Monday, October 1, 2012

Tree Shaped Tombstones-Classification and Theories

Note:  It is October, and with Halloween coming up it seems a good time to toss out a few posts on one of my hobbies, Tree Shaped tombstones...


When I mentioned to someone that I was starting to classify the tree shaped tombstones he said it sounded like another book coming on.

Gosh I hope not.  But near as I can figure it is a topic not found in compact form anywhere on the internet, so I suppose I am now an Authority of some sort.

Here are the basic "Trees".  Entirely arbitrary by the way.  Don't argue with the Authority

This is the "Rustic Cross".  They vary from a 90 degree angle crucifix with bark to more subtle versions in which chopped off tree limbs project at various angles.  Like other tombstones in the "tree family" a version of this was being sold by Sears Roebuck by 1902.  It went for $35.33 plus of course shipping and handling.  Oh, extra for the lettering too.

This is what I refer to as a "stump", which I define as any tree shaped tombstone less than adult height.  They rest on various sorts of bases, and sometimes have secondary decorations as in this case with a GAR medal and flag.  Sears also sold something very much like this, although in marble rather than the limestone I more commonly see in these parts.

I am calling anything taller than I am a tree.  They come in various sizes, this beauty is the tallest I have yet encountered...looks to be 13 or 14 feet.

Here are a couple of less common types.  I call this the "single log" style

And the last "type", the Stack of Logs:

OK, so much for the five basic types of "trees".  Another day I will show some odd variations.  Now on to the apparent rules as I see them after about a year of study, mostly in Wisconsin but with a few forays into adjacent regions.

1. There is no particular connection with the Woodmen's Organizations.  Sure, sometimes you see a Woodman's logo on a tree tombstone-as in the Single Log example above-but most Trees are not connected to Woodman membership.  And so far as I can tell, the Woodmen just gave you money to spend on tombstones as you pleased, no real directions.

2. Trees often occur in groups.  Many of the taller Tree styles will have subsidiary stones, either little stumps or little stacks of sticks.  And in any given cemetery, when you find one example you should keep looking, there are usually more.  Perhaps it had to do with local availability...not all monument makers would have this line in stock.

3. Although there are exceptions, most Trees date from about 1890 to 1920.

4. You see fewer of these in "old line" Protestant cemeteries.  Lutheran for instance.  Catholic cemeteries are actually better hunting.  A high percentage of GAR or Fraternal Lodge makers also increases the odds.

5. There may be a slight trend towards German cemeteries being over stocked with these.  The oak tree occupies a hallowed spot in German mythology.  And at least southern Germans tend to be a bit more whimsical than say, Scandinavians.

6. The "Stack of Logs" variant appears specific to northern areas, regions where logging was a big business.  As I have speculated earlier, it seems to recall the photos posed with a sled full of timber being hauled out of the woods.

7. Limestone seems to the the commonest material.  But the Sears versions at least were of a sort of cheap looking white stone that they claim was marble.  The "trees" and "rustic crosses" were almost all limestone.  It  seems to be more adaptable to intricate carving.  But as it weathers faster I suspect some cemeteries did not allow it.  For instance, in St. Paul and in Minneapolis there are what I consider "society" cemeteries....places where prominent names go to rub coffin handles with their peers for eternity.  St. Paul has lots of tree types.  Minneapolis not a one.  And in fact, nothing in limestone that I could see anywhere.*
* Brief personal update October of 2016.  My dad passed away earlier this year and implausibly ended up buried in one of those "society" cemeteries.  Never socially all that adept in life I imagine the playing field is now as level as it gets.  But to my surprise when standing grave side I saw over the next rise a nice tree shaped tombstone that I had missed on a previous swing through this huge cemetery.  Go figure.

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