The Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago Illinois was not a place I had been long aspiring to visit. In fact, I had never heard of it until a friend of my wife's somehow mentioned that they were researching family genealogy and had an ancestor buried there. As it happens we were going to be passing through a week later, and when a quick peek at Google Earth satellite view looked promising it was declared an official destination.
And it was well worth it. It had more examples of Tree Shaped Tombstones than any other cemetery I had visited and some interesting variations and flourishes.
This was not a total surprise, I have seen enough photos of Chicago area monuments to know that the level of craftsmanship of their carvers was high. And certain cultures such as the Bohemians just seem to have a bit more "flair" about their tombstones.
Settle in for an extended visit. If you like Tree Shaped Tombstones it will be well worth your time.
First of all, there are a lot of them. I'm pretty sure I saw over a hundred in my incomplete dash through the place. Here is a thicket of "Tree and Book" variants.
One of the first interesting things I discovered was that the Bohemians often put actual pictures of the deceased on the monuments. These are rather clever, a photo printed onto porcelain, and have held up pretty well over a century or more.
On a visit of this sort I can't spend much time on identical monuments, even if they would have been the most interesting one in a lesser cemetery. But I always do a quick scan of the base in search of a maker's mark. You see these very rarely, I think I had found five before this trip. But in the Bohemian National Cemetery maker's marks were actually rather common. You saw this one the most:
A. Heller probably had a shop nearby and may have even had some official status. I have not found much information on him yet, even in the fascinating newsletter put out by the Friends of the Bohemian National Cemetery.
I must with regret note that the monuments I saw in such abundance did seem to be weathering more than usual. Damp conditions, perhaps big city air quality. So I can squint at this inscription and speculate on a different maker's mark but can't be sure.
Another interesting observation: Bohemians really like the "clasped hands" image for husband and wife monuments. There were quite a few variants, some of them artistically delightful.
Interestingly the feminine hand seems to always be on the left.
My spouse was as usual being a good sport about all this, and hoping to get a few points in my oft overdrawn account I suggested to her that when I commission our own Tree Shaped Tombstone that it would be a nice touch to have clasped hands. She said she did not care for them and that it reminded her of Cousin Itt from The Addams Family.
It became obvious quickly that there was too much here to cover in a single blog post. Come back next time for more. I confess, I am saving the good stuff!