Grave Marker Erector Set







The tallest grave marker in the tiny Center Grove Cemetery, along Highway 46, is a 10 or 12-foot zinc marker.  These markers were produced and sold by the Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Though the company billed the markers as “white bronze” they were actually cast zinc.  The markers are distinguishable by their bluish-gray tint.

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 a large number of the markers. The zinc markers were produced beginning in the 1870s until the company closed shop in 1912.

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 attached 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.


This monument has a two-handle urn inside an architectural feature that is part of a spire topped with a finial. The urn is an ubiquitous funerary motif symbolizing death and mortality.  The irony of the urn being such a popular 19th Century funerary symbol is that very few people were cremated when the urn motif was at the height of its popularity.  For instance, during the eight years from 1876 until 1884, only 41 Americans were cremated.  Though the number of cremations in the United States slowly increased, by the 1950s only less 4% of our dead were cremated.  Cremation, though, has been increasing each decade: 1960–3.56%; 1970–4.59%; 1980–9.72%; 1990–17.13%; 2000–26.24%; 2010–35.93%.  Some are predicting that by 2025, almost half of our dead will be cremated.  Maybe the urn will re-emerge as a symbol for the 21st Century.

Clasping Hands

Another common motif found in American cemeteries are—clasping hands.  The clasping hands on this gravestone likely represents holy matrimony, symbolizing the holy union between a man and a woman. Often one hand of the motif is clearly the hand of the female, her cuff ruffled, with the hand on the other side depicting a shirt’s cuff barely visible from underneath a suit jacket, though neither hand displays a cuff male or female in this example.  Clasping hands can also represent the brotherhood of the union symbolizing the brethren of workers clasped in the making of something together, sharing their labor bonded by common work.  Lastly, the motif can also signify a farewell handshake life on earth and the welcome to Heaven, leaving behind what they have known on earth for the sublime pleasures of Heaven.

Cross and Crown

The crown is a symbol of glory and victory over death.  The reward awaits in Heaven where the victor will receive a crown of victory. The cross represents the suffering of Jesus.

Masonic symbol

Inside the shield on one of the four sides of this marker is the most recognizable emblem of the Freemasons, the square and compasses.  In this example the letter “G” appears in the middle of the emblem.  Often the emblem is seen without the letter “G”. Each component of the symbol represents a different Masonic orthodoxy, though, these are not hard and fast: The compasses represent the boundaries of wisdom a person should have the strength to circumscribe and stay within. The square symbolizes virtue in all actions, just as the expression “square deal” means treating people with fairness. The letter “G” seems to have more than one meaning.  It could possibly mean God, as in the creator of the universe; or Gimel, which is the word for the third letter of many Semitic languages.  The number three is significant to many Masonic rituals and beliefs.  Some also believe the “G” may represent geometry.

Broken Chain

In the cemetery, much of the iconography represents a life ended—the winged death’s head, the hanging bud, the broken wheel, the incomplete circle, the column that is broken. This grave marker has a chain that formed into a circle that has a broken link.  This motif essentially combines two symbols representing the end of life—the broken chain and the broken circle.  The symbolism of the broken chain dates dating to Medieval times when people believed that the soul could be held to the body by a “golden chain.” Once the chain was broken, the soul took flight and rose from the body leaving Earth and ascended to Heaven.

Broken bud or flower

The broken bud represents the flower that did not bloom into full blossom, the life that was cut short before it had a chance to grow to adulthood.  The broken flower represents an adult that did grow to maturity but has died—yet another mortality symbol.  The flower in this case is a rose, which is the universal symbol of love.

Kneeling Angel

When looking at gravestones, there is always room for interpretation.  Elisabeth L. Roark wrote an article about angels titled, “Embodying Immortality: Angels in America’s Rural Garden Cemeteries, 1850—1900”, pages 56 – 111, 2007 edition of Markers, XXIV, in which she categorized the eight most commonly found types of graveyard angels—grouped by the task they performed: soul-bearing; praying; decorating and guarding; pointing; recording; trumpeting; sword-bearing (archangel Michael); and child angels. The winged protectors served to watch over the “soul while living, removed occasions of sin and provided protection when danger threatened, interceded on their charges’ behalf, attended at death, eased the transition to the next world, conducted the soul to Heaven, and looked after the grave site and the deceased’s remains until resurrection.”  These were busy angels. In addition to those duties, the praying angels served as an intercessor conveying messages from their charges to Heaven. Though not in this example, these angels are often looking upward toward the Heavens, hands clasped together in prayer, sometimes coupled with emblems of faith, such as, anchors and crosses, often clad in toga-like clothing.

Posted in Symbolism, Zinc Markers | Leave a comment

A Bow and an Arrow


Geb. J. 28, Dec. 1829

Gest. J. 25. Marz 1873

Aged 43 Jahre 3 mo. & 27 Tag.

The small rounded-top tablet of Jakob Zondler, a German American buried in the Congressional Green Cemetery in North Bend, Ohio, displays a bow and arrow in the tympanum or top of the gravestone.  The bow appears to be loaded but while the bowstring is drawn back it is not actually in the arrow’s nock (notch). This is made clear by the fact that the fletching (fins) are outside the bowstring.  Inside the bow are the most common and widely recognized symbols for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows fraternal society, that is, the three-chain links and the letters F, L, T, which signify the organizations motto: Friendship, Love, and Truth.

According to Stacy C. Hollander, curator of the American Folk Art Museum in New York, “These bow and arrow props were used by American Odd Fellows lodges to teach the lessons of friendship in the First Degree of the group’s rituals. The biblical story of the friendship between David and Jonathan, related in the Book of Samuel, was adapted and recounted, explaining that the bow and arrows were used by Jonathan to warn David of danger in returning to King Saul’s court. After 1882, when the group revised its degree structure, the Odd Fellows used the bow and arrows and quiver as symbols in the Second, or Love, Degree. The bow is understood as an emblem of authority, and the arrows symbolize uprightness and truthfulness.”

Posted in Symbolism | Leave a comment

Idealized Beauty



1870 – 1968



1878 – 1952

The white marble gravestone for the Cafferata Family in the New St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio, depicts a mourning figure draped across the top of the stone.  The description of a mourning figure found on a door in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx and described in Sylvan Cemetery: Architecture Art & Landscape at Woodlawn, is fitting for the Cafferata monument: the “flowing figure of a grieving woman, seen… with drapery slipping down to revel a long and sinuous form, a play of curved and angular contour lines.…Her head is bowed and her face hidden from our view signifying the ravages of grief works on the harmony and beauty of the human face.”

These mourning figures are referred to as “weepers.”  Since ancient times, it has been the women who have been the ones in our families and in our society, who showed grief and shed tears over those lost to death. Like the women in ancient times, these sculpted mourning figures are depicted as standing over the graves in sorrow.  In funerary art the women often are depicted as beautiful, young, and voluptuous women wearing revealing clothing as they mourn the dead.

In David Robinson’s book, Saving Graces, which has been referenced many times in this blog, he describes these figures as “grieving women who signify how deeply the deceased is missed.  As symbolic mourners, their idealized beauty is spiritual, representing purity, passion, and commitment…But these women also serve as escorts on the journey ahead.  As designated companions in eternity, they are posted there to watch over and take care of the deceased.  Forever present, they are also forever young…these women symbolize the aspiration of eternal life, not the acceptance of death.  They may grieve, but they also comfort, and in this role, their beauty is more sensual than spiritual.”  Robinson notes that these mourning figures are “Pure on the one hand, sensual on the other, idealized yet lifelike…a very human combination of spiritual devotion and earthly desire.”

The Victorian “weeper” was usually not voluptuous and often portrayed as androgynous, dressed modestly in a diaphanous gown loosely fitted and flowing beyond her feet.

Posted in Saving Graces | 2 Comments

Murder in the Courtroom!



AUGUST 21, 1868

JULY 27, 1909






The inscription on the Nathaniel Parker Willis tombstone refers to his tragic murder.  Parker Willis, the oldest son of Abner Willis and Frances Ellen Willis, was born in Crawfordsville on August 21, 1868.  He was a bright student and a fast study graduating from Crawfordsville High School with a scholarship to Wabash College which he turned down.  Instead he went into the printing business as a apprentice at the local newspaper office, the Crawfordsville Review as a compositor.  Having mastered it, he took a job as a mail carrier, but quickly changed careers again to take over his father’s photography business, which became a huge success, winning him local, state, and national prizes and accolades for his artistic photographic abilities.  Again, Parker Willis changed careers, this time setting up in Chicago where he began selling a cure for the “liquor habit.”

Unlucky in Love

While Parker Willis was in Chicago he fell in love and married but his wife of only a few weeks died.  Several years later he met and married Hattie Bell.  Reportedly, the marriage was not a happy one, but they did produce a daughter, Mary Frances, who Parker Willis adored.  The couple moved from Chicago to Cincinnati and then to Indianapolis.  The moves did not seem to help the relationship and Hattie and Parker Willis divorced.  Hattie moved from various places often secreting the daughter away from Parker Willis without telling him where she was.  Eventually Hattie took Mary Frances to Little Rock, Arkansas, where she married W. Y. Ellis.  Parker Willis stayed devoted to his daughter and worked tirelessly to secure visitation rights.  But on July 27, 1909, when he was petitioning the court to allow Mary Frances to stay with him for a two-week period, he was cut down.  Suddenly, without warning or provocation, W. Y Ellis stood up and shot Parker Willis to death in the courtroom.  In the murder trial that followed, letters from the deceased man revealed him to be a tender and devoted who longed to be able to spend time with his only child.

The Indianapolis Star, August 2, 1909, Monday Edition, page 3, gave a brief accounting of his funeral:


“Citizens Pay Last Tribute to Former Resident, who Was Shot Down In Arkansas Courtroom.

“CRAWFORDSVILEE, Ind. Aug. 1.—The body of Nathaniel Parker Willis of Indianapolis, who was murdered in the Court House at Little Rock, Ark., last Tuesday afternoon; was brought here by a special traction car Sunday, accompanied by many Indianapolis friends and relatives.  The body was taken to the lodgeroom of the Crawfordsville Commandery No. 19, Patriotic Order of Sons of America.  The lodgeroom was thrown open to the public and hundreds of people viewed the remains, which lay in a casket banked with flowers.  The public was then excluded from the lodge services, only the immediate friends and relatives and the members of the P.O.S. of A being permitted to remain.

“Marion E. Clodfelter delivered the funeral oration, in which he told of the life of Parker Willis and ended with the reciting of the story of his death.  At the conclusion of the funeral services the body was escorted to Oak Hill Cemetery, where it was interred by the side of the murdered man’s father, under the ritualistic burial ceremonies of the order.

“The pallbearers with Howard E. Griffith, Sam Billman, Parker Lofland, Jon Brown, Avery Barnes, Claud Griffith, Will Layne, Ralph Steele, O. C. Jarvis, and Samuel D. Symmes.

“The funeral procession was one of the longest ever seen in Crawfordsville, there being at least 100 carriages line.”

The tombstone in the Oak Hill Cemetery in the city of his birth,  Crawfordsville, Indiana, features a bas-relief that commemorates the love between the father and his daughter.  The commissioned bronze was created by George Julian Zolnay.

The Hungarian-born sculptor Zolnay (July 4, 1863 – May 1, 1949) created monumental works of arts including the memorial at the edge of Centennial Park in Nashville, Tennessee, for fallen World War I soldiers. This sculpture shows the full force and emotion of his work. A young soldier, still clutching his rifle lies in the lap of a young woman who cradles him as he dies. Her cape covers them.

Just like other great artists of the time, Zolnay was commissioned to create cemetery memorials. The seated mourning figure was commissioned by David Rowland Francis (October 1, 1850 – January 15, 1927), who served in various political posts such as, Mayor of St. Louis, Governor of Missouri, United States Secretary of the Interior, and Ambassador to Russia. Zolnay’s mourning figure in the Bellefontaine Cemetery, at St. Louis, Missouri, wears a cloak that casts a shadow over her face giving the statue a haunting look.

The sculpture Zolnay created for Confederate President Jefferson Davis (June 3, 1807 – December 6, 1889) in the Hollywood Cemetery, at Richmond, Virginia, shows a proud and unrepentant man. Davis was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point served six years in the United States Army and fought in the Mexican American War (1846–1848). From 1853 to 1857 under President Franklin Pierce, Davis served as Secretary of War. He was also elected as the Democratic U.S. senator from Mississippi. But, Davis, a believer in each states’ right to secede from the Union, was inaugurated as the President of the Confederate States of America on February 18, 1861. He became inextricably linked to the Confederacy and a symbol of the lost cause.

Posted in Artists, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Coded Messages of Flowers


1814 – 1877.



1823 – 1883.

The gravestone for Nathaniel and Madeline Merion can be found in the Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio.  Atop the base is the statue of a mourning figure.  In David Robinson’s book, Saving Graces, depicts photographs of mourning figures from some of the most famous cemeteries in Europe depicting sculptures of beautiful, young, and voluptuous women often wearing revealing clothing as they mourn the dead. However, unlike her European counterparts, the Victorian “weeper” was usually not voluptuous and often portrayed as androgynous, dressed modestly in a diaphanous gown loosely fitted and flowing beyond her feet.

Often these sepulchral figures are referred to “saving graces” and often as “weepers,” and are intended to represent mourning and sorrow.  Since ancient times, women have been the ones in our families and in our society, who showed grief and shed tears over those lost to death. Like the women in ancient times, these sculptures are depicted as standing over the graves in sorrow.

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.”  The mourning figure on the Merion monument appears to be in the last category.

In this example the figure is holding an hourglass in one hand and what looks to be a large bouquet of hydrangea in the other.  The symbolism of the hourglass is obvious—time is fleeting, as the long-running soap opera, Days of Our Lives, reminded us with their catchphrase,  “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” The meaning of that catchphrase is clear–life passes by very quickly.  Life measured by the grains of sand slip through one side of the hourglass to the other in a flash.  The hourglass symbol on a gravestone, often shown with wings, represents the same thought of time fleeting by quickly.

The hydrangea, if that is what it is, is a bit of a mystery.  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 1884, Kate Greenaway, a popular author and illustrator published a book titled, the Language of Flowers.  According to her book, each flower had a meaning that was conveyed to the viewer or receiver of the flower or bouquet of flowers—for instance, the weeping willow represented mourning, the white lily represented purity, the Easter lily represented the Resurrection, and so on.

The book is a nearly complete listing of flowers along with their “secret” or symbolic meanings.  On page 22, she describes the meaning behind the hydrangea as “a boaster, Heartlessness.”  So, what could that cryptic message symbolize to the viewer of the monument?  Does Death, in this coded message, represent heartlessness?

Posted in Saving Graces, Symbolism | 2 Comments

Honoring Those Who Served

Not far outside Bloomington, Indiana, is a small country cemetery.  Like many of the cemeteries in Indiana, the stone carvers’ unique work can be found on the gravestones.  The Mt. Ebal Cemetery has two such stones marking the graves of two soldiers—one who fought in the Civil War and one who fought in World War I.



JULY 6, 1846

SEPT. 14, 1930




OCT. 20, 1844

MAY 17, 1943


The William Meadows gravestone has an inset with a bas-relief of a Union soldier carved into it.  Even without knowing what war Meadows fought in the skill and detail of the stone carver makes it clear that it was the Civil War.  Meadows stands as if he is ready to march into battle, clutching his Springfield rifle, bayonet hanging from his belt, and his Haversack and bed roll on his back.  Meadows died just five months short of his 99th birthday and the one memory he wished to preserve for all to know and see was his service to his country—carved into his gravestone as an image and recording the unit in which he served.



BORN 1889

DIED 1938


16th INF.

The bas-relief carving of the World War I soldier on the front of the gravestone most likely represents James Butcher himself.  In the sculpture, the solider appears to be marching forward possibly through water that is splashing up on both sides of him.  He is wearing the uniform of the day—steel helmet with chin strap, the brown woolen uniform with the knee breeches and carrying a rifle with the bayonet attached.  Peaking up from his shoulders is the rolled up anti-gas cape and loosely hanging around his neck is a respirator made necessary by the gas that was used during WW I.  The determined look on his face expresses a soldier ready to take the fight to the enemy.

On this day, we give thanks to all those soldiers who served and protected America and most especially to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Neo-Classical Angel

The neo-classical angel on this white marble gravestone in the Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio, looks downward with a sorrowful expression as she leans against the torch, the flames curling at its base.   The beautifully carved bas-relief angel is on a gravestone from the 1850s.  Unfortunately the name of the deceased is difficult to discern.

The flame on the gravestone is symbolic of the soul.  The inverted torch represents a life that has been extinguished.  Angels are popular images found in cemeteries throughout the world.  The English word “angel,” is derived from the Greek word “aggelos” meaning messenger or herald.  Here the angel brings the news that a life has been lost.

Posted in Angels, Symbolism | 3 Comments

COVID-19 Strikes

During a bad bout of cabin fever, I decided to drive the four hours to Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio, 317 landscaped acres of gravestones, mausoleums, and memorials.  The famous, such as Eddie Rickenbacker and James Thurber, as well as, the not-so-famous are buried in this beautifully planned garden cemetery.

I knew that I would be far from the maddening crowds and safe from the virus—cemeteries are naturally practicing social distancing.  All the residents are six feet away, or well, six feet under.

As you drive down the long lane into the cemetery, on the left side is a life-sized sculpture of a Native American, tomahawk and all, marking the Gabriel Family plot.  Unfortunately, the day I visited the cemetery, safety practices for COVID-19 had been put in place and the sculpture was wearing a red paisley handkerchief mask—as they say, “Mask-it or Casket”, so I didn’t have a chance to see the full face of the sculpture, which I imagine to be stern and regal.  I hope my next trip the cemetery will be after the virus has been wrangled to the ground and stamped out and the face of the sculpture will be revealed in all of its glory!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Crown and the Angel

Elisabeth L. Roark wrote an article about cemetery angels titled, “Embodying Immortality: Angels in America’s Rural Garden Cemeteries, 1850—1900”, pages 56 – 111, 2007 edition of Markers, XXIV, in which she categorized the eight most commonly found types of graveyard angels—grouped by the task they performed: soul-bearing; praying; decorating and guarding; pointing; recording; trumpeting; sword-bearing (archangel Michael); and child angels.

Angels are popular images found in cemeteries in America and throughout the Christian world.  The English word “angel,” is derived from the Greek word “aggelos” meaning messenger or herald.  Angels can be found in cemeteries in all shapes and sizes and in many different mediums including carved stone bas-reliefs on gravestones, full sculptures, and even in glass.

The stained-glass window angel in a John Beals Brown Neo-classical mausoleum in the Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio, does not fit nicely into one of the eight categories of most-commonly found angels outlined in Roark’s article.  She holds a crown in one hand—presumably to crown the deceased members buried in the tomb and a palm frond in the other–both symbols of victory over death.

The crown is a symbol of glory and reward and victory over death.  The reward comes after life and the hard-fought battle on Earth against the wages of sin and the temptations of the flesh.  The reward awaits in Heaven where the victor will receive a crown of victory.  The crown also represents the sovereign authority of the Lord.

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.

Posted in Angels, Mausoleums, Symbolism | 2 Comments


In 1959, MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) released the epic film, Ben-Hur, which was the most expensive motion picture produced up to that time—costing slightly over 15 million dollars!  As the expression goes, it had a cast of thousands, literally.  10,000 extras were used in the making of the movie, along with over 200 camels and 2,500 horses.  The movie starred Charleton Heston, who had already played a bigger-than-life Moses in the production of The Ten Commandments.  With a marketing budget that was nearly as much as it cost to produce the movie, it was soon the second highest-grossing film at the time, second only to Gone with the Wind.  The Academy Award-winning movie was a remake of a 1925 silent film also based on Lew Wallace’s book, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.

The book, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, was published in 1880, and was a best-selling novel that secured the Wallace family’s fortunes.  While Lewis “Lew” Wallace (April 10, 1827 – February 15, 1905) born in Brookville, Indiana, is widely remembered for the novel, which has been called “the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century,” he had a career that included the law, military, and diplomatic service.  He served in the Mexican-American War and the Civil War.  He served as Governor of the New Mexico Territory and as Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.  Wallace eventually returned to Crawfordsville, Indiana, where he made his last home, where he continued to write and publish.  He died in 1905, and was buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Crawfordsville—his grave marked by the tallest monument in the cemetery—a light gray granite obelisk that is carved with an American flag draped over the point.

In 1928, the Georgia Marble Company of Tate, Georgia, produced a marketing piece in the form of a book titled, Memorials: To-Day for To-Morrow written by William Henry Deacy. The book was designed to showcase their memorial designs by highlighting them in the book with lush full-color watercolor illustrations of the various memorials. Along with the illustrations the book provided explanations of the symbolism found in the memorials. The book also coupled an architectural drawing of how the memorial is to be made. The monument they chose to highlight on pages 62-64 was the obelisk.

After the French and British occupations of Egypt, there was a renewed interest in Egyptian architecture and symbolism in America, including the obelisk, those tall thin four-sided columns that tapered upward and then end in a pyramid at the top.  The obelisk is a ubiquitous gravestone shape found in American graveyards.

The author, Mr. Deacy, makes the following claim in the Georgia Marble Company book (page 63), “The steeple of the Church symbolizes the spiritual and uplifting power of religion and the moral aspiration of man. It was evolved from the obelisks which stood before Egyptian temple—emblems of the sun god Ra and the regeneration of man. It has long been a favored form for the civic and private memorial. Towering heavenward from a sightly (sic) location, the obelisk probably ranks among the most simple and impressive of all monuments.”

The book goes on to say that the obelisk is highlighted best when it is featured by itself, with no other monuments nearby to distract from its elegant and graceful shape. It also says that, “various pedestal forms are used to support the shaft or spire…and while they attain a rather graceful continuity of line, nevertheless, no type of base or support rivals the simple three steps, which if properly subordinated in scale, tend to increase the effect of height….

The entire book can be found at the Quarries and Beyond Website:

The Quarries and Beyond Website was created by Peggy B. and Patrick Perazzo. It focuses on historic stone quarries, stone workers and companies, and related subjects such as geology. Whenever possible links of finished products are provided on the Website. There is a “Quarry Articles” section that presents articles, booklets, and links from the late 1800s to early 1900s, including the 1856 “The Marble-Workers’ Manual.” The “Cemetery Stones and Monuments” section provides references and resources, including many old monument magazines, catalogs, price lists, and a photographic tour “From Quarry to Cemetery Monuments.”


Posted in Famous graves, Symbolism | 1 Comment