Friday, July 27, 2012

Those Amazing Tree Stones



If you’ve been a taphophile for a while, you have probably developed a special fondness for certain gravestones, those that just seem to draw you to them.  My current favorites are the white bronze, headstone photos, and trees stones.




I am amazed but not surprised by the number of people who love the tree stones.  I remember the first time I found one.  There, amid a mixture of short stones, flat stones, intricate sculpture and obelisks, set an unassuming limestone tree stump.  Touching, yet solid and dependable, maybe a true adaptation of the person resting below.

There is something peaceful and heartening about the natural rustic look of a tree stone. – Life has ended but as a part of nature, we go on….


Tree stones were popular from the 1880’s to 1920’s.  They are called tree stump stones, tree trunk stones and tree stones.  Joseph Cullen Root was the founder of Modern Woodmen of America (1883) and also of Woodmen of the World (1890,) both fraternal insurance benefit societies.  Both became well known for using tree gravestones for their members. Root decided on the woodmen name after hearing a minister describe his congregation as ‘trees in God’s forest.”

Modern Woodmen of America (MWA) offered its members the opportunity to purchase grave markers for deceased associates until the mid-1970’s.  Cemeteries around the country also have the tree stone monuments, engraved with the MWA initials and symbols.  The MWA did not supply these grave markers or provide any monetary assistance for their purchase to members.


However, from 1890 to 1900, Woodmen of the World’s (WOW) life insurance policies did have 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.

As the tree gravestones became more popular, the Sears and Roebuck catalogue and Montgomery Wards catalogue offered them for sale to the general public.  A tree stone marker does not necessarily mean that person was a member of MWA or WOW.  Only if the organizations initials or symbols are located on the stone does it indicate that the deceased was a member of one of these organizations.



Tree stones vary in size and height from tiny children’s stones, just a few inches high, to soaring 10 to 12 feet high tree trunks.  All have intricately carved detailing at the base, and many ties around the trunk.  You could request certain elements be added to a stone to better tell the story of the deceased.  Many local stone makers could incorporate these carvings on the tree stone, making them very individualistic.

Symbols found on the tree stones include axes, mauls, wedges, any type of tool used in woodworking, flowers, vines, animals, chairs, buckets – anything that helped tell the story of the person buried there.
Tree stones also vary according to the area they were carved in and the type of cemetery.  Many local stone carvers left their personal mark on a stone.  This carver in Illinois put mushrooms on all of his tree stones.



The tree stones found in B'nai Abraham-Zion Cemetery in Chicago may feature an inscription in Hebrew, and photos – an extra bonus for the Tombstone Traveler.
  




Many times tree branches were broken off to show that a family member had died.  Tops were notched in certain ways and bark appeared to be peeled back or cut off to reveal the epitaph of those buried there.


Although no longer available for purchase, I can’t help but believe that if they were offered again, we would see a resurgence of tree stones in our 21st century cemeteries – a link to our past, and a nod to nature.

 
~ Joy

13 comments:

  1. Wow... I certainly learned something today. Thanks for sharing. :)

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  2. I have come across a handful of these monuments in rural Indiana and Michigan. Thanks for the article!

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  3. Beautiful, but sadly I haven't come across any where I live. Mainly angels here.

    Beneath Thy Feet

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  4. Thanks everyone!
    Buck, if you ever get a chance to go to Green Hill Cemetery in Bedford, Indiana - check out the tree stones and other carvings there. Local stone carvers did an amazing job on the stones.

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  5. My great-grandparents have a very large, rectangular monument made of granite. The top is slightly sloped, and it is there - in the middle of the top of the stone - that I found the emblem for the Modern Woodmen of America. Though not a "tree" their tombstone having that emblem led me to some wonderful people at the MWA who were very helpful in providing information on my great-grandparents. If you should find that one of your ancestors has a MWA marker, or tree, be sure to contact MWA (Google it.) They are wonderful about working with family and actually have employees whose job is to handle genealogical requests! They also provide speakers for your society or organizations.

    BTW: My g-grandparents are buried in a small, village cemetery in north central Minnesota. The upper mid-west - Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa, have many cemeteries with Woodman Trees! Great blog, Joy!

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    1. Thanks Kate! You're right - there are some MWA and WOW stones that are not tree stones, but they do have the fraternity's emblam on them. Glad to hear that MWA was helpful! Nice to know that they have a group dedicated to genealogical requests!

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    2. Thanks Kate! You're right - there are some MWA and WOW stones that are not tree stones, but they do have the fraternity's emblam on them. Glad to hear that MWA was helpful! Nice to know that they have a group dedicated to genealogical requests!

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  6. My friends think I am weird as well, but I love to visit grave sites and look around. There is just something intriguing about them.

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  7. Likewise fascinated by tree shaped tombstones. I blog on various topics but do a week of these from time to time. Just back from a road trip where I found some great ones in southern WI.
    http://detritusofempire.blogspot.com/
    Tacitus

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    1. Have not been to Wisconsin yet, but would love to.

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  8. The first grave monument I fell in love with is a tall tree trunk. Thanks for all your information on them!

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    1. You are welcome! There is something so comforting about those tree stones ...

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