Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Hard Reality. Soft Stone

In my renewed working life I travel a bit.  And as I go out in the world I naturally pass a few cemeteries.  My hunt for "Tree Shaped Tombstones" is by no means obsessive but if I happen to be driving past one I will turn in and have a look around.  Today's pictures are from a pair of cemeteries in Ashland Wisconsin.  It is the usual set up, Protestant and Catholic establishments forever separated by a road that should be, but isn't, called Luther Highway.

The light in these shots is not ideal.  A really obsessive person would have come back at another time of day.

Years into my informal study of these artistic monuments I am still seeing new things.  Can you pick up the anomaly in this photo?

Regular students of this topic will note that the inscription on this modest sized marker has been weathered beyond legibility.  Star pupils will also note that the stone is a very odd pink color.  Here is another view that shows the latter feature in better light.

This is much different from the usual cream colored stone we see.  Even under extreme weathering conditions those tend to mature into a much crisper grey color.  There were other examples in these two cemeteries all of them small and hard to make out.  The clearest of the bunch was this one:

Most Tree Shaped Tombstones were ordered by monument makers in rough form.  I am pretty sure that the common styles came primarily from Indiana.  At least those we see in the Midwest, I have my doubts about the economy of shipping rocks over the Rockies.  When you see a quirky batch like this you have to wonder if it was a purely local product.  There is local stone like this.  In fact the whole region has considerable iron in the geology, that's basically how Ashland got its economic boost in the 1880s.  Many classic "brownstone" buildings out east were made of stone from quarries in this area.

Of course these are sad monuments.  These knee high versions are pretty much always the markers for children's graves.  Infant mortality was high in the late 19th Century.  I suspect these were an inexpensive locally made "knock off" of the popular style.  Young families usually did not have the money to memorialize a loss perhaps.  Or was the death of a child considered more of a normal event back then?  Today it would be an almost inconceivable, wrenching catastrophe.  But I have heard family stories of the diphtheria epidemic that, out of a large batch of siblings, spared only my grandfather and one sister in the 1890s.  It was spoken of rather matter of factually.

But no, I think it was sheer economics.  People's hearts were as big then as now.  If broken they hurt just as badly.  A few rows over was an ornate and sad little marker.  The rapidly melting snow of late spring in these northern climes did not seem to offer any hope of renewal.


Anonymous said...

Modern Woodmen of America?

Tacitus2 said...

Unlikely. Only a small percentage of tombstones of this type appear to be related to the Modern Woodmen of America or the related organization Woodmen of the World. You can tell those by the logos or by the presence of wood carving implements like hammers and chisels in the design.