The Matthews Monument at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bee Hives, Butterflies, Peacocks and Seashells

This blog is a potpourri of a couple of funerary symbols that are rare, and I have encountered only a few examples of each.   I like them, because of their “secret” meanings that actually will probably be pretty apparent, when you think about them.

Bee Hive

I only have one treasured example of a bee hive, and when I found it, I was with my mom.  She was looking at another tombstone, and I started jumping up and down, squealing, “A bee hive! A bee hive!”  Ma thought I had stepped on a bee hive, and she came running with her maternal instinct blazing.  It took her a few minutes to figure out what had actually happened to me.  And even then, I do not know if she realized I had had a taphophilian epiphany.  Sigh.  So misunderstood, am I.  Anyway, a bee hive is a symbol of an industrious Christian life.  Bees were adopted by the apostles as a symbol of their activities for establishing Christianity, and the hive is a symbol of the Church.  I wish this example was better defined, and included the name of the deceased.  If anyone ever sees another example of a bee hive or a bee, please let me know.

Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

"My Father," Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

The butterfly’s life cycle is a symbol of the Victorian hope for their own life cycle:  life as a lowly caterpillar, death in a cocoon, and resurrection as a butterfly soaring to hehe heaven.  The concepts of resurrection and a better afterlife were at the core of most 19th century symbols on tombstones.  I think the butterfly happens to be one of the most beautiful.

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Evergreen Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA

A Larger View of Last Photo, Evergreen Cemetery, Jim Thorpe (complete with real wasp's nest)

Two butterflies, one on the left at 9 o'clock, and the second above the roses, Montrose Cemetery, Montrose, PA

I only have one example of a peacock, and technically, it’s not a carving but a metal ornament added to a pyramidal family monument.  Peacocks are not common in American cemeteries, but they are more plentiful in European ones, according to Douglas Keister in Stories in Stone.  The many “eyes” on their feathers is a symbol of the all-seeing eye of God, and there is a legend that claims the peacock’s flesh never decays; hence, it symbolizes immortality.  Again, if you see a peacock in a cemetery (on a tombstone), holler to me.

Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Larger View, Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Seashells in funerary art usually are depicted as scallop shells (also known as a cockleshell).  According to Keister, the shell is a symbol of a journey or pilgrimage, and also represents the baptism of Christ.  There also might be a pagan association with rebirth into the afterlife, as the goddess Venus was portrayed by the artist Botticelli as coming out of a shell.  Plus there is always the possibility of finding a pearl inside a shell, so it could be a symbol of prosperity or a better life in the hereafter.  Thanks for blogging with me.

Zinc Tombstone with Clam Shell on Top, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Newark, NJ

Lamb in the Shell, Old Brick Reformed Church Cemetery, Freehold, NJ

A Sleeping Child in the Scallop Shell, perhaps symbolizing the family's treasured "pearl," Greenwood Cemetery, Howertown, PA

I found this stone, dated 1976, and yet same as the above, Canandensis United Methodist Cemetery, Canandensis, PA
A Second Zinc Tombstone with Clamshall at Top, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Newark, PA

Laura Virginia Dechert was 10 months old when she died.  The epitaph at the bottom reads:  "Fold her little hands together, Place her playthings out of sight, must the darling one be sleeping, Rest thee Laura dear goodnight."  Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV 

A year later, the family lost another child.  Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hail the Rail, Brother, and Join Me On the Footboard

Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA

Sunnyside Cemetery, Tunkhannock, PA

For anyone born in the last half of the twentieth century or later, railroads and the trains that travel on them may seem to be almost a peripheral part of our world of transportation.  Sure, we still have trains that carry freight, and mass transit systems, and of course, there is Amtrak, the last true passenger train.  But I will bet if you asked a young person to name a current mode of transportation, a train would probably not be the first or even second answer.

But one hundred and fifty years ago, railroads were the primary means of movement of passengers and freight in the country, next to a horse and carriage.  Automobiles and aircraft were merely ideas until after the turn of the twentieth century.  Railroad track and steam locomotives debuted in the late 1820’s with the B&O Railroad connecting Baltimore with the Ohio River.  By the 1850’s, the country had 9,000 miles of track; by the 1870’s, it boasted 52,000 miles of track.  And by the 1890’s, almost 130,000 miles of track crisscrossed the United States from coast to coast.  The railroads and their iron horses truly were king.   

The railroads made the fortunes of many men, including Cornelius Vanderbilt and Jay Gould.  They also provided employment for hundreds of thousands of people, both on and off the tracks.  After the Civil War, the railroads were the second largest employer in the United States, behind agriculture.  Railroad workers included conductors, conductors’ assistants, engineers, firemen, dining car stewards, ticket collectors, train baggagemen, brakemen, train flagmen, yardmasters, yard conductors, switchtenders, foremen, yard flagmen, yard brakemen, switchmen, car tenders, operators, hump riders and car operators, to name a few.  Plus, workers were needed to manufacture and lay the rail, and manufacture the locomotives and cars.  The entire operation was massive and affected and benefited much of the country.  

And yet, even with the benefits, there were many in the industry exploited by a few.  Vanderbilt and Gould and their ilk were not called “the robber barons” for nothing.  The mid-19th century was a time that didn’t know a standard 8-hour work day, or worker’s compensation in case of injury or death on the job.  By the 1890’s, railroad work was considered the deadliest in the United States, even more dangerous than anthracite mining.  Railroad workers began to organize in the 1860’s, at first to create benevolent funds to aid members and their families in times of sickness, injury and death.  But as the United States’ economy took a nosedive in the 1870’s, railroad workers showed their discontent with the rough working conditions and reduced wages by striking, which led to violence and bloodshed.

First, let me introduce you to some of the fraternal-organizations-turned-unions that were founded in the mid-19th century.  The first came to be in 1863 in Marshall, Michigan, when railroad engineers organized the Brotherhood of the Footboard.  The following year, the name was changed to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (B of LE).  They were the first of the “Big Four” fraternal organizations/unions that “promoted and protected the rights, interests and safety of their members through solidarity, aggressive representation and education.”  The B of LE was the senior national labor union in the United States when, in 2004, it merged with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to form the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Division of the Rail Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.  Their headquarters are in Cleveland, OH, and according to their website, they have 59,000 members today.  

The second of the “Big Four” was the Order of Railway Conductors and Brakemen (ORC&B), founded in Amboy, IL, in 1868.  It endured a few name changes and acquisitions of smaller unions until it merged in 1969 with the other two organizations below (and the Switchmens’ Union) to form the United Transportation Union (UTU).  

The third of the “Big Four” was called the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, organized in 1873 in Port Jervis, NY, as a benefits society for firemen that worked on steam locomotives.  The name was changed in 1906 as an acknowledgement that many of its members had been promoted to engineers, and so, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Engineers (B of LF&E) was born.  A fireman’s job on a steam locomotive was to continuously and carefully shovel coal into the boilers to produce steam.  The work was physically demanding, dirty and dangerous, as the platform was always swaying, and boilers frequently exploded.  A fireman was an engineer’s assistant, and many times the job was viewed as “engineer training.” In 1969, the B of LF&E merged with other unions to form the UTU.

The fourth of the “Big Four” was the Brotherhood of Railroad Brakemen, founded in 1883 in Oneonta, NY.  The name was later changed to the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen (BRT), and it continued until 1969, when it merged with other unions to form the UTU.  The UTU is headquartered in Cleveland, OH, and boasts 125,000 active and retired workers from the railroad, bus, mass transit and airline industries.

These modern unions have their roots in reactions to the economic depression that plagued first Europe and then the United States in the 1870’s.  The Panic of 1873 shook the nation when the Philadelphia banking firm, Jay Cooke and Company went bankrupt.  Cooke’s firm was the main financier of the federal government and its national loan during the Civil War, plus the bank was a major investor in many railroads.  When Cooke’s firm failed, the US economy collapsed.  The New York Stock Exchange actually closed for ten days.  Almost 90 railroads across the country went bankrupt, and more than 15,000 businesses failed also.   By 1876, the unemployment rate was 14% (about 3 million people).

This was caused also in part by a massive overbuilding of the railroad system and an overinvestment in it by banks using the funds of their depositors.  And in the wake of the Panic of 1873, the discontent that had been brewing between railroad workers and owners over poor working conditions exploded when the owners cut wages.  The Great Railroad Strike of 1877, also known as the “Great Upheaval,” began in Martinsburg, WV, when B&O workers struck in response to the second wage cut that year.  The state militia was called in, and then federal troops were needed to break the strike.  The strike spread to Cumberland, MD, where striking workers stopped freight and passenger trains.  The National Guard was sent in, violence erupted, and citizens were killed.  The strikers turned into an angry retaliatory mob, more killings ensued, and federal troops were needed to end the violence.  

The Great Upheaval also spread to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Reading, PA, Shamokin, PA, Chicago, Louisville, KY, and St. Louis.  In each of these situations, strikers were killed by local and state militia, and other strikers retaliated by destroying railroad property.  The violence ended only when the President Hayes sent in federal troops, although the federal troops did their share of killing.    As one worker put it, "We were shot back to work."  The strike lasted about 45 days, affected the entire nation, caused the death of about 100 people, and destroyed millions of dollars worth of railroad property.  It was the first national strike, and while unions lost this battle, they became better organized for the future ones, and the public had heard their grievances, even if the owners continued to ignore them, for a while anyway.

Growing up in anthracite coal country, I know about the strikes of coal miners in the late 19th century and the early 20th century.  I know about the Molly Maguires (who, by the way, were tried and hung in 1877.  It was a bloody year).  I know about John Mitchell and the United Mine Workers.  But I didn’t know about the Great Strike.  And I’d like to thank the men who worked on the railroad and whose Brotherhoods made sure they had a metal marker or carved emblem on their grave to denote their affiliations.  You’ll see them below, and it was great fun finding out about them.

B of LE on right (He was also in the Odd Fellows and the Order of United American Mechanics), Evergreen Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA

B of LF&E, Reeders Methodist Cemetery, Reeders, PA

This is a tough one.  Is it B of LE, or B of LF before they changed to B of LF&E???  Gnaden Huetten Cemetery, Lehighton, PA

The B is broken, B of LF&E, Gnaden Huetten Cemetery, Lehighton, PA

B of LE, Willow View Cemetery, Clifford, PA

BRT, Evergreen Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA

BRT, Gnaden Huetten Cemetery, Lehighton, PA

BRT, Brookdale Cemetery, Carbondale, PA

BRT, Carney Cemetery, Factoryville, PA

B of LF&E, St. Paul's UCC Cemetery, Swiftwater, PA

BRT, Indian Orchard Cemetery, Indian Orchard, PA

B of LF&E, this is on the grave of one of my cousins, Russell Possinger.  He died in 1923, age 23.  I don't know if it was a RR-related accident.  St. Mark's Lutheran Cemetery, Appenzell, PA
My guess is B of LE but again, could be a weird F, Hays Cemetery, Easton, PA

BR(RailRoad)T, Thompson Cemetery, Thompson, PA

BRT, Thompson Cemetery, Thompson, PA

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Canopy Gravestones: Architecture in the Cemetery

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

A close-up of the lamb under the canopy grave above, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA
Canopy gravestones are an example of architecture influencing funerary monument styles.   The most obvious architecture in cemeteries would be mausoleums, of course, a building that houses the remains of the deceased.  And while I like mausoleums, I love canopy gravestones more.  They seem more appropriate in garden cemeteries, as they are similar to pavilions or gazebos, with a roof supported by columns that create an airy yet sheltered space of repose.

Most canopy gravestones in the 19th century were inspired by the Classical Revival architectural style or the Gothic Revival style.  The ones I have seen are usually square or rectangular, and some of the carved decorative details (especially in the Gothic ones) are breath-taking.  I suspect also that canopy gravestones were influenced by canopy beds that were popular in the 19th century, as death was viewed as "the final rest." 

Another influence on the popularity of canopy graves might have been the Baldacchino, a gorgeously carved structure placed over the altar and tomb of St. Peter in St. Peter's Basilica.  The pope commissioned one of my favorite artists, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, to create this tribute to St. Peter, and from 1624-1633, Bernini rose to the challenge.  Bernini's work fell out of favor in the 1700's, but late 19th century scholarship helped to elevate him back to an important artist.

File:Bernini Baldachino.jpg
Bernini's Baldacchino in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome

According to McDowell and Meyer in The Revival Styles in American Memorial Art, a canopy gravestone "shelters a grave and its marker or monument without the confinement or restriction of walls interfering with the visibility of the site.  Such a configuration, it was understood, invites interaction between viewer and monument."   Unfortunately, the benefit of a canopy gravestone also can be a detriment.  "Interaction" can be confused with "accessibility," and sometimes if there is something under the canopy (such as a carved statue or an urn), the item can be removed.  The item also can suffer from exposure to the weather, and parts of it can break off.  You'll see many examples of this below.  But I do like to imagine what was there originally, in all its carved marble splendor.  This blog subject was my dad's idea, so Pop, hope you liked it.

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Lucy Minturn Barnet died when she was about 20 months old.  Someone has left flowers on her grave once a year for many, many years, and the cemetery workers never see the mourner.  When I took this picture, Lucy had been gifted with children's toys and hair barrettes.  Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA

A draped urn has broken off from its stand under the canopy.  Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA

Look to the left, on the ground:  a massive urn lies broken.  Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

A front view.  Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

A sleeping child, Gnaden Huetten Cemetery, Lehigton, PA

Hill Cemetery, Brooklyn, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

The grave of Alfred Theodore Miller.  The statue is attributed to a well-known German sculptor named Frederick Pettrich.  Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

"Our Charlie" is no longer in statue form under his canopy grave, unfortunately.  Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

A sleeping lamb.  Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Was there ever something under this canopy?  Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Mr. Archer has lost his head.  Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

This one is intriguing.  The broken obelisk would have been on the top.  Is that an egg in the middle??  And there are pieces of marble in the bottom section.  Definitely could use some detective work here.  Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Maple Grove Cemetery, Pleasant Mount, PA

Milford Cemetery, Milford, PA

Beautiful Gothic Canopy with a classical urn.  New Goshenhoppen Union Cemetery, East Greenville, PA
Another headless statue.  Northwood Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

A draped urn, but I only took a picture of the back of it, sorry!  St. Mary of Mount Carmel Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Ah, Gothic!  Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

I think this might have had "bed rails" in the front on the bottom.  Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

What used to be here?  Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Cold Spring Presbyterian Cemetery, Cold Spring, NJ

Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, PA

Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, PA

 There was something under this canopy at one time, as you can see the oval.  What was it?  Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA