Portals—Heavenly and “Not So Much”

Additional photos

A common and oft heard remark from Christians is that when they die, they will go to Heaven and meet with St. Peter at the “Pearly Gates” when they enter the Kingdom.  This is such a popular scenario that there are entire Web sites devoted to St. Peter-at-the-Pearly-Gates jokes!  There are also many and varied representation of the Gates of Heaven that can be found in cemeteries across the United States.  Often the Gates are shown in conjunction with other symbols, such as the star, or a dove, or an upward pointing finger, or a crown.  And nearly always, the Gates are open, as if they are inviting the soul of the deceased to enter.

In religious paintings, St. Peter is often shown with keys, referring to the Matthew 16:18-19: “And I say also unto thee, That thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

The term “Pearly Gates” also has its origin in a Biblical passage, Revelation 21:21: “And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate (sic) was one pearl; and the street of the city pure gold, and it were transparent glass.”

The Crandall Family gravestone, in the Springdale Cemetery in Peoria, Illinois, is in that tradition, gates slightly ajar as an invitation.  But what makes this gravestone different is that it is free-standing and not an incised design carved into the face of a column.  And, there are two elements not usually found in front of the gates—the master’s dog and his tools of trade.   

Interpreting gravestone symbolism can be tricky, especially without the benefit of knowing the deceased, the person or person’s responsible for commissioning the gravestone, or being able to discuss the symbolism with the carver.  But at first glance, it almost looks as if the deceased got to the gates with his dog and tools and had to leave them behind to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Some of the symbolism is well known.  The open gates are central to the Last Judgment.  As a funerary symbol, the gates represent a passageway from one realm to the next.  The gates are the portal for saved souls to make their passage from the Earthly realm to the Heavenly realm upon Christ’s return.  The dog is typically seen representing fidelity and loyalty.  And, it is highly likely that Eugene Crandall was carpenter given the tools—saw, plane, square, and hammer—left in front of the gates.

What is also clear from the gravestone, is that it was carved by an expert.  Often the carver’s identity is lost, but in the case, the carver was Italian immigrant, Joseph Petardi/Petarde, who was born into a family of stone carvers in Rome, Italy.  Joseph immigrated to New York and was soon working for a building firm.  One of his early jobs took him to Peoria where he was to cut stone for bridge pilings.  As fate would have it, Joseph met Hannah Partridge and the two met, married, had eight children, and he stayed the rest of his life in Peoria. 

One of his sons, Clyde, followed in Joseph’s footsteps, and the two of them carved some intricate statues for their own home in Peoria.  One porch support depicted a man holding up his loin cloth.  Typically, male supports were referred to as Atlas figures and were popular in Classical and Baroque Architecture.  The porch also had two female figures holding up the front porch.  Columns that were personified as females are referred to as caryatids and common in Greek architecture.   

In Greek Revival architecture the caryatid “represents the way women have traditionally carried large burdens on their heads.”  But to the horror and shock of the neighbors, all three support figures were semi-nude and too much for the neighbors’ Midwestern sensibilities.   In fact, the next-door neighbor who was an occasional visitor to the Crandall residence refused to pass through the door on the front porch in protest of the scantily-clad sculptures!  That was one portal that was “not so” Heavenly!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Rustic Monument to a Judge



MAY 28, 1878


At the time of his death

he was honorably serving

the State of Nebraska

in the high position of





The ledger laid atop carved stone logs in the Wyuka Cemetery in Nebraska City, Nebraska, was created for Daniel Gantt in the Rustic Style which was popular the late 19th Century and the very beginning of the 20th Century, coinciding with the Rural Cemetery Movement. 

Daniel Gantt (June 29, 1814—May 28, 1878) was born in Perry County, Pennsylvania.  Gantt, after a serious jobs, was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1843. In May 1857, Gantt and his wife, Agnes, moved to the Nebraska Territory. He first settled in Douglas County.  In October of that same year, Agnes died of lung-fever.  The following year, he married Harriet Cooper in Pittsburgh making their home in Omaha, where he became active in local politics.  In 1861, Gantt was elected City Treasurer in 1861.  Two years later, Gantt won a seat in the Territorial House of Representatives.  President Lincoln appointed Gantt U.S. District Attorney for the Nebraska Territory on May 10, 1864.  After his appointment was over, the Gantt’s moved to Nebraska City, where he hung out his shingle and went into private legal practice.  In 1872, he was elected an Associate Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court. In January of 1878, Gantt became Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court, a position he held until his death just five short months later.

Gantt’s legal career and penultimate rise to Supreme Court Justice of Nebraska is most likely noted by the stack of books on one end of his grave ledger. It is likely they represent law books and are a nod to his career in the law.  The scales carved on the lower portion of his gravestone, on the other hand, are a symbol, like many, that can have more than one meaning.  For instance, it could be as simple as representing his Zodiac sign.  Libra is representing by the scales. Except that he was born June 28th, which makes his Zodiac sign Cancer, which is the crab.  In cemetery symbolism, the scales traditionally represent justice being rendered and administered by Lady Justice—weighing guilt and punishment.  In this case, the scales are again, as are the books, a reference to Gantt’s position on Nebraska’s High Court.

The Latin inscription at the bottom of the ledger was very difficult to decipher. I had little luck with it, only being able to read a couple of words.  The rest of them looked like a jumble of letters to me.  A friend and colleague of mine, Charlotte, who has studied Latin, however, was able to read the inscription even though it was weathered, pitted, and stained.  The line, “NON ENIM TAM AUCTORITATIS IN DUSPUTANDO QUAM RATIONIS MEMENTA QUAERENDA SUNT.” is from Cicero’s book De Natura Deorum, or On the Nature of the Gods. The loose translation reads, “In every disputation, we should look more to the weight of reason than to the weight of authorities.”  Again, a nod to his achievement as a judge of which he must have been extremely proud.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tree-stump Monument as a Tribute to Arbor Day





JUNE 29, 1881


She was the Mother of





APR. 22, 1832


APR. 27, 1902



JAN. 19. 1837 – APR. 13. 1912



Wife of








FEB. 18. 1865 – JAN. 7. 1901



OCT. 31, 1869 – DEC. 9. 1932

I was born in Nebraska and attended kindergarten through fifth grade in a North Omaha suburb and because of that I was well studied about Arbor Day, since it was originated by J. Sterling Morton of Nebraska City, Nebraska. 

Arbor Day was the modern-day equivalent of Earth Day, only its focus was solely on planting trees to better the environment.  Planting trees was especially important in a Plains state like Nebraska where the joke was that the state tree was a telephone pole.  The first Arbor Day in the United States was held in Lincoln, Nebraska, on April 10, 1872, when an estimated one million trees planted in the state.  Not only did Morton advocate the planting of trees, but he also was against cutting down trees to be used as Christmas decorations.

The towering Morton Family monument in the Wyuka Cemetery in Nebraska City, Nebraska, sits in the middle of a large family plot that is set off by carved limestone logs marking its boundaries.  It is certainly fitting that his monument is a tree, and one of the largest tree-stump gravestones I have seen and is the largest in the Wyuka Cemetery.  Tree stump gravestones and curbing carved to resemble branches and logs 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. While the tree-stump monuments usually symbolize a life cut short, in this case the tree-stump is more likely to represent Morton’s dedication to planting trees and the founding Arbor Day in the United States.

Julius Sterling Morton (April 22, 1832 – April 27, 1902) was a newspaper editor who was active in Democratic politics.  Morton served as in the Nebraska Territorial House of Representatives (1855-1856), was appointed Secretary of Nebraska Territory (1858-1859) and served as Acting Territorial Governor of Nebraska (1858-1859).  In 1893, President Grover Cleveland appointed Morton Secretary of Agriculture, a position in which served until 1897. 

His home in Nebraska City, known as Arbor Lodge, is a 52-room mansion that is now the centerpiece of the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park in Nebraska City.  On the winding drive to the mansion is an alcove with two bronze statues by famed sculptor Rudulph Evans—one of J. Sterling Morton and an allegorical figure holding a sapling.

Evans (February 1, 1878 – January 16, 1960) was an American-born sculptor, who is most famous for the towering sculpture of Thomas Jefferson standing in the center of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.  Evans was trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris with fellow students Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Auguste Rodin.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Monument to a Businessman–a Desk

The Harding Family monument in the Wyuka Cemetery in Nebraska City, Nebraska, sits in the middle of a large family plot that is set off by carved limestone logs marking its boundaries. 

Tree stump gravestones and curbing carved to resemble branches and logs 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.

The centerpiece of the Harding Family plot sitting in the middle is a roll-top desk carved out of limestone, intricate in every detail, right down to the ink well and pads of paper underneath the roll.  The desk has several books displayed on top of the desk and inside it that have the names of various family members inscribed on the pages and covers of the books—Bennett S. Harding Born Jany 28, 1856 Died May 21, 1857; Frederick C. Harding Born Jany 31, 1865 Died Aug 17, 1872; Alice Harding Born Dec 14, 1871 Died June 18, 1872; Grace H. Harding Dec. 15, 1863 Sep. 22, 1937; Mary H. Miller Oct. 13, 1955.  The open book on top of the desk is inscribed: N. S. Harding Feb. 2, 1831 Mar. 30, 1915 and Mary K. B. Harding Oct. 25, 1833 Sept 15, 1900. The back of the desk also has names carved it, too—Mary H. Baldwin Feb. 1, 1804 Feb. 12. 1883; Fanny K. Blackman Born Aug. 8, 1858 Died July 5. 1859; Theodore B. Van [there is damage on this name but it looks like—Horne] Nov 27. 1829 Nov 16. 1858.

If you read about the progenitor of the Harding family, Nehemiah Story Harding, it is easy to see that the desk is a monument to his many careers—most likely doing his work behind a desk much like the one carved for him and his family.  Most likely the desk is a nod to his many years working in an office at a desk much like this one.

An excerpt from A History of Nebraska from the Earliest Explorations of the Trans-Mississippi Region by Julius Sterling Morton, Albert Watkins, and George L. Miller, published by the Western Publishing and Engraving Company of Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1918, (pages 671-672) describes Harding as a civil servant, serial entrepreneur, businessman, and philanthropist: “pioneer and prominent man of business, he embarked in the mercantile business in Cincinnati in 1852 as a member of the firm of Wright & Harding, booksellers and stationers, at 131 Main Street from 1852 to 1855.  He removed from Cincinnati Ohio in 1855, and arrived in Nebraska City, Nebraska Territory, November 28, 1855…He first served as deputy clerk of the United States District Court for one year, and then became cashier of the Platte Valley Bank, and agent for the Aetna Insurance Company.  He was the first insurance agent and wrote the first policy in the then Territory of Nebraska in August of 1857.  He early engaged in the book, stationery, and …which he followed for twenty-six years.  He has served for thirty-six years as special agent for the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company of Massachusetts…He served as one of the first county commissioners of Otoe County, as town clerk, and member of the board of trustees.  In 1875, he was named by the state legislature to secure a location for, and to build the institution for the blind in Nebraska City, Nebraska, and served as treasurer of the board of trustees during the years 1875-76… Mr. Harding is a member of the Masonic Order, Western Start Lodge No. 2, A. F. and A. M., of which he has been several times master.  He is also a member of the Frontier No. 3, I. O. O. F., and a member of the Nebraska Society, Sons of the American Revolution.  He is a prominent member of the First Presbyterian church of Nebraska City, of which he has been an elder for about thirty years.  Mr. Harding has been an active and busy man during the half century of his residence in Nebraska and has been an important figure in the business life of Nebraska City, where he is recognized as one of the progressive and influential citizens.”

According to A History of Nebraska from the Earliest Explorations of the Trans-Mississippi Region, N. S. Harding was born at “Iberia, Morrow County, Ohio, February 12, 1831…of English descent; his ancestors were of Puritan stock and settled in Massachusetts in 1623.  Several members of the family served in the Continental army during the Revolutionary war, and others have been prominent on the bench before the bar.  His father, Chauncey Harding, was a native of Pennsylvania, a worthy man of more than ordinary ability and intelligence.  He was an executor and administrator of several large estates, and died in 1880, after a long and honorable career, at the age of seventy-two years.  Rachel (Story) Harding, mother of N. S. Harding was a native of Maine, a daughter of a Baptist minister, a woman of strong and lovely character, and greatly beloved by her six children.  N. S. Harding acquired his early education in the common schools, supplemented by partial courses in the Marion, Ohio, academy and Central college in Franklin County.  Mr. Harding was married August 4, 1853, in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Miss Mary King Baldwin of Newark, Ohio, who, two years later, accompanied her husband to the new home in Nebraska City, where she exercised a benign and gracious influence in the social life of the community until her death, September 15, 1900, at the age of sixty-seven years.  Ten children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Harding, six of whom are now living: Mrs. Charles S. Nash, St. Louis, Mo.: Mrs. Walter D. Hill, Beatrice, Nebraska; Mrs. William N. Dekker, San Francisco, California; Grace H. Mary R., and Willard S., all residents of Nebraska City.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A Useful Citizen and Honest Man

J. T. Weybrecht

January 27 1829 – January 31, 1895

The elaborate Victorian unpolished granite monument for John Theobold Weybrecht in the Alliance City Cemetery, in Alliance, Ohio, is one of the tallest in the cemetery and speaks to the success of the businessman.  An immigrant from Alsace-Lorraine, France, Weybrecht opened and operated the first lumberyard in Alliance with his sons, Benjamin and Charles. 

The monument, topped with a draped urn, features a bronze medallion with a likeness of Weybrecht as its centerpiece, commissioned in 1896.  The bas-relief or low-relief of Weybrecht was sculpted by Ohio artist Ora Coltman (December 3, 1858 – July 2, 1940).  The difficulty in creating a flattened sculpture of a face is giving it a three-dimensional look and feel and capturing the visual qualities of the man.  Coltman’s talent is clear.

Coltman was a painter, as well as a sculptor.  His painting, “The Dominance of the City”, is his most famous work, which is a sweeping triptych of Cleveland was commissioned by the Public Works Art Program in 1933.  The painting was the first New Deal mural in the city and can be seen on the third floor of the Cleveland Public Library. 

Written on the medallion is the following inscription, “Born in Alsace, France, January 27th, 1829.  Died at Alliance, Ohio, January 31, 1895, known to this community for forty years as a useful citizen and honest man.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A Soldier’s Service



BORN OCT. 22, 1827,


OCTOBER 2, 1849,


AGED 51 YRS. & 7 DAYS.

No other war was like the American Civil War for Americans because every sailor and soldier, every collateral death, every field or railway yard that was destroyed, every city or town devastated by artillery was American.  And, more Americans were killed in the Civil War than any other war that Americans have fought.  The war tore the country apart and threatened the existence of the Republic. 

Cemeteries throughout the United States feature memorials to honor the soldiers who fought.  The soldiers, proud of their service, also denoted it in many ways—some with elaborately carved commissioned statues, some with inscriptions that memorialized each battle in which they served, while others have little more than a metal marker that noted their service.

The humble zinc grave marker of A.L. Jones in the Alliance City Cemetery in Alliance, Ohio, doesn’t give his birth or death date, let alone the unit in which he served, but it is adorned with two symbols representing his service—on one side of the column an American flag and on another, a uniformed soldier astride a strutting horse.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Author of the 14th Amendment?

Stephen Neal

June 11, 1817 – June 23, 1905

The large, polished granite column topped with a bronze bust in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Lebanon, Indiana, commemorates the life of Stephen Neal.  Neal was a prominent citizen of Lebanon, serving as an attorney, represented Boone County in the Indiana State House, and later as circuit court judge. 

However, Neal is most remembered for his purported role in the drafting of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Various reports credited Neal with sending a draft he wrote of the 14th Amendment to Godlove S. Orth.  Orth was a former Indiana state legislator serving in the U.S. Congress in 1866 when the amendment was being considered. However, there is debate as to whether this claim is true or not. 

Amendment XIV

Section 1.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2.

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a state, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such state, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such state.

Section 3.

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4.

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any state shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5.

The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

The bust of Neal was sculpted by Clara Barth Leonard Dieman (1877-1959) who studied sculpture with the great artists Lorado Taft and Charles Mulligan at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Dieman’s career and life took her to many parts of the country where she pursued her craft in Illinois, Texas, Colorado, New York, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and New Mexico where she spent the last part of her life.  One of Neal’s sons also gave a copy of the bust to the Indiana State Government, which is now on display in the Indiana State Capitol rotunda.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Special Section

The Benevolent Protective Order of Elks (B. P. O. E.), one of the many fraternal organizations in the United States, was originally a drinking club called the Jolly Corks founded in 1866 by a group of actors, who evidently liked to drink.  The club members made the fateful decision to change their organization’s name and increase their mission from frolic to public service. 

Like many fraternal orders have sections of cemeteries set aside for their members, while some even have separate cemeteries.  The Valhalla Memorial Gardens in Bloomington, Indiana, has a special section dedicated to the members of The Benevolent Protective Order of Elks. 

The section in the Valhalla Memorial Garden is designated by a large limestone block that includes the two most significant symbols for the Elks Club members.  The Elk, of course, is carved on one side of the block.  On the other side is the clock with the hands frozen at the 11:00 o’clock hour when the Elks traditionally remember their members who have passed away with a solemn toast. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Four Virtues



DEC. 17, 1805,


MARCH 15, 1870




JANUARY 21, 1898



JULY 13, 1847,

DIED MAR. 20, 1852



JAN. 15, 1849,

DIED JUNE 10, 1871.



JUNE 15, 1851

DIED SEPT. 18, 1891.

The elaborately decorated white marble Phelps Family Monument in the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York, is a Victorian confection of design and funerary symbols, sculpted by Nicola Cantalamessa-Papotti (1831?-1910) in Rome in 1876.  The monument is topped with the angel Gabriel with pelicans at his feet festooned with garlands of flowers.  Above the inscription on the face of the monument is the winged hourglass symbolizing the ephemeral nature of life on Earth and time itself.  The memorial features four allegorical figures representing four virtues—Hope, Faith, Charity, and Fortitude. Hope, Faith, and Charity are considered as the theological virtues which have been identified by Christians seeking to live a good and moral life.  Fortitude was considered a cardinal virtue by ancient Greek philosophers.


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.  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.


The figure holds a cross in her hand as she looks upwards to the Heavens. The Cross symbolizes her Christian faith. Often, Faith is also depicted carrying a palm which represents victory over death.  Another symbol often seen in conjunction with the cross is the laurel wreath, which dates to Roman times when soldiers wore them as triumphal signs of glory.


Quite often in Renaissance paintings, the figure of Charity is depicted as a woman breast-feeding an infant.  However, in the more staid and modest Victorian era, Charity is shown in the process of pulling her garment to one side to reveal her breast.  The allegorical figure can also be found holding food for the hungry or clothes for the unclothed.  The great theologian, Thomas Aquinas, reckoned that charity was the most excellent of the virtues because it united man to God and that the habit of charity extended to love for one’s neighbor, as well as to God.


Fortitude is one of the cardinal virtues from classical philosophy. Plato wrote about the four cardinal virtues in The Republic which he identified as Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude.  Only Fortitude was assigned to the warrior class, hence the allegorical figure is often depicted wearing armor and carrying a shield and sometimes standing on a vanquished animal such as a lion.  However, in this example, she is depicted as a woman wearing classical robes with a club in one hand and what looks like a sheepskin in the other.  The theologian Saint Augustine wrote about Fortitude as being “love readily bearing all things for the sake of the loved object.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment