Today’s sermon has the topic of trees on grave markers. Or, rather, because weeping willows and trees of life and images of trees in a mountainous landscape etched upon a black stone marker (figure 3) are commonplaces, I present to you to the far rarer and more interesting Monuments in the Form of Trees ™.
These stand side by side in New Rosemont Cemetery in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. They’re probably five feet tall and are the only specimens of this type of monument I remember having seen. Clearly some atelier, or some cutter within a shop was flexing his artistic muscles with these.
The Ralston monument is pretty clearly the product of the finer hand; see how the cutter has attractively managed to replicate the asymmetric profile of a cedar tree.
Less talent, or, if the artist was the same, less experience marks the Diehl monument. It’s the equivalent of those Christmas trees we used to make in grade school by folding a paper in half lengthwise and cutting out half of a tree form. Unfold the paper and voilà, a perfectly symmetrical tree shape. This (forgive me for being bold here) witless symmetry is carried over even into the roughened edges that frame the boughs and the notional bits of ‘light’ that outline the rising trunk.
I’ve seen crazy cut-out monuments, of course: if someone at the Milacek Monument Company in Omaha could cut out a monument in the shape of Nebraska, why can’t a fellow in Bloomsburg cut out a tree? Why buy a tree-shaped monument is another question. I reckon it’s because the commemorators, whether the future occupants of the grave or survivors grappling with a family death, want to remember good times to make the bitter pill of death go down a little smoother. I’d call it a memento vixisse, a ‘remember that you have (or your loved one has) lived’ monument. These people loved camping, or hunting, or nature. I’d say the Bloomsburg trees are a more abstract or refined form of those etched mountain scenes I mentioned in the first paragraph (figure 3 is a fair example in Columbia Gardens Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia).