angel and the Artist

Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”

Saint Mark 10:15

Like many great artists, Frank Hering (February 15, 1874—January 15, 1949), took commissions that included funerary sculptures.  The Baldwin angel is one such work which was carved out of flawless white marble for the Baldwin family plot.  Hering was an art student of the famed Augustus Saint-Gaudens, also known as the American Michelangelo.

There are many recognizable Hering works of such as the Defense and Regeneration, on the southern bridgehouses of Michigan Avenue Bridge  in Chicago and the sculpture Pere Marquette  in the Marquette Park in Gary, Indiana.  Hering also sculpted a statue of Abraham Lincoln that can be found in University Park in Indianapolis.

Close by at the Indiana War Memorial in Indianapolis is his monumental work, Pro Patria which is a bronze he sculpted in 1929.  At the time it was the largest bronze statue cast in America up to that time.

The Baldwin angel, pictured below, was also sculpted by Henry Hering.  The enclosure for the angel was designed by Henry Bacon, who also designed the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The Baldwin angel has a doppelganger.  Doppelganger is a word that refers to two people who look the same.  Look a likes.   It is a German word that translates to “double goer”.  Popular television shows run photos next to each other showing actors and actresses together to show look a likes, such as, Christina Hendricks and Jessica Rabbit, Katy Perry and Zooey Deschanel, Morgan Freeman and Kofi Annan, Margot Robbie and Jaime Pressly, or Stephen Colbert and Bob Saget to name a few.  To poke gentle fun, some sites also match the faces of dogs to their look alike actors’ faces.

In this case, two gravestone sculpture doppelgangers can be found in two different cemeteries in Savannah, Georgia.  The magnificent white-marble angel that marks the Baldwin family plot.  The sculpture is one of the most beautiful and visited monuments in the Bonaventure Cemetery, the cemetery made famous by John Berendt’s novel, Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil.

The young angel holds a shell.  Tradition has it that the remains of Saint James, one of the Twelve Apostles who was sometimes referred to as James the Greater, 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 reconquest 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 Christians pilgrims who often carried a scallop shell back with them as a souvenir of the trip.  Before long, the seashell became a symbol of Christian pilgrimage and Baptism.

The angel wears a loose gown with a belt of ivy wrapped around the waist.  Ivy being a symbol associated with immortality and fidelity.

Right next to the Bonaventure Cemetery, separated only by a chain-link fence, is the Forest Lawn Memorial Garden.  When you walk through that cemetery you come to the gates of yet another cemetery—the Greenwich Cemetery.  In that cemetery is a near replica of the Baldwin angel—except without wings.

She holds a large seashell, same loose-fitting gown, and ivy belt.  Only this sculpture is quite discolored and does not have the half-circle white marble backdrop.

The two sculptures could be siblings for sure—if not twins!  Though the wingless doppelganger in the Greenwich Cemetery has not been identified as having been sculpted by Henry Hering, the similarities are so striking that I believe both statues were his creations.

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Seated Hope

The representation of Hope can be easily found in American cemeteries.  Hope is most often portrayed as a woman standing and leaning against an anchor.  In these examples from the Spring grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio, Hope is seated. 


The anchor is an ancient Christian symbol that has been found in early catacomb burials.  The anchor was used by early Christians as a disguised cross.  The anchor also served as a symbol of Christ and his anchoring influence in the lives of Christians.  Just as an anchor does not let a moored boat drift, the anchoring influence of Christ does not allow the Christian life to drift.

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The Language of Flowers

The stained-glass window in the mausoleum in Westview Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia, features a trellis of red roses.  In Victorian times, flowers took on significance as a way to send coded messages; this was known as floriography from the Latin combining flora—“goddess of flowers”—and graphein—“writing.”

In 1878, Kate Greenaway, a popular author and illustrator, gained fame for an illustrated children’s book of verse she wrote titled Under the Window, which delighted children.  Just six short years later, Greenaway published the Language of Flowers.  The book is a nearly complete listing of flowers along with their “secret” or symbolic meanings:

Azalea ………………………………… Temperance

Bell Flower (small white) ……… Gratitude

Carnation, Striped ……………….. Refusal

Carnation, Yellow ………………… Disdain

Foxglove ……………………………… Insincerity

Hollyhock ……………………………. Ambition.  Fecundity

Each flower had a meaning that was conveyed to the viewer or receiver of the flower or bouquet of flowers—the weeping willow represented mourning, the white lily represented purity, the Easter lily represented the Resurrection, and so on.

The rose? More than any other flower in the book, many colors are explained for their nuanced meanings.  The single rose meant “simplicity.”  The yellow rose symbolized a “decrease in love—and jealousy.” The Japanese rose meant that “beauty is your only attraction.”  But to Greenaway, the rose, in general, meant “love.”

What lovesick boy doesn’t know the meaning of a single rose, standing there on the front porch, at the beginning of his first date, nervously clutching the flower while he waits expectantly for the door to open and for his date to greet him?  Romantics have waxed poetic about the rose and the connection to love for centuries which has made the rose an undeniable symbol of love.

In funerary and religious art the rose also has a religious meaning, differing by color.  The white rose symbolizes purity while the red rose represents martyrdom and the messianic hope that Christ will return.

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