Friday, October 31, 2014

It is not as if you really have this option....

An enigmatic tombstone in rural Wisconsin.

As it is the month of October I have been serving up the tombstones more than usual.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Pumpkin Joe Greenstein

We are in the run up to both Halloween and to a hotly contested election.  Our political class comes in for a great deal of criticism, of which perhaps 90% is entirely justified.  But honesty demands that I say a few words in praise of a long departed Pol who actually appears to have been a much better man than I had thought.

Long, long ago I was an elementary student at Lowell School on the North Side of Minneapolis.  I have a memory, or perhaps several memories compacted together, of free pumpkins being given away by our local Alderman.  A flat bed trailer pulled up onto the asphalt playground.  Hundreds of pumpkins were unloaded and arrayed like squat orange soldiers.  Kids were allowed to select one to take home.  My older brother adds a few details, he remembers that the younger grades picked first and that girls got to pick before boys.  Some helpful suggestions on how much of a punk' a given kid could carry must have been offered.  Recall that this was in the days before kids rode school buses, all or nearly all of the students at Lowell walked home.

I thought for many years that this was a sort of slightly disreputable tactic that aimed for the votes of the parents, what with the election being so soon after Halloween.  I remember seeing campaign buttons that were orange, with a jack-o-lantern face as the background, and the motto PUMPKIN JOE GREENSTEIN.  But decades later I looked into this, and I have to say, I was wrong about Joe.

The North Side of Minneapolis was home to different groups over the years.  In the 1800s it was mostly German immigrants, with an admixture of Scandinavians.  In the early 20th century it was the center of the Jewish community, with German, Polish and Russian immigrants all represented.  When I was growing up in the late 1950s and into the 60s, the neighborhood was turning over again.  It was becoming a black community.  Also an impoverished one, although to be fair the earlier waves of European new arrivals were generally at best blue collar up until the point that they could afford to move elsewhere.

Like many of the Jewish community Joeseph S. Greenstein was a merchant.  His store at 307 Plymouth Avenue North was called The Bargain Price Market.  It sold groceries,  meat, produce, and flowers.  Every year, starting back in the 1930s, Greenstein had "Pumpkin Day" where truck farmers from the outlying areas would haul in pumpkins that would be laid out on Plymouth Avenue, closing one lane in front of The Bargain Price Market.  Local school children would come, some riding buses on a field trip, to get the free pumpkins.  He did this entirely for the good of the community.  He  told his son that when he was a little boy the family was too poor to afford a pumpkin so he once stole one.  He did not want any child to have to chose between a small deprivation or a small crime.

Additional pumpkins were hauled to other schools on the North Side.  Hence my memories at Lowell Elementary.

Pumpkin Joe, circa 1950
The political career came later.  A major freeway was under construction, wiping out much of the business and residential areas along Plymouth Avenue.  This included Greenstein's store.  The last "Pumpkin Day" in 1965 was held at a "haunted house" done up for the occasion.  It is not clear how long the school giveaways lasted but my memories of one circa 1963 or so must have been one of the last of them.

Joe Greenstein by all accounts served his constituents well.  It was a difficult time in many ways.  In addition to the literal bulldozers crashing through the Fifth Ward there were social changes that seemed equally implacable.  Crime rates were rising, with the flight of the Jewish community being accelerated by a particularly gruesome double murder of a prominent couple.  Housing projects were built, concentrating poverty into structures that looked like dead trees raising their limbless concrete trunks above the new highway.  There were racially fueled riots in the late 60s, many surviving businesses were burnt down.

But Joe Greenstein never left the North Side.  His son still lives in the family home there.  Having pieced together the story of his life I regret my earlier impression of him as a standard "machine politician" trying to buy votes.  His generosity preceded and transcended his political career.

We do not hold our current generation of politicians in very high regards.  Perhaps because most of them have not earned our esteem.  Joe Greenstein joined the Army in his mid 30s.  He fought across Europe with General Patton's army, serving as an interpreter.  He was a Minneapolis Alderman from 1960 to 1971, probably the most tumultuous decade the city ever had.  He actually had a Molotov cocktail thrown at his house during the 1967 unrest.

A guy like that did not need to give away pumpkins to get our respect.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The pungent smell of Autumn.

This time of year our local hardware store stocks some interesting fragrance choices.  Mostly for men, but not exclusively so.  It is not like the perfume counter at a swank department store, no sales person offers to dab samples on your wrist.  And that's a good thing.

Yep, it is almost deer hunting season.  Some features of this product might be marketable for human attracting purposes.  Natural & Dependable sounds good.  Curiosity Appeal has promise.  And although it has been decades since I was single and interested in such matters, perhaps young singles on the prowl stake out a particular bar stool on a Territorial basis.  But looking back, way back, on the singles scene I do not recall it being Non-Threatening.

Oh, my.  This is getting really specific.  I rather like the coy, Disney eyes doe on the bottle looking up at the Aroused, but now decided defunct buck.  She's thinking:  "Sucker".  His last thought was "I.......I wuz robbed".

I don't know what is going on here.  The product name "Rut'n Apples" suggests a play on Rotten Apples. It says 100% Real Apple on the bag so I don't know why it is implying that it will send Mr. Buck into a Dionysian Frenzy.  Is he licking his lips 'cause he likes apples?  Or is there something else going on?

Now this stuff I might consider buying if it were on sale post hunting season.  Of course it is designed to make it harder for deer to smell you down wind, but Smash Human Odor makes it sound like pretty effective stuff.  Might get a bar for the shower....

Friday, October 24, 2014

Gloomy Weather

Some folks love fall.  I am not one of them.  The season frankly puts me in a bad mood.  Sure, you have some pretty colored leaves when the sun shines.  But when you live in a northern land you feel every cool breeze and sense the approach of winter.

Winter in Wisconsin can be endured, even enjoyed.  But it is a harsh time, all the more so if you have a long commute on dubious roads.  Or if various battle scars from a half century and then some start to ache when the cold sinks into them.

Being in my later fifties perhaps puts me into Autumn in a larger sense also.  (Whether I am in early or late autumn is a damned good question).  Already there are things that I would have liked to have done that are now very improbable.  At one point my son and I had preliminary plans to cross Russia on the Trans Siberian express.  Heck, by the time you go that far it would make sense to just circumnavigate the globe.  I had looked into travel by cargo ship across the Pacific, then a ferry to Vladivostok, then more adventures.  But the trip did not happen and now is in the category of "it might have been".

Similarly I had hoped to see some of the fabulous Roman sites of North Africa and Syria.  Most of this part of the world is currently off limits to the sane traveler and by the time the bandits are chased back into the hills and caves I may be too old for adventures.

So we dig in here, hunkering down ahead of the chill.  I have my familiar, comfortable activities.  I work. I teach.  I paint and tinker and tidy our house which is also suffering the effects of  middle age.

And we wait.  Some of what lies ahead will of course be Wonders and Marvels.  After all, there is always Spring, always new beginnings up ahead.  But the timing is key.  How long to keep working, how many years of retirement I need to finance, will our physical condition remain "early autumn" or will things suddenly freeze up and stop.  Imponderables.

It is easier to be sunny and bright when the seductive warmth of spring time sinks into sore joints and jaded thoughts.  Those days will come again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Menomonie, Wisconsin. I think.

Menomonie should be a great place for brewery caves.  It has all the ingredients.  It was settled early and by thirsty lumberjacks and sawmill workers.  It had ready access to good, grain growing farmland. It had water.  It had limestone outcroppings.  It even had an abundance of brickyards for constructing internal features like archways and such.

But even though Menomonie had at least two breweries in the proper era it has been a very difficult nut to crack regarding brewery caves.  Consider the following.

At the end of 12th Avenue is a rise of land overlooking the Red Cedar River at its junction with Galloway creek.  The spot was called Brewery Hill, because by the 1870s and perhaps earlier, it was occupied by a brewery.  In 1876 a man named Fuss was operating it, but as it was called the "Felzan Brewery" I assume he was not the initial proprietor.  In any event by 1888 a fellow named Weber owned it.  To date I have found very little else out on this establishment, only that they had a beer garden at the bottom of the hill.  This is thought to be a photo of same:

One would certainly think that this would be an easy one.  You have a "Brewery Hill", surely there will be a cave in the side of it, likely facing the river.  Remarkably it took me four or five visits to the site before I finally have reached a fair level of certainty that I have zeroed in on the cave site.  If you are expecting swell photos of same, sorry.  Consider this a "how to guide" to locate difficult caves. Sometimes there is just not that much in the way of visible traces.

Here is Brewery Hill in June of 2014:

The site is now mostly parking lots and cheap apartment buildings. But perched right in the middle is a nice circa 1890 house with a sort of chalet style to it.  I am assuming it was the brew master's house. As to cave sites, not much for possibilities here.  The slope behind the apartments is very steep, more of a cliff overlooking Gilbert creek.  A good general rule of thumb in hunting brewery caves.  If you can't see a road that would allow a horse drawn wagon full of kegs to safely travel, then look for your cave elsewhere.  Sure, you find a few caves that are built directly into the cellars of the brewery, but they are the exception and usually go with very large breweries.  So, where to look?

On old maps of the area (very handy!) 14th Avenue dead ends at the brewery.  But now it continues as a modern road snaking down the hill.  Walking down it a ways I peeked over the side and saw what I had on earlier visits just dismissed as some random rubble fill.  There were bricks, mostly post 1900, but also some tell tale chunks of carved limestone that otherwise had no business being there.

This curved bit looks a great deal like a section of roof from a cave entrance.

Of course this stuff is all tumbled down the slope.  Looking up all we see is this sort of unnatural looking berm:

This view is from a path alongside the river.  If you stroll another hundred yards you are in the former beer garden.  So this was certainly on the brewery property.

But I was still not sure.  Until I walked back up onto the road.  If you keep the alignment of this feature in mind and step onto the road above you see this:

Two manhole covers in exactly the same alignment.  As I can see no other use for these (there does not seem to be any drainage pipe below for instance) I think this unusual occurrence of two manholes only a few feet apart suggests they were formerly vents to the brewery cave that still lies beneath.

Note please, these covers are ancient and gummed on well by rust and old asphalt.  I did not think of going down for a look.  Don't you think about it either.

So what made the difference on this last and at least somewhat successful trip?  Time of year. In general you want to go cave hunting in spring or fall, times when the underbrush is less dense. This time out of stubbornness I went on the bug infested, muggy, longest day of the year.  The tell tale clue that was visible now but not on other trips was the bright green moss.  It really likes limestone and made these shattered bits stand out dramatically.

I am assuming that the entrance to the cave at least has been methodically clobbered.  Probably at the time of the modern road being built over the cave.  If I were a city engineer worth my salt I would probably also have filled the caves with concrete at the same time.  Hollow spaces under roads - bad. Or maybe they got cheap and skipped this step.  Notice the horrible condition of the road surfacing around the manholes?

Observe from afar please.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Choose your words wisely US/UK version

Here in the US you can buy beer in large glass bottles called "growlers".  The term goes back to the 19th century when it was common for working men to bring home a pail of beer at the end of the day. These containers apparently had a tight fitting lid and the sound of carbon dioxide escaping as they were carried reminded someone of a growling noise.

The phrase "rushing the growler" meant sitting down for a couple of beers.

In that context this sign at the local wine and spirits shop makes perfect sense.

However in the UK I would not advise walking into a place and saying that you wanted your growler filled.  And I fear that mentioning Wet Hops would not help clarify matters.

Really, you should just trust me on this one.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Surprising my Dad

Visits with Dad have gotten both harder and easier.  Harder in that his health and memory are failing and the domestic situation is not ideal.  Easier in that I can reuse the same "material" again and again. I let him know what my family is up to, reminding him along the way how many grandchildren he has and what their names are.  Then there are a few "go to" topics that hold his faltering attention even on a hard day.  Life on the farm when he was growing up.  Cars.  And best of phone.

I only got a "smart phone" a short while ago.  Stubborn I guess, or perhaps my increasing mobility finally made it essential.

My dad finds it endlessly fascinating.  This little rectangle of plastic that can do so many things!

Instant photos!

Using the voice search function the entire accumulated knowledge of mankind there for the asking. Since it is internet based you also get the accumulated ignorance, but it still makes an impressive trick.  "Show me Packard automobiles".  There they are.  With his somewhat frail voice you get some interesting misreads.  "Minneapolis, Minnesota", where he used to live, somehow became "Minneapolis...sore" and a listing of chiropractors!

But the most astonishing trick for him is taking a short movie and playing it back for him.  I do this every visit now, you never know which one will be the final entry.  Here is a recent cinematic tour de force...

How amazing it all is for a 92 year old whose fascination with cars in part is due to his having started out with draft horses.  And really, since I understand the magic a little better than he does, it is every bit as amazing to me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

2nd Report - Robotics 2014

Busy times.  Even with some very welcome parents showing up to help it is hard to ride herd on a dozen middle schoolers with tools.  But things are taking shape.

Here is a classic four wheel drive robot.  Note the thumbtack wheels for extra traction.  You make one of these by splicing two servos together and tuning them.  This is usually the first time any of them have soldered wires.  Naturally you want the two tuned wheels on the same side...

A bit of confused thinking here.  It started out being a four wheel design.  But somewhere after doing the splicing job the design changed to two wheel.  It does not work to have the "twinned" servos on opposite sides.  The robot will just go forward and reverse, no turning.  The kid was a bit crestfallen. I asked him "Did you learn anything?"  He said yes.  No problems, there are four more build sessions.

Most kids opt for scrap plywood for bodies.  This machine is make of nice clean polycarbonate that the builder brought from home.  It is going to be called "GhostBot".

One of the biggest needs for running a program like this is one you might not expect.  Storage space. I have a cart for my tools and a closet to park it in.  There is even a shelf for the kids' works in progress.

I scavenge cardboard boxes, mostly from the copy room.  Each kid is asked to write his name on the box with marker so it can be easily located.  This kid decided to take a sharp object and carve his name!

Stylish disregard for rules.  That's my kind of robotics student.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Forgotten Brewery Caves - News from Here and There

If you ponder the number of breweries in America between 1850 and 1880, there were a lot of them. Something like 4,000 circa 1870.  A few went on to become the "Prohibition Survivors". Many were either small town operations or even over grown home breweries.  They all needed some means of keeping lager beer cold which involved a combination of underground storage and ice harvesting.

This makes for a lot of brewery caves out there.  I suspect most of them are in the northern half of the country, and of course places with hills and bluffs would be ideal for them.  Considering that some breweries had more than one cave I feel confident in saying that there were at various points in time thousands of brewery caves in existence.  So, where are they now?

Many are still in deep hiding.  Some have been obliterated by "progress"  But every once in a while I run across a tidbit of news that gives us a fleeting clue about a cave...all too often just before it gets filled in/sealed off forever.

Dateline Cedar Rapids Iowa, fall of 2014.

Up to 14 beer caves?

The article mentions an extensive study that had been commissioned when this cave complex was found under a highway.  Note the big steel beams supporting same.  I think the concept of 14 caves is misleading.  14 rooms connected into a couple of cave systems makes more sense. Note that this report appeared in the local news media in Iowa.  So I am not putting new temptation in front of anybody who has a computer.  But these are certainly not safe caves to try and enter.  And they have already been mostly filled in.

Bed, Breakfast and Brewery Cave

Taylors Falls Minnesota is a very pretty town and the Bed and Breakfast linked above looks cute.  A fellow cave enthusiast stayed there once and gave me this image.  The archway leads into a remnant of a cave system.  There is a Jacuzzi set up back there which seems pretty relaxing.  There are of course a few rumors about later uses of the building that you might want to explore before getting too comfortable....

The Caves of Faribault

This is about the closest any historic brewery cave comes to being used as intended.  Cheese, not beer but still the same concept.  I guess one entrance is visible but the caves proper are off limits.  Bleu cheese needs a very specific micro environment and you are not going to help it. This is a shame, the photos suggest it is a very impressive cave system.

Here is a story that really pleased me.  A cave from the first brewery in Nebraska, later re-purposed as a coffee house for folk music!

Fun stories from caves that I will most likely never have the opportunity to visit.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Sill-yness....Written in Lead

In some ways I am a very sentimental fellow.  For instance, I love the Hadrian's Wall country of Northumberland.  I love the solitary beauty.  I love excavating at Vindolanda.  I love the home away from home conviviality of the Twice Brewed Inn.  I have been going "up North" each spring for seven straight years now, and it delights me each time I show up and find it unchanged.

Which brings me to the bad news of the day.

For a while now there has been an ill conceived plan to plop an 11 million pound visitor center/inn/cafe/bar smack in the middle of peaceful little Twice Brewed.  Consultants have consulted. Architects have drawn.  PR flacks have, well, I suppose flacked.  Local opinions have been ignored. Here is what it will look like:

It resembles a glass aircraft carrier run aground 50 miles from the sea.  Although designed to exploit the popularity of Hadrian's wall walking this artists conception does not even show the Wall.  It also does not show the Twice Brewed Inn which should be in the left hand side of the view.

Who knows, it might succeed and be a good thing.  But most hair brained schemes launched without local support end up thrashing around just long enough to destroy the existing business community before going "tits up" as my UK pals would say.  I foresee a glittering relic ten years from now.

Well the darned thing has gotten planning approval now so if they can weasel up the money it will happen.  The road to Vindolanda will be blocked for long stretches of time.  It will siphon off money from my favorite pub.  It will be an offense to look at, a twinkling shard of glass sticking out of a grievous wound.

But what to do....

I have an idea.  Back in Roman times if you felt you had been wronged economically you usually wrote up a "curse tablet".  These were thin sheets of lead, etched with your message then left in a sacred place or tossed into a body of water.  Of the 500 some known from the Empire as a whole, about half have been found in Britain.

Usually they had to do with pilfered goods.  The format was along the lines of:

So and so beseeches the gods that the thief of my goods (and if you wanna go nasty, you name them) be cursed.  Often the curse is spelled out in detail. One of my favorites asks that the thief not be able to urinate or move their bowels until the property is returned! (Somewhat off topic, there is a notion that Tolkien came up with the idea of a cursed ring from his work translating a curse tablet!)

Lacking other options perhaps we can't do any better than cooking up a nice modern day Curse Tablet.  How about:

Oremus igitur, ut Genium, ut malediceret Septentrionalibus peccato. Ut suo sumptu esse naturalia. May rara avis nidum suum in fronte machina. Ut rutrum a prima moventur super terram, ut possit revelare Monument Accedant, non turbarentur.

This is probably a low grade translation from Google, but that's ok, most of the Curse Tablets were written in rather dodgy Latin.  My sentiments in English:

We ask the Genius of the northern lands to curse the Sill.  May its funding be constipated.  May rare birds nest in front of their machinery.  May the first shovel of earth they move reveal a Scheduled Monument that cannot be disturbed.

It should not be difficult to whip up an inscribed version on a thin sheet of lead.  Then one simply has to fold it up and nail it to a wall in a sacred place.  And I know right where it belongs....

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Woolly Bear Report - 2014

If you live outside the range of Woolly Bear caterpillars you may not know of their oracular powers when it comes to predicting the severity of the upcoming winter.  Through extensive - ahem - scientific study it has been noted that the larger percentage of dark coloration, the worse the winter will be.

Last year the little vermin lied through their mandibles, promising a mild one.  Well, I believe in second chances.  Here, make your call:

They are usually observed trekking across the road.  I guess this guy is about average for dark/light ratio.  So a "normal" winter.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Ozymandius Plays Through

Having an interest in history will influence how you see things.  Recently I visited a site that was a place of lonesome beauty.  I was the only observer on a day when autumn was at its magnificent best. But I could sense the presence of those who had been there in the past, small wandering bands armed with clubs and engaged in their peculiar rituals.

It was an abandoned golf course that was reverting to a natural state with surprising speed.

There are a lot of these out there I guess.  In the 1990s and for a few years thereafter golf courses were being build with giddy abandon.  Maybe it was the mirage of endless prosperity that would transform us all into idle gentry.  Maybe it was simply a part of the Ponzi scheme that the American real estate market had become before it came crashing down circa 2008.  But for whatever reason the numbers of golf courses closing has exceeded new ones opening for 8 straight years.

Exact numbers are a bit slippery, but as best I can tell, in the 15 years leading up to 2004 the numbers of courses increased by a exuberant 40%, topping out at around 16,000 (all such numbers are 18 hole courses...a 9 hole course counts as half!).  Since then there have been at least 500 closures, most of them small private courses.  Like this one:

Gently rolling savanna, the grass now waist high.

The "greens", now inaptly named.  For non golfers this is the area right around the hole.  As the most artificial part of the course it resists nature the longest.  Under the dense, dead grass there are presumably layers of packed clay.  I think this looks sinister.  It has the sort of stark, unnatural symmetry that I have seen on World War One battlefields where shell holes still persist a century after their sudden violent birth.

Or to continue the African veldt theme, perhaps they look like dead water holes, a place where thirsty beasts nuzzle the baked ground in faint hope.

Of the hand of man, there is little to be seen in most places.  The club house is long gone.  Like many courses there was an attempt to sell "luxury" housing adjacent to the place.  I encountered the last such building up on beams being prepared for moving elsewhere.

The property is apparently being allowed to revert to nature.  But before it was a golf course it had been a farm property.  Near the remains of an old barn I did find a few relics, arranged in ordered ranks that whimsically made me think of dwindling legions trying to march away from a distant province lapsing into barbarism.

Chariots and foot soldiers.

I don't know what archaeologists of the far future would make of this.  There are a few puzzlers here. In one area a patch of verdant green persisted. Between its closure and its abandonment it was owned by a mega corporation that has a lot of real estate holdings in the area.  They have other, active golf courses and may have kept this for awhile as a test plot.  I think this is a place where they were trying out some new grass type.

Now you should know that there are certain things archaeologists are very keen on.  For one thing they are always seeming to look for evidence of prostitution*.  But their real go-to explanation for ambiguous features would probably be applied here.  "Enclosure, unclear ritual purpose."

And I am quite certain that they would look at the next artifact and leap enthusiastically to an interpretation:

"Votive object, frequently found in springs.  Probably placed as ritual offerings".

And I guess they would not be far off.
*I was advised by an archaeologist that this is a reflection of the mediocre dating prospects of graduate students.  But since he actually was happily married to a fine spouse he may well have been kidding me.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Tree Shaped Tombstones - Does Not Compute !

We were in the homestretch of a road trip to Iowa.  It was getting a little dusky and I was on a road I had never taken before.  We were winding up a beautiful little river valley when we went by a small cemetery.  Out of the corner of my eye I spotted something that seemed....odd.

Executing a slightly reckless turn around on a road with no shoulders I went back and encountered this enigma.

It is an honest to goodness tree shaped tombstone.  From March of this year.

We were in a rural area north of Alma Wisconsin.  The closest community is a little placed named Cream, with four houses and a tavern.  I looked up John Kuri's obituary trying to solve the mystery of how a man in the 21st century is buried under a monument type that has not been made commercially for about a century.  I found no clues, but John Kuri does appear to have been a pretty swell guy.

A while back I had an email from a woman wondering where she could get a monument of this type. Her husband had died of cancer and had really liked this style of grave marker.  Alas, I was not able to offer much help, just the email of a sculptor in Illinois who had replicated one recently at a very high price.  The difference one supposes between an artist and an artisan.

But John Kuri found a way.  I assume that in the back shed of some monument company, untouched since about 1910 there was an unused tree shaped monument.  Well done sir.  Well done, indeed.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Tree Shaped Tombstones - Some local oddities

Passing unexpectedly through the sleepy burgh of East Farmington Wisconsin I pulled into a little cemetery.

Here was a traditional family group of Trees.  Husband, wife holding "hands" through eternity. And the usual smaller subsidiary ones...

I am as always, impressed with the detail that these things contain.  This is carved stone.

But it was the subsidiary markers that interested me in this instance.  Here is the second latest tree shaped gravestone I have encountered:

It is not immediately clear to me how this individual is related to the Engelhardts, but maybe that perpetual care plaque is significant.  If they specified a tree shaped marker then he was gonna get one, even if they were out of style by 1946.  But, a few feet over I found what is, and may well remain for a while, the newest tree themed marker yet...(Or so I thought!  Come back Friday for a real oddity! T)

1982!  The year I graduated medical school.  I figure the Engelhardt family had some kind of unbreakable contract with the funeral home!  I admit, as a tree shaped marker this is sort of borderline, but the stylized bark is actually rather appealing.

Weirder still and in the same graveyard, behold this specimen.  I can't really call it attractive, but I have in my journeys not seen its like...

Notice the odd little cut off branches on this "double tree"?  They have markings on them....

Here we have A, L, M and O.  There were about a dozen total.  They do not seem to spell anything, and per the adjacent family gravestones do not seem to be initials of children.  I am thinking these were the initials of their grand children!
Hmmm.  The things you notice on a second look.  In the photo of husband and wife trees up above, the husband is on the left.  Is that upright and rather substantial "vine" in the lower part of the monument intended to be symbolic in some way?  Hard to credit Victorian men with that kind of chutzpah.  But there does seem to be a certain puckish sense of humor among sculptors....