Graveyard

Graveyard
Cedar Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Monday, November 7, 2011

Autumnal Accents: Oak Leaves and Acorns, Wheat Sheaves, and Grapes on the Vine

Oak Leaves and Acorns, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA
Wheat Sheaf, Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, Pa

Grapes on the Vine, Durham Cemetery, Durham, PA



“I saw old Autumn in the misty morn
Stand shadowless like silence, listening
To silence.”—Thomas Hood (1799-1845)

Autumn is my favorite time of year.  Autumn is a time of reaping what has been sown, and that concept becomes very powerful when applied to the end of a human life.  Has it been well-lived?  Or was it just an existence?  What type of legacy is left behind?  In the permanent silence of the grave, do the dead spend eternity thinking on their life, on their harvest, be it meager or mighty?   

Maybe I have been too influenced by Jacob Marley.  But for 19th-century society, it was important to adorn gravestones of loved ones with symbols of their character and accomplishments, to prove that they indeed left a legacy and made a difference in the lives of others.  Oak leaves and acorns, sheaves of wheat, and grapes on the vine are symbols of the harvest of a life well lived, and I thought they’d be an appropriate topic for the season.

Oak Leaves and Acorns

Oak leaves were a popular symbol on gravestones in the 19th century and into the 20th century.  The mighty oak symbolizes longevity, strength, and power.  It also symbolizes eternity, as the oak produces many acorns that grow into more oaks, thereby the continuing the “family” of trees.  Acorns were signs of independence and strength as well.

Usually oak leaves are present on tombstones of men, but not always.  Mothers were many times honored for their strength and their ability to produce the little “acorns.”  Many times I have found a double tombstone for husband and wife, with the oak leaves on the husband’s side and either ivy (steadfastness, friendship) or laurel leaves (faithfulness, victory over death) carved over the wife’s side.  Sometimes a wreath appears on the grave of spouses, with one half of oak leaves, and the other of ivy or laurel leaves.  
Oak And Laurel Leaves, Neshaminy Presbyterian Cemetery, Warrington, PA

Oak and Ivy Leaves, Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

Laurel and Oak Leaves, Doylestown Cemetery, Doylestown, PA

Ivy and Oak Leaves, Neshaminy Presbyterian Cemetery, Warrington, PA

Zion Hill Cemetery, Zionhill, PA

Durham Cemetery, Durham, PA

Durham Cemetery, Durham, PA

Sunnyside Cemetery, Tunkhannock, PA

Stroudsburg Cemetery, Stroudsburg, PA

Oak Leaves at bottom, Stroudsburg Cemetery, Stroudsburg, PA

Stroudsburg Cemetery, Stroudsburg, PA

St. Michael's Evan. Lutheran Cemetery, Sellersville, PA

St. Luke Evan. Lutheran Cemetery, Ferndale, PA

St. Luke Evan. Lutheran Cemetery, Ferndale, PA

St. John's Lutheran Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

Nockamixon Union Cemetery, Ferndale, PA

New Britain Baptist Cemetery, New Britain, PA

Mt. Zion Cemetery, Snydersville, PA

Montrose Cemetery, Montrose, PA

Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, PA

Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, PA

Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, PA

Milwaukee Cemetery, Milwaukee, PA

Maplewood Cemetery, Carbondale, PA

Maplewood Cemetery, Carbondale, PA

Maplewood Cemetery, Carbondale, PA

Madisonville Union Cemetery, Madisonville, PA

Lyons Street Cemetery, Tirzah, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Hickory Grove Cemetery, Waverly, PA

Hatboro Cemetery, Hatboro, PA

Greenwood Cemetery, Falls, PA

Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

Forks Cemetery, Easton, PA

(middle) Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA

East Bangor Cemetery, E. Bangor, PA

Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Laurel and Oak Leaves, Overfield Cemetery, Meshoppen, PA

Oak and Laurel Leaves, Moscow Cemetery, Moscow, PA

Laurel and Oak Leaves, Durham Cemetery, Durham, PA

Oak and Ivy Leaves, St. John's Lutheran Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

Oak and Ivy Leaves, Forks Cemetery, Stockertown, PA

LOVE THIS!  Oak and Laurel Leaves, Forks Cemetery, Stockertown, PA

Wheat Sheaves

A sheaf of wheat is the ultimate symbol of the harvest, and a perfect metaphor for a well-lived life.  After sowing seeds in the spring (birth) and tending the crop all summer (life), the farmer (God) harvests the wheat (death) and brings it in for the winter (the afterlife, the legacy left behind).  Usually the wheat sheaf is found on gravestones of older people, denoting a full life of prosperity and accomplishment.  Wheat is also a symbol of the body of Christ, since it is used to make bread.

A sheaf of wheat and a scythe is the symbol for the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry.  The Grange was a fraternal agricultural organization founded in 1867 that encouraged farming families to work together for their economic and political well-being.  The Grange exercised great political power in the late 19th century, having a membership of more than one million members, as one in three Americans then were farmers.  Today, their influence has decreased along with their numbers (about 300,000 in 2005).   The Middletown Grange #684 in Wrightstown, Pennsylvania is still a very active organization, hosting a great fair every year and supporting local farmers and 4-H groups.  As a descendant of farmers, I say, God bless ‘em!

Wallisville Cemetery, Carpenter Town, PA

Trinity Lutheran Church, Pen Argyl, PA

Stockport Cemetery, Stockport, PA

Odd Fellows Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Salem Churchyard, Bangor, PA

Old Brooklyn Cemetery, Brooklyn, PA

Norris City Cemetery, Norristown, PA

Norris City Cemetery, Norristown, PA

Mt. Zion Cemetery, Snydersville, PA

Montrose Cemetery, Montrose, PA

Montrose Cemetery, Montrose, PA

Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, PA

McComas Chapel Cemetery, Canadensis, PA

Madisonville Union Cemetery, Madisonville, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA (the family of this monument made their fortune in linoleum)

Jeffersonville Presbyterian Cemetery, Jeffersonville, PA

Hickory Grove Cemetery, Waverly, PA

Forks Cemetery, Stockertown, PA

Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA

Evergreen Cemetery, Gettsyburg, PA

Doylestown Cemetery, Doylestown, PA

Doylestown Cemetery, Doylestown, PA


Chase Cemetery, Fleetiville, PA

Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, PA

Abington Presbyterian Cemetery, Abington, PA

Grange Symbol, Kizer Cemetery, Cortez, PA

Grange Symbol, Gelatt Cemetery, Gelatt, PA

Grange Symbol, Carney Cemetery, Factoryville, PA

East Canaan Cemetery, South Canaan, PA



Grapes on the Vine

As wheat represents the body of Jesus Christ, grapes represent his blood, since they are used to make wine.  They also represent the fruits of the kingdom of Heaven, to be enjoyed by the deceased after a life well lived.  Late 20th century gravestones rarely have oak leaves or wheat sheaves on them, but the grape and grape vine motif persists even today, usually in Catholic cemeteries.


These symbols I have highlighted were selected by 19th century people for their deceased relatives, usually their parents.  It was important for the families to honor their parents for the sacrifices and support they had given their children and their communities during their lifetime.  I see oak leaves and wheat sheaves and grapevines to be a way to display pride in a loved one, and as a way to thank them.  In a time when the teaching of morals was very important, these symbols on tombstones stood as examples to others about the importance of living a good, pious, fruitful life, in order to achieve the promise of the afterworld.  I enjoy seeing them in cemeteries, because they are testaments to the importance of the harvest…you reap what you sow.  Keep that in mind.

Old Brooklyn Cemetery, Brooklyn, PA

Pleasant Hill Cemetery, Pleasant Valley, PA

Norris City Cemetery, Norristown, PA

Mountainview Cemetery, Upper Exeter, PA

Grape cluster bottom right, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Jerusalem Evan. Lutheran Cemetery, Sellersville, PA

Fairview Cemetery, Lake Winola, PA

Durham Cemetery, Durham, PA

Christ Lutheran Church, Harleysville, PA

Christ Lutheran Church, Harleysville, PA

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