Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Woodmen of the World and the Tree Stone Grave Markers

If you visit cemeteries often, you’ve probably noticed the tree stone monuments, especially in the West, Midwest and South.  As mentioned last Tuesday, two organizations are given credit for their proliferation, Modern Woodmen of America and Woodmen of the World.  Today we’ll explore the group that is responsible for the sheer number of them and why.




Joseph Cullen Root
Joseph Cullen Root originally founded the first group, Modern Woodmen of America (MWA), because he wanted to create a fraternal benefit society that would "bind in one association the Jew and the Gentile, the Catholic and the Protestant, the agnostic and the atheist."  While he succeeded with MWA being that type of organization, heated arguments resulted in Root and another man being evicted from the society.

Joseph Cullen Root originally founded the first group, Modern Woodmen of America (MWA), because he wanted to create a fraternal benefit society that would "bind in one association the Jew and the Gentile, the Catholic and the Protestant, the agnostic and the atheist."  While he succeeded with MWA being that type of organization, heated arguments resulted in Root and another man being evicted from the society.


Woodmen
Root kept the name ‘woodmen’ because he was inspired by a sermon that talked about “woodmen clearing the forest to provide for their families.”  Root saw Woodmen of the World as being an organization that would “clear away problems of financial security for its members.”



Supreme Forest Woodmen Circle
A women’s auxiliary for WOW was known as the Supreme Forest Woodmen Circle.  It was founded in 1892.  In 1895, Root and F.A. Falkenburg took control of the Circle and reformed it into the Woodmen Circle, which was incorporated into a separate fraternal benefit society.  In 1965, Woodmen of the World acquired it.  



Neighbors of Woodcraft
Another women’s auxiliary was formed in 1897, known as the Women of Woodcraft.  This organization encompassed nine western states.  In 1917 the Women of Woodcraft changed its name to the Neighbors of Woodcraft, to reflect the fact that both men and women were accepted in the group.  Neighbors of Woodcraft merged with Woodmen of the World in 2001.


Woodmen of the World Building
Woodmen of the World occupied the tallest building in Omaha, and the tallest building between Chicago and the West Coast, (19 stories) for many years.  In 1969 their current 30-story building was constructed.  It remained Omaha’s tallest structure until 2002.






Woodmen of the World Meeting
Similar to the Modern Woodmen of America, WOW became involved in the community by routinely holding dinners, dances and society events.  The organization also provided college scholarships for high school students and held summer camps for local youth.  By the beginning of the twentieth century, WOW had close to 1-million members and over 3,000 chapters or ‘lodges’ across the country.  By the 1920’s over one-quarter of American families belonged to some type of fraternal organization or society.

WOW Radio
In 1922, WOW began it’s own radio station, WOAW, as a way to reach out to thousands of people at one time.   At that time, WOAW’s 500-watt signal reached ships in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  In 1926 the call letters were changed to WOW and the power was increased to 1,000 watts.  In 1935 WOW was granted the right to operate at 5,000 watts, making it one of the most powerful radio stations in the country.   

Johnny Carson
Then in 1949, the broadcasting company decided to launch WOW-TV. One of the first performers on the television station was local resident, Johnny Carson, who had a daily show called The Squirrel’s Nest.  Meredith Corporation bought out the radio and TV station in 1958.  In 1999, the Journal Broadcast Group from Milwaukee purchased the stations and the historic call letters were changed.

The Woodmen of the World organization was probably best known for its gravestones. From 1890 to 1900, WOW’s life insurance policies had a proviso that provided for the grave markers, free of charge for members.  From 1900 to the mid- 1920’s, members purchased a $100 rider to cover the cost of the monument.  By the mid-20’s, the organization had discontinued the grave marker benefit due to the increased cost of the stones.


The society designed a four to five foot high tree trunk monument pattern for adults and three stacked logs for children.  WOW would send a copy of the pattern to the local stone carver in the deceased woodman’s hometown, so that all of the tree stones would be similar in appearance.  


But other decorations were added to the tree trunk, thereby making each marker more individualistic.  Many times, the tree stone pattern was altered; sized differently, cut in a different manner, or branches were added or broken off each time a family member was buried.


Symbols found on the tree stones include axes, mauls, wedges, any type of tool used in woodworking.  (An occupation, hobby or interest in the wood industry has never been required to be a member of Woodmen of the World.) Doves became popular and are also found on many WOW tree stones. 

WOW later created a simpler template of a log that would rest atop a regular gravestone.  The WOW motto  “Dum Tacet Clamet,” meaning, “Though silent, he speaks” was inscribed on the log.  Members could order the log to be placed on a deceased woodman’s regular grave marker. A woodman emblem is now available and can be attached to a regular gravestone.


Root declared that June 6th of each year to be ‘Woodmen Memorial Day” and woodmen who had died should be remembered and honored.  As with Modern Woodmen of America, Woodmen of the World held ‘remembrance celebrations’ when a woodman died.  A parade of members would march to the cemetery where the tree stone monument would be unveiled and dedicated in a moving ceremony held by the local lodge.

Today, Woodmen of the World is one of the largest fraternal benefit society with open membership in the United States.  The organization provides not only insurance, but also investment, bonds, real estate and mortgage loans to its members. Its 2010 financial performance included gross revenue of $1.2 billion.  WOW is active in local communities, providing aid to senior citizens, the physically impaired and orphans.  Woodmen of the World has partnered with the American Red Cross to provide disaster relief nationwide. 
 
WOW celebrated its 120th Anniversary last year.  Its motto has changed over the years to "Woodmen of the World -With You Through Life."  Although Woodmen of the World made the tree stones popular, they were in use by the Victorian Rustic Movement many years before WOW was formed.  The Sears and Roebuck catalogue and the Montgomery Ward catalogue also offered variations of the tree stone to its customers at the turn of the century.


Even though monument benefits have not been included in the WOW package for years, the society makes sure that "no Woodmen shall rest in an unmarked grave."  A fitting tribute to WOW members, and a brilliant way to augment those striking and outstanding tree stone monuments into cemeteries everywhere.


Joy