Grief, self-regard, and money are a flammable mixture. Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg, Virginia, has a nonpareil in the tree-stump monument of Mr. George W. Eanes. It spectacularly combines acute realism, many sub-elements of the genre, and three inscriptions, with no little poetry. It is perhaps the single most amazing thing I saw during a recent visit to that rich cemetery.
I have previously gone over the basics of the log style and explored what I think to be its greatest performance in a single plot, that of the Lloyd family in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery (figure 3).
As brilliant as the Lloyds’ efforts were, even including log-style curbs to demarcate the boundaries of the plot, they must now stand aside as the Eanes tree blows their central tree out of the water. This is no mean feat.
Figures 1 and 2 show the Eanes stump from two directions, from the south and the east, respectively. While the genre requires its practitioners to do what they can to produce an image of a crusty old dead tree notionally in the middle of the forest, the Eanes artist has gone to extreme lengths to portray the long-decayed remnants of an oak tree. The trunk has been battered and reduced by time to a barren, hollowed out widowmaker with only stumps where once stood long fallen limbs. Its blasted crown has been torn asunder in the violence of its fall (figures 4-7). All of this is a Romantic way of symbolizing the death and decay—in this case Eanes’. It’s a version of the pathetic fallacy.
The artist has captured the puckered scars left by the fallen branches. On the west side one final branch has been broken by time and violence and it hangs in mute decay notionally supporting the plaque recording the name GEO. W. EANES (figure 8). If you look closely, it’s been broken from the tree and then broken again; three of its broken ends peek out below the name plaque and a fourth helps hold up the east-facing dedication plaque.
The bark has been pulled and ripped away from the heart of the stump; it hangs in curled flaps around some of the breaks and is visibly working loose from the ends of the broken branches.
At the base, a gall (by the look of it) protrudes toward the NE (figure 9, on the left), and a fern grows to the W. Wood ear mushrooms grow on the SSE side (figure 10); as it died, the tree put out several suckers that, we are to believe, grew long enough to leave sizable stumps when they were (notionally) cut off.
A final leafing branch has sprung from the base of the tree twisting around the north side (figure 11). This must symbolize new life emerging from death.
TO MY DEAR HUSBAND
GEO. W. EANES
BORN DEC. 23, 1853
DIED AUG. 8, 1892.
SLEEP ON BELOVED, SLEEP
ON, AND TAKE THY REST.
LIE DOWN THY HEAD UPON MY
WE LOVED THEE WELL, BUT
JESUS LOVED THEE BEST.
These three iambic pentameters followed by a trimeter are an adaptation of the first stanza of the gospel hymn, “Sleep on, beloved,” by Sarah Doudney (1841-1926). Hymnary dot org finds it in hymnals going back to the early 1880s. In the original it reads:
Sleep on, beloved, sleep, and take thy rest;
Lay down thy head upon thy Saviour’s breast;
We love thee well, but Jesus loves thee best—
Good-night! Good-night! Good-night!
You see that the first verse on the stump has an extra ‘on.’ This is because the person who gave the text for the verse heard ‘beloved’ as a disyllable (belov’d), and needed an extra to get the requisite ten. Doudney, by contrast, heard a trisyllable (belovèd). To my mind, this is virtual proof that the hymn was quoted to the monument designer from memory, not taken from a text.
See at the bottom of the plaque how it rests upon one of the stumps of the lopped suckers (figure 13). To keep it from sliding off the sucker we are given to understand that a wood-splitter’s wedge has been driven into the sucker’s stump. The wedge is a standard iconographic element in the tree-stump style, here put to clever use. But even better, the plaque upon which the dedication rests is imagined to have been made of wood: see the grain and the knot immediately to the left of the wedge.
Turning to the central portion of the main stump, on a portion of the heart of the tree exposed by the peeling and tearing away of bark, is a tertiary inscription (figure 14):
‘TIS HARD TO BREAK THE
WHEN LOVE HAS BOUND THE HEART,
‘TIS HARD, SO HARD, TO SPEAK THE WORDS
MUST WE FOREVER PART?
DEAREST LOVED ONE WE HAVE
IN THE PEACEFUL GRAVE’S EMBRACE,
BUT THY MEMORY WILL BE CHERISHED,
TILL WE SEE THY HEAVENLY FACE.
I do not find these verses online in a poem or hymn, but they are common (in numerous variants) on tombstones and mourning cards, such as that of Captain W.K. Davis in 1891 (figure 15).
One final iconographic element: there is a sheaf of wheat with a sickle (figure 16) propped on a lopped sucker under the primary inscription (figure 8; see also figure 1).
The sheaf of wheat with sickle connotes the harvest, when one rich in years and good works receives the fruit of (in this case) his labors. I’ve recently written about this here.
That’s it for the tree, but not for the plot. There’s a log-style mourners’ bench (figure 17)!