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

83 comments:

  1. I saw a few of these today in Fresno, and it prompted an internet search. Thanks for the info!

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    1. I also like to read and admire old head stones. I ran across many in an old cemetery in st.petersburg florida.

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    2. I went to Fresno to see the big Fresno Fair. I was staying at the Econolodge on Belment, and although I enjoy visiting cemeteries, I had never strolled though that one. I also saw those unusual headstones, and assumed they were for loggers! Thanks for the background. I am sooooo glad I discovered this blog!!!

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    3. After knowing for most of my life that my great grandfather was a member, and has a marker on his grave at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery, I called for his location and am going to see it this weekend! He was buried in 1910. So excited to see this part of my family history!

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    4. We found many in the Crystal River, FL cemetery this week. Googled it and found this informative blog....thank .

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  2. You are welcome! Just be aware, they can become addictive... ; )
    http://www.facebook.com/groups/215943955114962/

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    1. Joy, thank you so much for your info. I, too, am a cemetary haunt! I found these several years ago in Hendersonville, NC near Tom Wolfe's angel and have been hooked. My patient husband lets me visit cemetaries every chance we get--VT, CT, PA, VA, WV, NC, GA, AB, FL, TX, CO and a few overseas. Would love to keep in touch with you and learn more of your research.

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  3. Thanks for the info my 2nd great grandfather has one of those markers and it has the dove and has a spot in it that had a picture of him.

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    1. How cool! I've never seen one with a picture! Do you have any photos of it?

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    2. Your article was very informative,but I have been told over the years,that each variance of stone had a meaning as to the deceased standing in the "Order".Is there any credence to this story.

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    3. Woodmen of the World and Modern Woodmen of America were both insurance fraternal organizations. Anyone could belong, you did not have to receive a "special" invitation. They did not have an "order" like the Masons or Odd Fellows. The designs carved on the stones for WOW/MWA depicted something symbolic from their lives, a gun for a hunter, a flower for a woman, a book for a teacher or minister, a broken branch to show a young death. Hope that helps.

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  4. We have 3 of them in a cemetery in Maryville, MO. They are beautiful pieces of art and stand proud for those buried there.
    Thanks for the info on them as I had no idea there was history behind them.

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  5. I finally found where my grandfather was buried and went there today to see his birth date and the date of death.To my amazement he had a Woodmen of the World tombstone.Probably 5 ft.tall and one similar for his wife.My grandfather passed 25 years before I was born so I've been trying to find more about him. I emailed Woodmen of the World for info thinking they might keep records, but no response.Enjoyed the info I found here.

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  6. They are amazing! I know WOW provided the stones to their members until the 1920's when it became too expensive to continue. You might try contacting WOW again. And, get ready, the blog post for July 27th - another look at the Tree Stones... ; D

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  7. I am fascinated with pioneer cemeteries. I was driving by one today out in a rural area near Portland , OR and noticed a tree trunk carved tombstone about 5' tall. So, I got out for a closer look. The person died in 1901 and the tree monument had the woodmen of the World emblem carved in it. I had never heard of WOW before. Thanks for sharing info about it in this blog. Too bad I can't post the pics i took of it here to share.Cheers, Amy

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  8. Amy, if you're on Instagram or Twitter, please post your photos there and use hashtag #historiccemeteries. Would love to see your photos!

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  9. This is a great inspiring article. I visited the site…it is a nice site. Thanks for providing information here…i like your blog post.thanks a lot.
    grave monument

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  10. My Grandfather has a woodman of the world tombstone , He died in morganton nc in 1917. I have been trying to find out more about this org

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    1. jim bean/cjimbean@yahoo.comOctober 2, 2013 at 10:22 PM

      Was your grandfather Wade Raby? If so Wade was the brother of my GGrandfather John Raby.

      Wade was the first NC recipient of the WOW tree headstone. Morganton had a parade which was attended by the NC governor

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  11. You can get more info @ http://www.woodmen.org
    They are still in the insurance business. They may also be able to help you find out mer about his stone. Good luck!!

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  12. The first WOW monument I saw was in the Meador Cemetery in Cherokee Co., Tx..I was 7 years old. Since then my strolling through Findagrave.com I have seen ever so many. I always take a photo and put it on findagrave.com....I was told each symbol had a meaning and was looking for that information when I found this site......one of my grandsons is a WOW member as are friends of his......

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    1. The more elaborate stones were carved to feature symbols that told a story about the deceased's life.

      I've found tree stones carved with guns and animals for a hunter.

      A woman's stone may have flowers or plants on their trees, maybe even sewing items.

      Children's stones are usually small, like a tree stump, to indicate a young life cut short.

      Some stones actually show how the deceased died, like the wrecked train on a stone I found in Vincennes, Indiana.

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  13. I saw "Women of Woodcraft" on several headstones in Oak Mound Cemetery, Healdsburg, California, just last weekend. Since I was totally unfamiliar with this, I did a 'Google' search and found your website with all this great info. I am also one of those who love to wander old cemeteries, and I am a long-time family researcher.

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    1. Glad you found AGI. I love finding unusual symbols and then trying to figure them out. Women of Woodcraft will probably appear here at some time... ; )

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  14. Doing family genealogy and found two relatives in Oddfellow Cemetary, Hugo, Oklahoma. Distant cousins and their Woodsmen and WOW markers. Thanks for the info!!

    Michele Graves

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  15. I also do geneology on the Orme family, Was at the Nodaway, Iowa Cemetery today, also standing and admiring the tree trunk, monuments, wow!! been reading what everything means. There is a large stone also standing with the name ORME in the center of a grey stone standing 5 feet tall and at the top of the stone, has the emblem. The circle and at the bottom it has the word memorial (at the bottom of the circle) and then from the left it reads, woodsmen of the world, (circling around the top from left to right and the stump of a tree in the middle. Why a normal stone. did they have to purchase their own stone and put this on it or someway to find, why no name other than ORME.

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    1. Judy, that's a great question. I've seen many regular WOW stones in the same cemetery with several tree stones. Let me see what I can find out....

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  16. Found several, as in at least 10 at Oak Hill in Oolagah, oklahoma. Pretty amazing! Found our first one in Glen Rose, Tx while geocaching. I can see why locating these are a passion for many, they are so unique. Seeking information is just as interesting.

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  17. Ah Jennifer, they can become addicting.... ; )

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  18. here is a link to my Gr Gandfathers gravestone...with a bit of latin perhaps?
    Ramer Cemetery, (near Rogers Springs )TN
    Pat
    http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=6335660&PIpi=77897827

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    1. The Latin is the Woodmen of the World motto “Dum Tacet Clamet,” meaning, “Though silent, he speaks.”

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  19. My great great grandfather has a stone located in Old Saltillo cemetery in Saltillo, TX. I has a hatchet and a mallet crossed with what looks like a wedge on top. On the backside of the stone is Member Flora Camp 2471. His death date is 1914. Would you be able to tell me anything about this stone?

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    1. Woodmen of the World stones could include symbols such as axes, mauls, wedges, just about any type of tool used in woodworking. There were many camps throughout the country in the early 1900's. Unfortunately, I could not find any information out about the Flora Camp 2471 on the WOW site other than the fact that it no longer exists. You might try contacting them with his name and see if they can give you more information about his membership http://www.woodmen.org/

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    2. Thank you for your reply and the link.

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    3. My great grandfather's grave is near Saltillo TX, Quinlan, TX and he was 40 when he died in 1899. His marker sounds the same as the one you described. The marker has Quinlan Camp 433 and I suppose it no longer exists either. I checked the website.

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  20. My husband & I saw quite a few of these Woodsmen monuments in the Grandview Cemetery in Johnstown,Pa today & we had no idea what they were.Thank you for the information, we also enjoy walking in the cemeteries - lots of interesting history

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    1. Glad it was helpful. You'll be amazed at how many more you see now that you recognize them. ; )

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  21. Did they all have the emblem? There is a large one I found in NJ, not far form where I live, but it doesn't have the emblem, though it fits the timeframe.

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    1. Gayle Ann, the WOW stones can be confusing. Many were not tree stones at all, but were regular stones with the WOW emblem located on them. And many tree stones had noting to do with Woodmen of the World, or Modern Woodmen of America. In fact, you could order tree stones from Sears & Roebucks and Montgomery Wards catalogs without having any affiliation with WOW or MWA. And many people did, just because they liked the rustic tree stone look that was so popular in the early 1900's.

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  22. Thanks for the information. In wandering a local cemetery and taking pictures, I came across several of the tree markers and other markers designated with the epithet "Here rests a woodman of the world" and the crest. Being something I haven't seen before, I just had to research it.

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    1. Glad to help! That's how I became interested in learning more about them. There is something so appealing about those tree stones....

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  23. Thanks,
    We were just at the little Florissant, Co. cemetery, and there were several WOW markers. There are also a lot of them at the Cripple Creek, Co. cemetery. These are very unique ones.
    Thanks for the info. on them.

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    1. Thanks Craig! I love the really unique ones, too!!

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  24. I just recently started working for Woodmen of the World. I am very proud of their history. It is a wonderful company. Rarely do you find a company that gives back to the community in so many ways.

    Lynda Dodd

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    1. The fact that they would not let a member be buried without a marker made a tremendous impression on me. Congratulations, and Best of Luck with WOW, Lynda!

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  25. Love these stones! We have several in local cemeteries in northeast Iowa. My mom was addicted to them, we tried to find one for her, when she passed but couldn't. Does anyone make them now?

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    1. Not that I'm aware of. Does anyone else know of a company making tree stones today?

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  26. At least 25 and closer to 50 Gravemarkers for WOW members at Mountain View cemetery in Altadena, Ca.

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    1. WOW!! Sorry - no pun was intended, originally ; ) Would love to see those!

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  27. I saw a Woodman of the World grave marker in Westville Ok in a small family cemetery. It stuck in my mind for the last 20 years. I am so glad I finally found this website to explain the tree like grave marker.

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    1. I can see why you remembered it - These stones are so interesting and it's always fun to 'read' what all of the carvings mean...

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    2. My great great grandmother has one in Nashville TN. I saw it about 20 years ago, no one left to ask about her and honestly don't even know where she is buried. Only taken there once in my lifetime. But I have enjoyed the other stories. Thanks

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  28. The WOW emblem is etched into the marble grave covering at my great grandfather's grave site in Magnolia Cemetery in Apalachicola, Florida. He must have carried the insurance and rider which provided burial assistance. He was born in 1857 and died in 1919. It has been interesting to learn about the organization and therefore know more about his beliefs. Thank you

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    1. Glad the info helped. Thanks for reading!

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  29. As my mother and I visited her parents at the Ft. Lupton, Colorado Hillside Cemetery, we found two Woodman of the World headstones. They had a motto etched into them. Dum Tacet Clamat or Clamatas? Each man died near 1909, it looks as if a hatchet might have been on top and sort of a gavel on the front of a horizontal stone piece of wood. Do you know what the motto might mean? From your writings,does this organization still exist. It goes with my belief that there is no one true way. Thank you, Kim

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    1. Kim, the motto is “Dum Tacet Clamet,” meaning, “Though silent, he speaks.” Both Woodmen of the World and Modern Woodmen of America are still in operation today as insurance providers. Sadly, the stones are no longer used.

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    2. i found one these tomb stones in toronto, ontario, canada. it's located at Parklawn Cemetary at the corner of bloor st. and prince edward dr south. i was doing a google search on the tomb stone and found this site.

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  30. My great grandfather has a woodmen of the world tree stone. The stone stands over 6 feet tall and has a photo of him in it. He died in 1918. I saw the stone many times as a child but never learned about the history of it. I just thought it was a really neat stone. He is buried in Woodson Chapel Cementary, which is now part Land Between the Lakes in KY. I just found this site today. Thanks for the information

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    1. Glad it helped. Love the fact he had a photo on his stone. Most tree stones don't.

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  31. Hi my name is Rachel. I recently came upon some of my family history and I found that my Great-Great Grandfather, Robert Lee McHenry was part of the Woodmen of the World back in 1912. I have a Certificate of Beneficiary from this fraternity. You can also reach me at my e-mail (drewbear01@gmail.com)

    Thanks

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  32. Enjoyed the history lesson, many of my family menbers back in the 1800s till 1930s have the tree stones. Want one for myself someday

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    1. Thanks! I recently saw a newer version (but not hand-carved) of a tree stone in a central Indiana cemetery. Nice to see someone is still making them.

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  33. We have several Woodmen and WOW stones in Pine Crest cemetery in Sault Sainte Marie Michigan .They are the 5' to 6' tall type and the small child's stack. My son works there in the summer and loves it . They are restoring the grave yard which is still used . Ed Wilson

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    1. Thanks, Ed! I'll have to make a note of that cemetery, wold love to see the tree stones.

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  34. I found your website after finding a tree stone also in Fisk, MO along with the tree that is taller then I am there was a smaller stone that has 4 "logs" with it; I did not get to view that one as it started to rain so I left the cemetery but I will go back and see what that one says also. Thanks for the great information!
    Norwayaha

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    1. You're welcome! Thank you for reading!

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  35. Yesterday I saw three WOW headstones in the Yountville Cemetery located in Napa County, California. All had a log with an axe planted in a horizontal log. Beautiful pieces of art. Glad I found you website to explain WOW to me!

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  36. I responded to a post from Hurricane Martha. I am reposting just so it doesn't get lost in all the reply's - I really want to let you know how great your website is and helping me to find out what the meaning was behind these unusual headstones was!!!!
    I usually go by the moniker "Fresno Dan" but these internet profile things won't let me log in.

    I went to Fresno to see the big Fresno Fair. I was staying at the Econolodge on Belment, and although I enjoy visiting cemeteries, I had never strolled though that one. I also saw those unusual headstones, and assumed they were for loggers! Thanks for the background. I am sooooo glad I discovered this blog!!!

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    1. Thanks, Fresno Dan! I'll warn you - looking for these stone can become addictive ; )

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  37. Help, my grandfather disappeared off the face of the earth sometime after 1930. His name Frederick Carkeek Pengilly born in 1892. I do have a letter of his from Sovereign camp! WOW building dated June 18 1917. He emigrated to the States in 1911

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  38. My father and his 2 sisters were born in Miami, Arizona at Camp #29. Sadly the marriage broke up and my grandma and her 3 children returned to Cornwall. I've tried everything to find him but this letter was found and it's worth a try.

    Thanks in anticipation

    Steve Pengilly

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  39. Hi Steven. I would contact Woodmen of the World http://www.woodmen.org/Contact/
    and see if they can shed any light on where your grandfather went after Miami, Arizona. Since this is a fraternal life insurance organization, they may also have some info on your grandma and her three children, if he continued to carry them on his policy. It's definitely worth a try! Good luck!

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  40. Were any of these monuments made by casting?

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    1. There were several tree-designed stones sold through catalogs, and being the same design, were cast not hand-carved. That's why you can find stones that look alike, especially in certain cities. But the hand-carved tree stones are the ones that tell the real story about the person.

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  41. It is nice to find beauty in sad things. I like looking at old headstones whenever I have to be in a cemetery, or while i'm driving by. Some of them are true works of art!

    Alena | http://www.edentreepros.com/tree-services-tree-pruning.php

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    1. Indeed - Cemeteries are the repositories of our lives.

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  42. In addition, I would send u pics, but not sure how to attach in this format.....

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    1. Just email to Joy.Neighbors@gmail.com

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