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!