Thursday, August 30, 2012

Back to Axman Surplus

I was in St. Paul, and robotics class is starting earlier this year.  Time for a trip to my favorite surplus store, Axman Surplus.  Axman is a pretty cool place, although it is getting a little harder to find great deals on electronic components.  It seems to have caught on a bit amongst the urban hip, and it might be influencing the merchandise assortment.

But it does make for some very creative decor.  The sales staff are very hip, and near as I can tell they get to use anything in the store for display purposes.  Lately they have been going crazy with things suspended from the ceiling.

Near the military surplus aisle where a large box of field dressings does not seem to be selling quickly.  This guy is creepy because you could imagine a scenario where there is only half a guy hanging there.  Or is that just me?

The neon lights make difficult, but interesting photos.  Here we have a cheerful bear preparing to strafe us with smiling doll heads.

Stuka Bear's clone is part of this odd assemblage.  A large book.  a Teddy bear.  Wheels and lights.  And...

Some kind of hipster Borg Queen I guess.  Vaguely menacing, but not as alarming as this item near the back of the store:

It appears to be a (hopefully) deactivated military anti-tank rocket.  Ping pong balls for eyes.  Some kind of video cables for legs.  The wings, your guess is as good as mine.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Forgotten Brewery Caves-Treampealeau, Wisconsin

Here is a nice summary from a 1937 article in the Galesville Republic:

Overlooking the river in Treampealeau stands a rambling old building which is one of the most interesting landmarks on the Upper Mississippi.  For seventy years, the place has been known as the Melchoir House.  Once it was a famous hostelry and brewery.  In days even before the Civil War, Jacob Melchoir stood in the doorway and waved greetings to the steamboat pilots as they steamed north to St. Paul or south to St. Louis.  Mr. Melchoir gave most of his time to the manufacture of beer, while his wife conducted the hotel.  Before the engine room was built the Melchoir brewing methods were primitive, the first batch of beer being made over the kitchen stove.  In the rear of the building, and extending into the bluff, Mr. Melchoir had three excavations made.  These caves were used as storage ripening rooms for the newly brewed beer.  Within time the temperature was fort-four degrees the year round.  These caves were seven or eight feet in height and were connected by passages made by widening a natural fault in the sandstone.  The two larger ones were ventilated by shafts dug through the earth and rock.  The entire building, excepting the wooden addition, also has caves underneath.  In fact, the place has, including the caves, more capacity underground than above..."


While on our August road trip my brother and I visited the site.  It stands pretty much as described;


The walls, or at least the front wall, stands tall on a road just north of town.  Peering inside you see:
The opening into a partly natural, partly man made system of caves.


Roots trailing down from above.  I wonder if the trough in the floor held ice?  And is that the ventilation shaft mentioned in the article, there in the ceiling right in the back of the cave?

There were actually several entrance points, perhaps this one went into the now vanished wooden portion of the brewery.

This site was nice and tidy, no spray paint, no garbage.  There did not seem to be a problem with a respectful visit, but as with all such sites, be an excellent citizen if you stop by.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Shrinking World of Chatty Belle the Cow

You really do not want to be in the car behind us when my brother and I go road tripping.  All too often we spot something interesting, brake and do some sort of U-turn-generally while saying something inane like "Bring us about Mr. Sulu".  Hmm, you probably do not want to be in the car with us either.

One such bad driver maneuver occurred on the outskirts of Neillsville, Wisconsin.  We had to stop.  I spotted this:
This odd looking structure is a combination radio station and cheese house.  It is also the futuristic entryway to the Wisconsin pavilion from the 1964 World's Fair.  Neither the radio station nor the wares were all that fascinating though, we really stopped to see this:

Behold "Chatty Belle", the World's Largest Talking Cow.  Chatty stands in solitary majesty overlooking the parking lot, but she once had company:

Bullet it seems was her "son", who was in some fashion stunted in growth and no larger than an ordinary Holstein. 

Of course I had to put a quarter in and hear what Chatty had to say.  It was....not what I had expected.  I had imagined a cow would have a deep, sonorous voice.  And a broad, perhaps corny sense of humor.  And that she would have a few things to say about being a cow.  Certainly I was prepared to be admonished to consume more dairy products.  I could write such good material for Chatty..."LLLLACTOSE INTOLERANCE IS A BUNCH OF COWPATTIES!", or "PLEASE BUY MORE MILK, THE FARMER HAS McDONALDS ON SPEED DIAL AND I DON'T TRUST HIM!".

But no.  Plunking in two bits got me a brief lecture about the World's Fair Pavilion.  And it was delivered in a calm, measured, well modulated "radio voice" that was without question the product of one of the radio station's female broadcasters.  By Colby, she did not even mention being a cow.  No attempt whatsoever at maintaining the illusion.

There are actually quite a few websites that discuss or picture Chatty Belle, and I understand that her pitch has evolved over the years.  Her world has changed.  Her son Bullet was removed in 2003.  Supposedly put away somewhere due to the threat of vandalism, but if you are a real cow I suppose the reality of veal cutlets can never be far from your thoughts.  She also used to have as company a glass sided refrigerated truck containing The Golden Giant, which at 17 tons was certainly the Worlds Largest Replica cheese.  Also gone in 2005, as maintaince costs on the truck got prohibitive.

So I guess Chatty's world is shrinking, is closing in on her.  We no longer have World's Fairs.  Wisconsin is to our collective shame now second to California in dairy production.  AM radio is losing popularity to those hipsters with their "devices".

So I can understand her being in denial.
For more about Chatty Belle consider this an excellent excuse to click on the Roadside America link on my side bar.  It is an indispensable travel companion for road trips.  And for the slightly obsessive work of a man who seems to have tracked down a half dozen Chatty clones (products of course of FAST Industries), go here.  I was not at all surprised to find that there was at least one identical talking cow previously in existence, but "Sissy" like Chatty, has run out of things to say about being a bovine, and is now entirely mute.
          

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The terrible Ivy of Wrigley Field

A diversion today.  Consider it a side trip from the road trip.  But after recent musings on how baseball reflects America I saw a brief item on the Minnesota Twins website that agitated me a bit.

OAKLAND -- Twins center fielder Denard Span was scheduled to get an MRI exam on his right clavicle on Tuesday, but couldn't get through the exam because he was claustrophobic.

Sigh.

Alright, lets just acknowlege up front that Denard Span is a very good ball player, and by all accounts a very good person.  Further, I will concede that being cooped up in an MRI machine for half an hour is difficult for many.  It is a narrow space, dimly lit and full of assorted mechanical clanks and whirrs that bring to mind every Hollywood sinking submarine movie ever made.  Denard tried taking some anxiety reducing medication but it was no go.

But still.

My all time baseball phobia story is of a certain Lou Novikoff, sometimes called "The Mad Russian".  He played for the Chicago Cubs in the talent starved wartime years.  He was not a bad player by the low standards of that era....but he was deathly afraid of the ivy that covers the walls at Wrigley Field.  When a fly ball went deep Lou would back up a certain distance and then stop. 

This was clearly an issue for his manager, a long suffering fellow named Charlie Grimm.  Charlie did all that he could...and then some.  He brought in samples of poisonous plants to show The Mad Russian the difference between them and ivy.  In desparation he even took ivy leaves and rubbed them all over his own face and hands to prove they were harmless.  He took a few leaves and chewed them up!  All to no avail.

The Cubs tolerated Novikoff for four years.  In part of course due to the talent drought with all the star athletes being in Uncle Sam's uniforms.  But perhaps part of the tolerance relates to another fact.  I have not been able to find exactly what Navikoff was paid, but the average major league salary in the wartime years was just under $11,000 a year, and was in fact a little less than the average American wage earner took home at that time.

Mr. Span's 2012 salary is three million dollars, as compares to an average per capita income for Americans today of around $40,000.

So for that kind of princely riches I think we lowly bleacher sitters should demand a little more effort.  Trust me on this one Denard, we have some very excellent medications that would ensure that you have no cares at all during the procedure and for the better part of the day thereafter!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Forgotten Brewery Caves-Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin

(We all have things we look for on road trips...mine are probably just a bit odder than yours...)

When brewing reached Wisconsin in the 1840s and 50s it was concurrent with a significant change in technology.  And taste.  Lager beer was becoming popular, replacing the ales and assorted birch and ginger beers that had previously held sway.  Lager beer requires considerable time to age, and has to do so at cool temperatures.  In a day before mechanical refrigeration this meant you had to store it in a cave.*

Most early breweries had such storage caves.  A few such as Miller Caves have persisted and even become attractions.  But most of the small breweries died off, and the few that survived went over to refrigeration units long ago.

So, mostly because they fascinate me, I will be taking the occasional peek into forgotten brewery caves from the 19th century.

First up is Chippewa Falls.  Go to Irvine Park and look for this sign:
Follow a footpath along a pleasant creek and you come to this sight:

This is a cave used for storage of beer by a certain F.X. Schmidmeyer.  He seems to have started his brewery in 1866, preceding the better known and still extant Leinenkugels brewery by a year.  He purchased the site in 1871 and hauled his barrels clear across town and out into the woods to use this cave.  It was a natural cavern with a gently flowing spring.  He enlarged it and added a shaft to lower kegs down from above.  Also an iron gate to prevent any unauthorized withdrawals!
This is a view from inside looking out.  The cement pad is a later addition.

The shaft for lowering kegs is still visible.  I should think there was some sort of crane or windlass up above, but no trace of it can be seen.

The walls are a pleasing mix of hues, with modern graffiti and cutting marks from the original excavation.  There is the gentle sound of running water, and on a warm August day it was quite nice inside.  A large frog guarded the entrance and took a hop into a shallow pool.  In this drought year it was almost the first one I had seen.

There is a story that later on the cave was used to house bears, as Irvine Park has long had a little municipal zoo.  It seems pretty dark and gloomy, not so great for visitors to see the critters.  So I suspect this tale is a tall one.  I see no traces of bars anywhere, and the modern concrete is probably from later use by Leinenkugels who seem to have had some arrangement to use it after Schmidmeyer went out of business.
For sure a more modern, but already abandoned, bear cage sits right next door to the cave;

 The line of grass looks to be where the bars used to stand.  The sidewalk in front was for spectators.  The poor bears did not have a lot of space.  But there was a small enclosure, perhaps for cubs?

And a little bath tub for cooling off, now full of sticks and twigs.

It is a very pleasant site, with a picturesque creek running in front and with the smell of hops and malt from the nearby Leinenkugels brewery.  So don't feel too badly for the confined bruins of yesteryear.  Besides, some years back they moved to more spacious quarters elsewhere in the park.
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*Not 100% true, if you had a local lake to harvest in winter you could have an ice house above ground.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Minor League Baseball-The Turtle and the Snake

"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game and do it by watching first some high-school or small-town teams."
                                                                                       ---Jacques Barzun

A good road trip needs an excuse to happen.  In the case of our recent jaunt it was simply that my brother and I had not had a recent opportunity to take in an enjoyable baseball game.  And since the Major League experience has become expensive and otherwise unsatisfactory to us we decided to head out and catch a couple of Minor League games. 

We only had time for two, one each in the home fields of the Beloit Snappers and of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.  If you are interested in such details they are each a single A affiliate of a big league club.  The Snaps are a subsidiary of the Minnesota Twins.  The Rattlers, of the Milwaukee Brewers.

For a few insights you might enjoy, here are my observations on "the realities of the game" and on the "heart and mind of America".

MASCOTS

Meet Snappy D. Turtle, Mascot of the Beloit Snappers:
Snappy struck me as an ideal mascot.  He (actually lots of the people in the suits are shes) worked the crowd, clowned around, did a little dancing.  Interactions with fans were frequent and seemed to be enjoyed by both parties.  (admittedly with these mascot suits you have to rely on body language to tell these things).  Oh, and Snappy looks great on merchandise....here is my new favorite baseball cap:
The Timber Rattlers on the other hand have "Fang".  I would think it a difficult task to pull off a convincing snake impersonation when you are of the bipedal persuasion, and the look is just not quite right:


Sorry for the low res pics, but Fang pretty much just hung out in the Rattlers dugout.  I suppose he (and I really think this is a former player for some reason) is just following orders, but I never got the sense that Fang was that interested in the fans.


BALLPARK FOOD AND DRINK
Once again I am going to give the edge to Beloit.  The brats were hot and tasty.  The concessions staff were jovial.  They serve beverages from Horny Goat, a small craft brewery.  When I ordered a couple of "blonde lagers" the burly order taker got a big grin on his face, and yelled over his shoulder "I need a couple of horny blondes!".  There was really nothing wrong with the chow and suds at the Timber Rattlers park.  It was just kind of boring, and served by kids whose enthusiasm is understandably directed elsewhere.

ENERGY LEVEL
Boy, what a difference.  We arrived at both parks about 20 minutes before game time.  My brother and I are serious fans you see, not the sort who would ever, EVER turn up after the National Anthem.  At Beloit we parked in a one quarter full lot and could not at first tell where the ball park was.  Eventually we followed a solitary guy who seemed to be moving with a purpose.  We passed a single group happily tail gating and arrived here:
Contrast this with the Timber Rattlers.  We had managed our time a little better and so walked from our lodgings.  As we approached the ball park there were lines of cars waiting to park.  There were lots of people in line to get into the stadium.  They even had a rock band getting people fired up as they entered the park!

I have to say, this is marketing genius.  You could easily find garage bands willing to make some noise for free food and a little exposure. 

The Snappers park is a homey place.  It was comfortable and we had plenty of room around us.  This is actually a plus for us, as we can carry on a running commentary, predict the next pitch or running play and so forth without bugging anyone.  The attendance was announced at about 1,000, but there seemed to actually be around 500 fans in attendance.  Lots of empty seats on a fine Friday night.


And here the Rattlers park!  My goodness, it is bigger, newer, pretty much full.....they have a Jumbotron scoreboard, a real announcer, even fireworks after the game!  The announced crowd was 5,000, which seemed about accurate.
So what would Jacques Barzun have to say about all this?  Well, I suppose we could ask him, he is apparently still alive at the age of 104.  But lets allow the old gent some peace and quiet.

At first glance it looks as if the Rattlers are a resounding success, and the Snappers a dowdy backwater.  "Someone needs to spend some money on the Beloit team", was my brother's comment.

But first impressions can fool you.  The real purpose of a single A ball club is to develop talent for the Big Club.  If the relative success of the Twins and the Brewers over the last decade is any measure, Beloit is doing the better job.  And isn't nurturing a budding young baseball talent much like a family doing the same for a talented child?  And in a head to head comparison, we acknowledge the achievements of a wealthy family in turning out an exceptional young person....but we celebrate and applaud when a family of modest means does so.

The Beloit stadium is in a municipal park.  It is nestled in between tennis courts, a softball complex, an ice arena.  All are well maintained. The entire unit is cohesive and makes sense.  It hearkens back a little to Roman city development where theater, amphitheater and other public spaces would be grouped together.  Beloit was dowdy, true, but the sum of the parts was pleasing.

The Timber Rattlers stadium is in Appleton, a nice comfortable town.  I hear it is prosperous.  The crowd was larger, more enthusiastic. They were having fun, which is a very fine thing.  But as we walked home post game-likely being the sole pedestrian fans that night-we noticed things.  Brand spanking new construction abandoned.  Businesses that had sprung up in recent boom times and then failed.  Particularly interesting was a massive Italian restaurant.  It probably could have seated the entire crowd at Beloit.  It was out of business.  The axe must have fallen quite recently, there were still new looking banners that told a tale of their last days.  Ten Dollars for Wine all Day, and LADIES NIGHT EVERY THURSDAY.  The place looked to have gone bust so recently that we wondered if a few happy, wine soused Ladies were still snoozing under tables in the distant reaches of the place.

So, the heart and mind of America.  Take your pick I guess.  Exuberant expansion and energy, with the promise of greatness and the realization that sometimes the dice roll badly...or a quieter, sustainable world that looks a bit dowdy and tired?
------------
Addendum 11 October, 2012.  After their season ended the Beloit Snappers were dropped by their "parent" club the Minnesota Twins.  The Twins were coming off a second horrific season and heads were rolling up and down the ranks of the organization.  It is difficult to see just how Snappy D. Turtle had much to do with the matter, but there you go.  For the 2013 season the Snappers will be an Oakland Athletics affiliate.  Their green and gold uniforms will be a nice color fit for Snappy.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Pictures from a Road Trip

I am posting tired tonight, after a 900 mile road trip with my brother.  Some interesting tales to tell in the days ahead, but for today just a few random images:
I did not know what to make of this one.  The address of this apartment in a small Wisconsin town really did not look as if it had recently been a dentist's office, nor was it likely to be mistaken for such for any other reason I could discern.  I took this picture because it nicely summarizes my opinions on dentists as well, while acknowledging that my own long suffering guy is both pleasant and capable....

In a microscopic hamlet that was made up of several abandoned storefronts and two functioning taverns.  My brother noted a basketball court down by the creek.  There was a flat ball on the court, but several better ones stashed in the weeds.  He felt it necessary to run around a little and shoot some baskets.

Across the street I shot some pictures.

Lots of people photograph ghost signs on old buildings.  Here is one on a long abandoned semi trailer.  The words read "If you want anything in Lion Country just roar.  The logo is of Lion Oil Company, which seems to still be in business as an oil distributor.  But their current logo:

Sure does not resemble this goofy character.  80s art I think...

Now in Wisconsin you see lots of big fiberglass animals used in ads and so forth.  I hardly even notice them as I go about my business.  But this one caught my eye because at first I thought he was sporting an Elvis pompadour hairstyle.  But no, on closer inspection it was just a Cheesehead.  For those of you unfamiliar with this odd local costume the story is here: say cheese!

I thought he was sort of charming, and made the mistake of getting in for a close up shot....
Yikes! Run for it!

More road stories to come...

Friday, August 17, 2012

Okie from Muskogee....43 years later

I was surprised to learn recently that Merle Haggard was still alive and touring at age 75.  Well, I suppose my surprise was at the first part because ginned up tribute bands notwithstanding, touring after you are dead is not possible.

Given his hard living life style-and has there ever been a performer more aptly named?-I rather suspect Mr. Haggard himself is almost as surprised.
It got me to thinking about his signature song "Okie from Muskogee" and how it has held up over the years.  It was recorded in 1969, right after Merle had gotten out of prison.  Supposedly it was at least partly satire, but it seemed to resonate with average Americans concerned that their country was in moral decline.  Not that we have any such worries in 2012...

With my contemporary comments, here is "Okie from Muskogee", 41 years later:



 We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee;
We don't take our trips on LSD
(this is half true.  I see plenty of drug screens positive for THC in the ER, but can't recall the last time LSD has turned up)
We don't burn our draft cards down on Main Street;
We like livin' right, and bein' free.
(true.  the antimiltary spirit of 1969 has been replaced by near universal admiration)

I'm proud to be an Okie from Muskogee,
A place where even squares can have a ball
We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,
And white lightnin's still the biggest thrill of all
(boring people still enjoying life, check.  flag at courthouse, check.  alcohol as main mood altering substance, check but see also above.)

We don't make a party out of lovin';
We like holdin' hands and pitchin' woo;
We don't let our hair grow long and shaggy,
Like the hippies out in San Francisco do.
(mixed picture.  San Fran hipsters now likely have short hair and a soul patch.  regular folks might have a "mullet".  nobody has used the term "pitching woo" since 1969, but the sentiments still hold true.)

And I'm proud to be an Okie from Muskogee,
A place where even squares can have a ball.
We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,
And white lightnin's still the biggest thrill of all.

Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear;

(yep)
Beads and Roman sandals won't be seen.
(well, not very often)
Football's still the roughest thing on campus,
And the kids here still respect the college dean.
(half true.  College Football is more violent and tragically tolerant of horrific behaviour.  kids may not respect the college dean these days, but ironically it is likely because he or she may well be significantly to the left, not to the right of their students politically!)

We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,
In Muskogee, Oklahoma, USA.


So Merle got things mostly right, and it is comforting to know that for all the changes since then the America of my younger days is still alive and kicking despite much hardship and troubles.

As is Mr. Haggard.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Life as a Janitor

A few weeks back Spouse and I declared Mission Accomplished as our last kid graduated from High School and got a job. 

He works at the local brewery, which happens to be across the street from the Community Garden.  This morning I was on my way down to water our distressed patch of weeds and I saw Number Three Son doing some outdoor work*.  I waved to him and had a revelation:

"I could go down there every day, check up on how hard he is working, and have a cold glass of beer in the Hospitality Room!"

Although for the life of me I cannot think of any reason that I can't do this, Spouse has pointed out several reasons why I shouldn't.

This has not been the only mental adaptation necessary.  A few weeks ago he was in High School.  Wearing a shirt with any reference to beer was banned by dress code.  Now, required by dress code.

And under the wide ranging rules on such matters, in High School anything remotely resembling a weapon was banned by regulations that were enforced in draconian fashion.  Now?  Spouse noted that as he was heading out the door he put some sort of Swiss Army/Leatherman/pocket knife device in his pocket.

Spouse: "Are you sure that's OK?"

Son #3:  "Mom, I AM a janitor!"

Why yes, yes you are.  And from what I can see waving and strolling by, a darned fine one at that.
--------------
*It is hard to describe the pleasure in seeing your kid hard at work when you have the day off.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Paging Brother Theodore....

I consider my work less interesting than my outside hobbies, but as I have mentioned from time to time I am an Emergency Room doctor.

It is something that I rather got into by accident, but it is a remarkably steady form of employment.  You  can't outsource me to the Far East, and unless mankind (less often womankind) develop more common sense there will be ongoing demand for somebody whose assignment is to patch things up.

In fact, I get phone calls, letters, emails every week offering me more work.

I have attained, shall we say, a level of seniority that makes job shopping of less interest, but every now and then an offer comes along that catches my eye.

In a recent email a recruiting agency was extolling the usual virtues of a practice opportunity, great schools, lovely river town, signing bonus, etc.  Then they added:

"  * A professional Scribe will work with you on every shift providing efficiency and a great work environment"

Whoa, really?
I suppose what they really mean would be some computer savvy nerd or nerdette who would make fingers fly over the keyboards and by sheer coincidence be well versed in the tricks of the trade that allowed maximal billing.

Intriguing, but not enough to lure me.  Although I "went electronic"  late in life I am actually rather proficient with the computerized record system and can type like nobody's business.  That class in high school where I was just about the only guy in a room full of gals hovering over IBM electric typewriters continues to pay dividends.

But a real medieval monk/scribe could come in handy from time to time.  End of life issues for instance.  One of our staff doctors is a former Lutheran minister and it seems to serve her well.  But I wonder if some of our patients, those whose feet have perhaps strayed farthest from the paths of righteousness and virtue might feel a little intimidated by Brother Theodore.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Tree Shaped Tombstones-Christ on the Tree

So far all the examples I have found of a crucified Jesus on a Tree Tombstone are from small town Catholic cemeteries.  But my research is ongoing.
The last two images are from locations 70 miles apart, and have enough differences that it was clearly not a "stock image".  But stylistically they sure look like the work of the same craftsman.

Pending more finds, which will likely disprove my theories, I guess it makes sense that we would be seeing Christ on the Tree in Catholic burial yards.  The Catholic Church has always had a bit more realism in such depictions, I recall being a bit shocked when as a young Lutheran lad I occasionally attended a Catholic church and saw the brutally realistic statuary of Christ on the Cross.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tree Shaped Tombstones-Catholic Variants

Some times I vary my commuting routes so as to pass through smaller communities.  It breaks up the monotony, and I can continue my search for odd bits of Americana.  I have found more "Tree Shaped Tombstones" and in some interesting variations.

These examples come from cemeteries further north, and from a couple of Catholic ones.  I had previously been of the opinion that "Trees" were less common in Catholic than Protestant cemeteries, but this seems not to be true.
This is a strange one.  It is of the "stack of logs" type and sits on a plinth of a different color.  The stone proper seems to be limestone covered with a slip of plaster.  Not really a pleasing effect after all these years, one supposes they were trying to look like upscale marble.  As you will note, this is a genuine Woodman marker:

Here is another official Woodman marker.  I think that an organization so named would be OK with a large shrub nudging in on things....

And here is a Woodmen marker without any tree elements.  Lots of ferns and vines though..

Evidently the Woodmen gave you a choice about what kind of marker you would get.  I see some grey showing through near the top, so perhaps this is another faux marble stone but somewhat better done.

And talking about vines, here is an example just full of them.  It is also the farthest north "tree" to date:

And here is an interesting pairing.  An elaborate tree shaped tombstone-note the inset log near the bottom and the Christ on the rugged tree-next to an actual tree stump!  It appears that the real tree was starting to displace the false one.

Jesus on the Tree appears to be specific to Catholic cemeteries, at least so far.  I have found examples in two widely separate communities that may be the work of a single craftsman.  Next time a series of these...