Monday, October 17, 2016

Tree Shaped Tombstones - The La Crosse Carver Part I

October is a fine month for traveling here in the Midwest.  The fall colors are always nice and sometimes stunning.  The weather is probably going to be OK.  So I recently found myself in La Crosse Wisconsin on an errand that was frankly non essential but seemed a good excuse for a road trip.

Spicy food was consumed, robot parts exchanged, but my itinerary for the day was seriously altered when I ran across not one but two cemeteries with interesting Tree Shaped Tombstones.

As a self appointed expert on the subject matter I have made a sufficient study of these to be able to detect "styles".  And in La Crosse both cemeteries featured work by a so far unidentified artisan that I shall refer to as "The La Crosse Carver".  Come on, lets look at his work.

First we pull in to Oak Grove Cemetery right across the street from the University of Wisconsin La Crosse campus. 

You start running into nice examples right away, but lets take a bit of time to look at the interesting local variations on these.

I have seen far too many Tree Shaped Tombstones that have toppled over or had damage around the base due to a poorly constructed foundation.  Here in La Crosse many of the examples had this sturdy and aesthetically pleasing base piece.  Notice also that the main portion of the carving is still somewhat square.  I am certain that this was a concious decision. It makes for a sort of stylized but still recognizable tree.  They were going for the theme rather than for explicit realism.

A close up of the "La Crosse" base and the unusual shape of the monument.

I have run through various City Directories from the appropriate time period but have not thus far been able to identify the stone carver by name.  But I have to think he had a kind heart and/or a sentimental streak.  A rather high proportion of the monuments had tender sentiments expressed, often in little custom side panels.

In the above inscription the carver either made two typos or perhaps was using a dialect of German.  The message reads approximately:  "To the memory of my true spouse and our (Late? Lost?) son" and is signed Fr. (Frau?) W. Bendel.  The H in Theureren should be an R based on my text book German.  And Gatten is plural for spouse.  Maybe she had more than one?  But I doubt a remarried woman would be buried with two men.  That would seem - for no logical reason - rather improper.

As to the message below no translation or comment is necessary.

Our stone carver put more than the usual effort into carving the little subsidiary markers that often surround a larger family monument.

Above an oak leaf, which was appropriate in Oak Grove Cemetery.  Below, I am not sure what it is.

It is not uncommon to find little messages like this on the top of the subsidiary markers. This artisan as we shall see, went a little above and beyond on some of them.

Here of course we have an "official" Woodsman monument.  Notice how often the fraternal emblem is nestled between two angled upright branches.  And of course it is in the local style with a squared off tree on a base that should be good for another century.

You sometimes run across very similar looking monuments in a cemetery.  In this case there were two nearly identical version of the "Rustic Cross" variant within a few feet of each other. I suppose you could interpret this as just ordering from a standard template but these have the nice combination of standard features and personal touches.  Regards the former we here have the classic Dying Dove on the right hand branch, wing extended upwards.

Keep this image in mind until we reconvene next time.  A couple miles away and across the much wider Catholic - Protestant divide...


nycguy said...

About the German: Theueren and Gatten are correct spellings for the period.

The H in teuer (=dear, in formal German appropriate to tombstones, =expensive in spoken German) was eliminated in a spelling reform around 1900. Your word treu (=faithful) would have been treuen in the dative.

Gatten is the correct dative for Gatte, a formal word for "husband".

These words are in the dative because they are the object of the preposition an.

The L is probably an abbreviation for lieben --- "our beloved son".

Tacitus2 said...

NYCguy. Thank you. I did say my German was rather bare bones. Your interpretation fits perfectly. Feel free to try your hand at a bit of Czech on Wednesday!


nycguy said...

Sorry, Czech is above my pay grade. Plus, I don't know any.