Cemeteries attract all sorts of visitors, although some are more surprising than others. The same can be said about old tombstones. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, something new comes along. In King County, it’s common to see a nod to both the rustic pioneer and classic Victorian. (See The Secret Garden for a traditional English Victorian cemetery).
One of the more striking sights are the tree stump monuments, courtesy of the fraternal organization called Woodmen of the World. Joseph Cullen Root started the group in 1890 after he was inspired by the idea of woodsmen clearing the forest for their families.
The memorial stone was an early membership benefit and while tree stumps had already been a relatively popular sight, the organization’s 1899 adoption of the design as an emphasis of equality and commonwealth, pushed the stone further into the public eye.
Varying in shape and size, these tree stump carvings can be so life-like, that it’s sometimes difficult to tell the stone from the real thing.
Books – either open or closed – are also frequently seen in the older cemeteries.
A closed book can represent a life ended, the Bible, or even virginity while an open book signifies registering the name of the deceased or even the human heart open to the world and God. (1).
Keep in mind that there can be a variation of carvings added on, such as “At Rest”, the gates of heaven and a dove, Calvary and even a draped cloth to indicate the veil between heaven and earth.
Additional Victorian draping styles, some with surprisingly intricate details, span the social strata by appearing in many of the local cemeteries.
Comet Lodge has one of the few, fully draped stones….
Coming up next, the carvings share their secrets – Part IV
(1) Keister. Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism & Iconography. Salt Lake City. 2004. Page 113.
(2) Keister. Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism & Iconography. Salt Lake City. 2004. Page 114.
“Old tombstones. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, something new comes along.”
That the old can be “new” to us. I find that fascinating.
At least one of the tree stumps in the photos resembles a totem pole. But is wasn’t Native American burial grounds, right?
What an amazing amount of research you must have done—and documented! As someone who is writing a memoir, all I can think of is the stories all those people must have had and maybe didn’t get around to telling anyone.
What a fascinating interest you have! Cemeteries do have their secrets and revelations, don’t they?
I enjoyed your post and photos, and also love the term armchair archaeologist.
Thanks for sharing your wonderful work.
Gwynneth, what a delightful and informative blog! I live very near the Tolt cemetery and became very interested in old cemeteries and burial grounds when I thought I discovered one or more graves in my backyard last summer!
After further investigation, it looks extremely likely that the rectangular shapes I’m seeing are simply drainage pits for the septic tank, but it was was pretty interesting to think otherwise for a few weeks. (I live in the Lake Marcel area, please let me know if you hear of any burial sites here!)
Thanks for stopping by – I’m so glad you enjoyed the articles!
I must admit that I’m finding symbol, inscription and stone research to be like birdwatching….you’re always looking to “add” to the collection!
I love Your idea to photograph on cemeteries memorials. Lovely!