Graveyard

Graveyard
Cedar Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Annual Thanks for the Hand Carved Tombstone

 
Usually, my tombstone tastes will tend towards marble markers elaborately carved with mid- to late-19th-century symbols whose meanings are rooted in Victorian culture.  Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1901, and her reign had influence on American customs, especially when it came to mourning and funerary matters.  (Victoria lost her beloved husband Albert in 1861 and remained in "heavy mourning" until her own death.  A typical mourning period for a widow then was 2-5 years, while hers lasted 50 years.  This obsessive dedication to her husband's memory set the tone for mourning customs in Europe and America.)  The Victorians have been accused of doing everything in excess, from decorating living spaces with mismatched patterns, colors and textures to adorning dying places with a myriad of monuments, carvings and back-of-the-hand-to-the-forehead epitaphs to make one weep and swoon.  I confess I am a Victorian at heart, born about 100 years too late, and my taphophile tendencies follow that course. 

But this blog entry will focus on pre-Victorian grave markers, created by carvers living in simpler times, using only hammers and chisels to create some incredible memorials to those who went before.  Because the stones seen below were created in eastern Pennsylvania and coastal New Jersey and New York, marble was not the material of choice, but rather red sandstone, slate or an amalgamated mix of minerals found in the average field stone were used.  Because of time when these stones were carved---the 1700's into the early 1800's, when communication and transportation systems were more limited---the styles seen were also limited to their immediate geography.  Many times, individual carver styles can be discerned as well.  If some of these stones found in a geographic area were not done by one person, they were at least done by a several people who learned carving from each other---say, perhaps, a father teaching a son or nephew.  Someday, I hope to launch a study to determine the carver(s) of the Pennsylvania German fraktur carvings found in Northampton and Lehigh counties.  So many gravestone facets, so little time!  Enjoy and contact me at tschane2@verizon.net


PENNSYLVANIA GERMAN CARVERS:  THE FINAL USE OF FRAKTUR
 
 
We begin with gravestones carved by the Pennsylvania German immigrants who came to eastern and south-central PA between 1740 and 1860 (to the counties of Northampton, Lehigh, Berks, York, Lancaster, and northern Montgomery and Bucks for the most part).  The Pennsylvania Germans are incorrectly called "Pennsylvania Dutch."  They were immigrants fleeing from eastern France, southern Germany and Switzerland, eager to escape European religious persecution and to be a part of William Penn's religiously free colony.  They spoke their own colloquial version of German, and since they pronounced the Fatherland as "Deutsch," their new neighbors who spoke the King's English called them "Dutch."  Hence, the error.  But as a descendant of several Pennsylvania German lines, I proudly tell you, we're German!! 

The Pennsylvania Germans had their own dialect (in order to translate their tombstones, I had to purchase a Pennsylvania German dictionary.  The online German-to-English translation sites cannot make sense of some of the words, even when I am positive of the spellings.)  They also created a unique style of folk art called fraktur, which is both a style of lettering (like calligraphy) and a highly artistic and elaborate illuminated folk art.  Fraktur artists would create fancy-lettered marriage, birth and baptism certificates, decorated with tulips, suns, stars, birds, and tree-of-life motifs.   Much to my surprise, they also added these symbols to their tombstones, although mostly on the backs of them.  Some carvings are primitive or simple, but some were obviously done by master carvers who could really wield that chisel!
 
 
This "bouquet" in the vase actually represents the tree of life, with the dying blooms on the bottom being supplanted by the large thriving bloom reaching to the sky.  Note the 6-point compass star formed by the six interlacing circles and the upside down heart in the living bloom:  these are common PA German symbols.  Lower Saucon Christ Lutheran Cemetery, Hellertown, PA

"Here rests in God, Lita B., the daughter of Abraham and Anna Babwar, born 1 April 1801 and died 28 May 1803."  I am not sure why John Weniger's name is on the bottom.  The symbol at the top represents the sun, Forks Cemetery, Stockertown, PA

"Here rests in God Catharine Handwerckin, born 14 Sep 1747 and died 10 March 1808..." then it looks like it lists her age in terms of years, months and days.  Heidelberg Union Cemetery, Slatington, PA

"Here rests in God Lidia Ridisin, who was born 20 September 1805 and died 23 December..."  Heidelberg Union Cemetery, Slatington, PA

Tough to read the inscription but this is the marker for Margaretha Hertzel.  The heart is flanked by either flowers or stars; scholars of PA German fraktur studies disagree on which.  Indian Creek Christ Reformed Cemetery, Indian Valley, PA

One of the saddest realities of these stones is difficulty in legibility.  Last name is "Duehl" (probably Diehl) and born 1745, died 1779.  Flower might be a forget-me-not.  Heidelberg Union Cemetery, Slatington, PA

Also a problem:  these slate and sandstone markers seem to provide a good home to lichen.  Under the large 6-point compass star---or is it the sun?--and two smaller stars, the tree of life shows that as we die, life goes on.  Plainfield Cemetery, Plainfield Twp., PA

This is not an Indian chief, but instead, a soul effigy.  A soul effigy was a precursor to a cherub, as it represents, literally, the soul of the deceased, with wings, on its way to Heaven.  "Here rests in God the true and good soul of Simon Heitzman, son of William and Margaret Heitzman..."  Plainfield Cemetery, Plainfield Twp., PA

Another soul effigy, with small flowers and suns.  These are very primitive in comparison with the ones I have found in coastal New Jersey and New York (see below). Plainfield Cemetery, Plainfield Twp., PA

This half-circle with triangles represents the sun, either rising or setting, depending on your viewpoint.  This literally translates as "for souvenirs (zum andenken)," which I take as "the remains of Margaretha Stackhaus, born 1782 and died 20 July 1824, aged 56 years, the wife of Johannes Stackhaus."  Plainfield Cemetery, Plainfield Twp., PA

A flower or compass or sun, we may never know.  Pleasant Hill Cemetery, Pleasant Valley, PA

Sun symbols and tulips, a flower that appears over and over in PA German motifs.  "Here lies in God the true and good soul of Johann Peter Seiler, born 26 January 1721..." Raubsville Cemetery, Raubsville, PA
 
I love this one.  Done by a skilled carver who did not need to carve "lines" to keep his letters in order.  I think this is for Rebekka Uberwall, 1704-1791, but that might be wrong, St. Paul's UCC Indianland Cemetery, Cherryville, PA

The top symbol intrigues me, it looks Masonic, but I can't prove it.  Maria Kasselin died in 1810, aged 57.   Towamencin Mennonite Cemetery, Harleysville, PA

A gorgeous example of Fraktur calligraphy, carved into stone.  First three words I can't figure out..."here rests Maria Catharine Kleinin, born Walberlin (somewhere in Germany?) 6 January 1725 and died 6 Jun 1796, aged 71 years..."  Can't determine the rest either (except for Zions/Heaven).  In the 1700's, sometimes they wrote letters differently than we do now.  For instance, two "ff"'s together is actually two "ss"'s.  Perhaps the last 4 lines are an epitaph about the deceased going to Heaven.  Trinity Great Swamp UCC Cemetery, Spinnerstown, PA

Flower or plant or sun?  Zion's Stone Church Cemetery, New Ringgold, PA

"Here rests in God Gertraut Miller, born 21 July 1738 and died 15 Jun 1803, aged 64 years, 10 months and 12 days."  Zion's Stone Church Cemetery, New Ringgold, PA

I think this is for Salome Delong, born 1809, died 1811, Zion's Stone Church Cemetery, New Ringgold, PA

Wonderful heart and flowers or suns, Augustus Lutheran Cemetery, Trappe, PA

The vine coming out of the heart is the tree of life, originating from the heart, or Nature, Augustus Lutheran Cemetery, Trappe, PA

And if you look closely, you will see my broken heart lying on the ground also, Lower Saucon Christ Lutheran Cemetery, Hellertown, PA

A four-point compass star, and the tree of life, being nourished by the eternal waters (in the urn), Lower Saucon Christ Lutheran Cemetery, Hellertown, PA

This could be a soul effigy, but earlier scholars (Preston Barba) felt it was a representation of a German talisman or defense head.  The confrontal design beneath it are two roosters, according to Barba, symbols of fertility.  Birds in pairs like this are very common in fraktur folk art pieces.  I love the beautiful curved side columns.  This time, the 4-pointed compass is the life-flower in the tree of life.  Lower Saucon Christ Lutheran Cemetery, Hellertown, PA

Beautiful tulip with upside-down heart in its center, Lower Saucon Christ Lutheran Cemetery, Hellertown, PA

I am considering moving into this cemetery.  A soul effigy with two non-confrontal birds (rare in Fraktur; they almost always face each other), with a tree of life and those curved columns, Lower Saucon Christ Lutheran Cemetery, Hellertown, PA

Truly, quite a carver.  It's possible these were done by more than one person, but the designs are so similar.  Lower Saucon Christ Lutheran Cemetery, Hellertown, PA
 
A tulip design and a lot of backwards "N"'s (common then), "Here rests in God Anna Maria Rumbelsin, born ___ and died 1796, aged 5 months and 2 days."  Heidelberg Union Cemetery, Slatington, PA
   
I would be willing to bet this is the same carver as in Hellertown; (Barba felt the same way).  There are confrontal roosters on either side of the four-pointed compass star, and a double-trunked tree of life.  The spirals at the bottom are said to represent the waxing and waning moon.  Neffs Union Cemetery, Neffs, PA

A more primitive tree of life with tulips, Neffs Union Cemetery, Neffs, PA

Tough to read this one, but interesting architectural details surrounding the stars or flowers, New Goshenhoppen Union Cemetery, East Greenville, PA

Damn the soft earth!!  New Goshenhoppen Union Cemetery, East Greenville, PA

Again, too difficult to read, but incredible heart over bones.  The soul versus the body?  New Goshenhoppen Union Cemetery, East Greenville, PA

Someone named Miller, 1776-1783.  New Hanover Lutheran Cemetery, Gilbertsville, PA

The inscription is pretty faded, but what a wonderful soul effigy on a heart, New Hanover Lutheran Cemetery, Gilbertsville, PA

Gorgeous soul effigy on a heart, and fabulous columns, New Hanover Lutheran Cemetery, Gilbertsville, PA
  
Another vine-of-life coming out of the heart or center of eternal life, Augustus Lutheran Cemetery, Trappe, PA

Julianna Bauers is all I can be sure of here.  The spirals represent the wax and wane of the moon, and the top carving looks like a vine of some sort, maybe morning glory (symbol of the resurrection) with those heart-shaped leaves, Augustus Lutheran Cemetery, Trappe, PA

Interesting tree of life using sun symbols, Plainfield Cemetery, Plainfield Twp., PA

I don't see any connecting vines here.  The top symbol has only 4 sections, while the middle two have 8.  The bottom symbol looks more like a flower, Plainfield Cemetery, Plainfield Twp., PA

Definitely a tree of life, with the leaves at the bottom, Plainfield Cemetery, Plainfield Twp., PA

Nice sun symbol and heart, "Here rests Charles Rihl, son of Benjamin and Maria Rihl..."  Plainfield Cemetery, Plainfield Twp., PA

This looks like a Moravian star, or the Star of Bethlehem.  St. Paul's UCC Indianland Cemetery, Cherryville, PA

Many sun symbols, and could that be a bed below, like a grave cradle, with a head stone and footstone?   St. Paul's UCC Indianland Cemetery, Cherryville, PA

Wonderful details on the tree of life,  St. Paul's UCC Indianland Cemetery, Cherryville, PA

Obviously done by the same carver who did the previous one,  St. Paul's UCC Indianland Cemetery, Cherryville, PA

"1775" on either side of the compass star, and a more simplified version of the tree of life in a heavy urn,  St. Paul's UCC Indianland Cemetery, Cherryville, PA

Close-up of a tree of life symbol etched on the front of a tombstone,  St. Paul's UCC Indianland Cemetery, Cherryville, PA

Simple sun or six-pointed compass star, with more geometric details,  St. Paul's UCC Indianland Cemetery, Cherryville, PA

Hard to decipher, I can see 1775.  The symbol at the top is another version of the tree of life.  That's the beauty of folk art:  there is uniformity in its diversity, St. Paul's UCC Indianland Cemetery, Cherryville, PA

I've changed my mind, moving to THIS cemetery!  A fabulous folk-art tree of life with tulips and 6-pointed compass stars,  St. Paul's UCC Indianland Cemetery, Cherryville, PA

The tree of life in a cauldron, symbolizing the womb of Mother Earth.  There is another tulip in the bottom left corner also, and interesting caving marks.  "Here rests in God Rosina Rede, died 1778.   St. Paul's UCC Indianland Cemetery, Cherryville, PA

AUUUGH, I LOVE THIS PLACE!!   St. Paul's UCC Indianland Cemetery, Cherryville, PA

Tough to decipher, but really nice heart,  St. Paul's UCC Indianland Cemetery, Cherryville, PA

Close-up of tombstone with TWO tree of life urns,  St. Paul's UCC Indianland Cemetery, Cherryville, PA

To me, this looks like a cedar tree, reminiscent of the Cedars of Lebanon in the Holy Land.  Cedar was used to build the temple of God in Jerusalem, as well as Solomon's house, and other religious buildings.  They grow to amazing heights and their wood is long-lasting.  Many mid-century cemeteries in eastern Pennsylvania have cedar trees planted in them, in remembrance of the Cedars of Lebanon.   St. Paul's UCC Indianland Cemetery, Cherryville, PA   


Another variation of the tree of life.  I am so moving here.   St. Paul's UCC Indianland Cemetery, Cherryville, PA

 St. Paul's UCC Indianland Cemetery, Cherryville, PA
  
Not sure about the top symbol, but the spirals supposedly are for the moon phases, Trinity Great Swamp UCC Cemetery, Spinnerstown, PA

Acid rain sucks, but look at the tops of the columns, Barbara Kiefer, 1714-1789, aged 68, Trinity Great Swamp UCC Cemetery, Spinnerstown, PA

Even my dictionary doesn't help me here.  Johann Tolppit, best I can do??  Hearts and a tulip tree-of-life, Trinity Great Swamp UCC Cemetery, Spinnerstown, PA
 

This slate stone is in such bad shape, but wait until you see the following close-up, Chestnut Hill Church Cemetery, Coopersburg, PA

Okay, can you see the winged figure to the right of the center design??  What is it???!!!  Creepy, but the rest is typical tulips and vines and Fraktur calligraphy, Chestnut Hill Church Cemetery, Coopersburg, PA
 


CARVERS FROM A MORE NORTHERN COASTLINE
 
The next group of carvings are from the early 1800's, and appear in the northeastern part of Pennsylvania, in the counties of Wayne, Susquehanna, Bradford, Luzerne and northern Lackawanna (the ones I have found anyway).  These stones are grey slate or a golden slate-like sandstone (it can erode in thin sheets like slate).  Those counties were settled mostly by settlers from Connecticut, and their tombstones usually sport a weeping willow trailing branches over an urn, or what I interpret as a chalice-like container with a century-plant cascading out (a century plant is an old name for agave, and they can live an awfully long time).   The names of the deceased are more patrician, English-sounding and definitely carved in English.  These stones are in danger of breaking, as they are usually 3.5'-4' tall and thin.  Plus, since slate spalls (splits off in layers) when water gets under the surface layer and engages in freeze-thaw, sometimes the top layer (the important layer!) has broken off or crumbled away.  Hence, I take my pictures.
 


Century plant in a chalice for Commodore Cramer, Forty Fort Cemetery, Forty Fort, PA

A chalice with the century plant for Steuben Brees, Forty Fort Cemetery, Forty Fort, PA

Excellent detailed urn under a willow, with a side design of vines and flowers.  Forty Fort Cemetery, Forty Fort, PA

Close-up of above, Forty Fort Cemetery, Forty Fort, PA

Stab me in the heart, Forty Fort Cemetery, Forty Fort, PA


A lot of work went into this one, Forty Fort Cemetery, Forty Fort, PA

Chalice with Century Plant, Forty Fort Cemetery, Forty Fort, PA

The vines on the side have the side leaves cut off, Forty Fort Cemetery, Forty Fort, PA

If I remember correctly, these two brothers were slain by Native Americans.  The vines on the side look like morning glory to me, Harding Family Cemetery, Avoca, PA

Close-up of urn with weeping willow.  Note the 8-pointed stars, Jackson Cemetery, Tunkhannock, PA

Kills me, Lynn Cemetery, Springville, PA

More stars, and interesting stylized columns, Maple Grove Cemetery, Pleasant Mount, PA
 
GRINNING SKULLS AND HIGH-AND-MIGHTY SOULS
 
The last fabulous early stones I have for you hail from coastal New Jersey and New York.  Death heads, or the grinning skulls, came pretty early in American Caucasian tombstone history.  Life was short, death was certain, and town elders and preachers instructed laymen to prepare for Judgment Day.  Slowly, as societal thought about death began to soften, soul effigies took the place of the death heads.  The bone was clothed in flesh (heavenly flesh, perhaps) and the wings would take the soul to heaven.  These type of symbols---death heads and soul effigies---are well-known in New England graveyards.  I had no idea they were plentiful in New Jersey and Staten Island.  But it makes sense, as the coastal areas of North America were settled first.  These early tombstones set the stage for the Victorian change in thinking about and dealing with death:  from the skull and bones, to the ethereal soul, to the softer and more comforting idea of reunion and "we will meet again."  So the Victorian in me thanks these disturbing little faces for what they presaged.
 

 
Many times, the death head has wings and a crown, a reference to rewards in Heaven IF you made it there, Fairview Cemetery, Middletown, NJ
 
This symbol represents the sun, setting in death, but rising in resurrection.  The carver added his initials, Moravian Cemetery, Staten Island, NY
 
A soul effigy with not curlers, but probably a crown or halo, Moravian Cemetery, Staten Island, NY
  
Mouthless soul effigy, "Like as a shadow or the morning dew, My days are past which was but few, Grieve not for me dear husband tis in vain, Your loss I hope is my eternal gain," Moravian Cemetery, Staten Island, NY
 
A badly pocked soul effigy on a sunken stone, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Newark, NJ
 
These pear-shaped faces on the soul effigies tend to look a little puckered.  At the bottom, I can make out "blessed are the dead..." Mount Pleasant Cemetery Newark NJ
 
I like birds a lot, but they do cause problems for tombstones.  I think the wife of Richard Prest died in 1782, Old Brick Reformed Church Cemetery, Freehold, NJ
 
Scared little effigy, Old Brick Reformed Church Cemetery, Freehold, NJ
 
Interesting how the star shapes show up in three very different regional carving styles.  Barba maintains that they did not represent stars, but the sun, and this type of symbol with rays extended shows up in ancient cultures, much, much earlier than the 18th century.  The sun was crucially important to ancient cultures, and they revered it.  St. Peter's Episcopal Cemetery, Perth Amboy, NJ
 
Lovely border carvings, St. Peter's Episcopal Cemetery, Perth Amboy, NJ
 
Wow, I love the details on this one, St. Peter's Episcopal Cemetery, Perth Amboy, NJ
 
Rather old tombstone for a mother and her two young children, with the cheery symbol of skull and crossbones.  Again, life was short in the early 1700s.  The church docent here maintains that the hole in the stone was from a musket ball shot during a Revolutionary War battle.  St. Peter's Episcopal Cemetery, Perth Amboy, NJ
 
Really great carvings here, St. Peter's Episcopal Cemetery, Perth Amboy, NJ
 
Simple cross bones, West Long Branch United Methodist Cemetery, West Long Branch, NJ
 
Creepy death head--the heart doesn't help!  Fairview Cemetery, Middletown, NJ
 
Here's an 18th-century stone from Virginia that I thought I would use as an ending...note the interesting letters:  I's are J's and the Ns look like a melding of Xs and Ms.  And the colon in between?  St. George Episcopal Cemetery, Fredericksburg, VA