The weeping willow is one of the oldest and most attractive elements of American funerary iconography. It’s too common to merit my slogging through the topic here but if you want a refresher, at the end I’ve appended a bibliographical note and linked to the most reliable online treatments at Gravely Speaking.

The monuments collected here run from the 1830s through the 1880s, with a few revivals in classier cemeteries in the latter half of the twentieth century. The last is from 2002. Enjoy!

Figure 1. Howard monument, 1832. Howard-Wahab Cemetery, Ocracoke, N.C. Photo: author.

Figure 1. 1832. This is an older photo, but the stone survived the 2019 hurricane unscathed. A thirteen-lobed willow in a simple frame. The poem is something else: Loathsome!

Behold vain mortals, fitting forms
Beneath clay cold sod
Dies a prey to loathsome worms
The noblest work of God.

Figure 1a. Wade monument, 1833. Episcopal Cemetery, Elizabeth City, N.C. Photo: author.

Figure 1a. 1833. Approximately ten-lobed willow with the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree look of number 16 arching over a vast urn. Points to the carver for using Latin and a ligature in the age count: AEt[atis suae anno] 37 yrs 11 ms 20 ds. One assumes his people brought a predilection for lovely slate work from their former home in Scituate, MA.

Figure 2. Sommers monument, 1836. Falls Church Episcopal Graveyard, Falls Church, VA. Photo: author.

Figure 2: 1836. A three-lobed willow with the lobes reduced to cascading verticals. Framed by two tombstones with burial mounds before them (in both cases extending to the left of the tombstone).

In faith assurance of a blest immortality.

Figure 3. Frazier monument, 1836?. Bethel Cemetery, Wilkes St. Complex, Alexandria, VA. Photo: author.

Figure 3. Maybe 1836. Willow with two lobes schematized into cascades of lines. Tombstone on the left, obelisk monument on the right.

The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Job 1 Chapter, 21 Verse.

In my distress I cried unto the Lord and he heard me. Ps. 120

What I say unto you I say unto all: watch. Chapter 13: 37 [Mark]

Let me go for the day breaketh. [Gen. 32: 26]

Figure 4. Harris monument, 1837 Bethel Cemetery, Wilkes St. Complex, Alexandria, VA. Photo: author.

Figure 4. 1837. Ten-lobed willow with braided articulated leafing branches in realistic cascades. Framed on both sides by stout obelisk monuments. Framed under a wide segmented arch.

Figure 4a. Letty Frazier monument, 1838. Bethel Cemetery, Wilkes Street Complex, Alexandria VA. Photo: author.

Figure 4a. 1838, I believe. Two-lobed willow identical to figure 4 except for a third branch on the right side of the tree.

Figure 5. Green monument, 1853. Shockoe Hill Cemetery, Richmond, VA. Photo: author.

Figure 5. 1853. An eleven-lobed willow in a fantastic gothic frame. “Consort.”

Figure 6. Letournau monument, 1853. Baltimore Cemetery, Baltimore, MD. Photo: author.

Figure 6. 1853. A three-lobed willow with a draped urn on the left.

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord
for they rest from their Labours
And their works do follow them.

Figure 7. Knox monument, 1854. Episcopal Cemetery, Elizabeth City, N.C. Photo: author.

Figure 7. 1854. Ten-lobed braided willow with a center part with plucked rose on the left and table tomb on the right against a lunette background with attractive texture.

Figure 8. Pleasants monument, 1854. Shockoe Hill Cemetery, Richmond, VA. Photo: author.

Figure 8. 1854. eleven-lobed willow in relatively high relief and braided leafing branches. A toppled column with a base and two pieces to its left, with a flower below.

Figure 8a. Joseph Baker monument, 1855 (on right). Mt. Hebron Cemetery, Winchester, VA. Photo: author.

Figure 8a. 1855. A married couple; we’re looking at the stone on the right. Highly stylized ten-lobed willow with marker or urn below willow on left.

Figure 8b. Sarah South monument, 1861. Mt. Hebron Cemetery, Winchester, VA. Photo: author.

Figure 8b. 1861. Thirteen-lobed willow with split trunk and asymmetrical massing. The artist has managed a fine three-dimensional effect in the rendering of the lobes.

Figure 8c. Bowles monument, 1862. Mt. Hebron Cemetery, Winchester, VA. Photo: author.

Figure 8c. 1862. Ten-lobed willow with braided leafing branches in simple frame.

Figure 9. Smith monument, 1864. Trinity Episcopal Cemetery, St. Mary’s City, MD. Photo: author.

Figure 9. 1864. A ten- or eleven-lobed willow with curlicues. The leafing branches are marked by thin striations. Resembles a convention of cousin Its. Draped urn on a pedestal on the left, an obelisk monument on the right. Arch on columns frames scene.

Figure 10. Unknown monument, 1865? Bethel Cemetery, Wilkes St. Complex, Alexandria, VA. Photo: author.

Figure 10. 1865? Schematized three-lobed willow with leafing branches reduced to vertical lines. Obelisk monument on left and tombstone with burial mound before it on right. See the following for a clearer version.

Figure 11. Russell monument, 1868. Bethel Cemetery, Wilkes St. Complex, Alexandria, VA. Photo: author.

Figure 11. 1868. Fussily symmetrical twenty-lobed willow with leafing branches reduced to vertical lines. Obelisk monument on left with laurel crown, tombstone with burial mound before it on right.

“For I know that my redeemer
liveth and that he shall stand at
the latter day upon the earth,
And that after my skin worms
destroy this body yet in my flesh
shall I see God.”
[Job 19: 25-26]

Figure 11a. Catharine Baker monument (on left), 1870. Mt. Hebron Cemetery, Winchester, VA. Photo: author.

Figure 11a. 1870. The monument of the wife of the subject of number 8a, here the stone on the left. Attractive asymmetrical eleven-lobed willow in the “Cousin It convention” style.

Figure 12. Ochs monument, 1871. Baltimore Cemetery, Baltimore, MD. Photo: author.

Figure 12. 1871. Half of willow with singularly articulated branches in comparatively high relief. To the left, an ornate urn on a pedestal with a garland draped over a raised inscription. It is a funerary monument. To the right of the monument, leaning on the urn in a mirror image of the Venus of Capua pose is a grieving female figure with heavy drapery and a head covering. The figure’s right elbow rests on the top of the urn, the left hand on the belly of the vase. To the left of the monument stands a short tripod or three-legged stool. To the right of the left foot of the figure is a plucked flower possibly left as a gesture of mourning.

He took her from a world of care
In everlasting bliss to share.

Figure 13. Griffith monument, 1872. Ivy Hill Cemetery, Alexandria, VA. Photo: author.

Figure 13. 1872. Highly stylized eight-lobed willow with lobes falling into forked ends. Strongly asymmetrical with balance of tree on right. Framed by a circle broken by the ground line.

                      He sleeps.
                           “In Jesus, blessed sleep,
From which none ever wake to weep.”

[M. Mackay, Asleep in Jesus! Blessed Sleep. Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #478]

Figure 13a. Mary South monument, 1874. Mount Hebron Cemetery, Winchester, VA. Photo: author.

Figure 13a. 1874. Nineteen-lobed willow symmetrically arranged over asymmetrical trunk.

Figure 14. McKay monument, 1875. Trinity Episcopal Cemetery, St. Mary, MD. Photo: author.

Figure 14. 1875. Ten-lobed willow with leafing branches reduced to verticals and prominent central gaps in several prominent lobes. On the right is an obelisk monument on a two-tiered base and die. The ground line segregates the bottom ninety degrees of the circular frame.

Figure 14a. Turner monument, 1881. Maplewood Cemetery, Durham, N..C. Photo: author.

Figure 14a. 1881. Slack-jawed perfectly symmetrical willow with thirteen lobes and two small sub-lobes springing from low on the trunk.

Figure 15. Sorer monument, c. 1884. Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

Figure 15. c. 1884. Astounding many-lobed willow in the round in free-standing monument for two dead children. Tombstone at far left, lamb lies down on Broadway lying asleep in center, cut trunk of tree under willow. Object on stump.

Figure 16. White monument, 1955. Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, MD. Photo: author.

Figure 16. 1955. Early revival “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree” willow with carefully articulated leaves drooping to right over (and framing) an urn. Crisp cutting on slate. Flowers at the corners of the semi-lunate frame.

Figure 17. Bruce monument, 1977. Oak Hill Cemetery, Georgetown, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

Figure 17. 1977. Nine-lobed willow crisply articulated into branches and leaves in revival style on limestone. Off-center tree on left side of semi-lunate frame arcs to the right covering and framing a thin urn.

Figure 18. Edgeworth monument, 2002. Oak Hill Cemetery, Georgetown, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

Figure 18. 2002. Late revival willow scene with two willows, a larger one on the left, closer to the center of the semi-lunate frame than a smaller one on the right. Just left of the central axis of the frame stands a stylized urn under the larger willow. The leaves of the latter, which are much larger than life, break the outline of the vase.

Bibliographical note.

Treatments on paper can be found in
Cothran, J., and and Danylchak, E. 2018. Grave Landscapes. The Nineteenth-Century Rural Cemetery Movement (University of South Carolina Press: Columbia), p. 173.
Keister, D. 2004. Stories in Stone. A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography (Gibbs-Smith: Salt Lake City), p. 67.

If you prefer a screen over paper, good treatments through case studies can be found in the Gravely Speaking blog, especially here. I highly recommend it: its author is well traveled and has a good eye. The author also recommends the article “Death’s Head, Cherub, Urn and Willow” by James Deetz and Edwin Dethlefsen, published in Natural History vol. 76(3) 1967, 29-37 and now online here.

Appendix. Some further examples.

Figure 19. Unknown grave in South plot. Mt. Hebron Cemetery, Winchester, VA. Photo: author.

Figure 19. c. 1850? Eleven?-lobed willow in simple frame.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Arlington, VA

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