Monday, October 28, 2013

Stories in Stone

Dick and I were watching a PBS special about cemeteries the other night, and seeing one filled with springtime daffodils gave me the idea to plant a few near some of the oldest stones in the little country cemetery where most of my family is buried.
According to a little publication by the Walworth County Genealogical society, Millard Cemetery, in Sugar Creek Township, was originally associated with the nearby Baptist church, which was first organized in 1842.  The burial grounds are located on what was originally part of the Francis Barker property - the settlement now called "Millard" was once named "Barkers Corners."  It can be found near the intersection of county roads A and O.
 So, the cemetery is just a little older than Wisconsin's statehood, which happened in 1848.  While the cemetery is still active, there are not too many burials each year.  Many of the old stones are worn, leaning, or broken.  Some lay flat, or have been engulfed by shrubbery.  But I think it's still a nice place, and I have enjoyed photographing the old stones, and researching the names on the oldest graves.

I suppose some people find graveyards to be sad, or perhaps spooky, but I enjoy them for their peace and quiet, and for the stories implied by the memorials.  Who hasn't wandered a cemetery looking for the oldest stones, for family members, for the memorials to children, to veterans, or to victims of epidemics or natural disasters?  I also enjoy looking for the carved symbols on the old stones.

Isaac Loomer's stone features a hand pointing upward, almost certainly symbolizes heaven, and the direction his family expected his soul to fly. Like many of the early stones from this farming community, the simple tablet, made from relatively easy to carve limestone or marble, has warm away and become difficult to read. There are more than 40 Loomer headstones at Millard.  The extended family originally was from New England, but many immigrated to Nova Scotia, and later homesteaded in WIsconsin.

Henrietta Buckley's stone features hands too, but this time clasped.  And her domed tablet stone also features carved grape vines.  The hands suggest both fellowship and a final farewell from earthly relationships.  The vines might represent Christ, or the Eucharist.
Here's another variant with an upward pointing hand, but also including carved obelisks. I wonder of Mr. Loomer was a Mason.
There are a couple upright stones that suggest a scroll, with the person's name, relationship and date of death.  Ann's stone tells us that she is the wife of J. McHugh, that she was 66 years old when she died, and that she will be missed at home.
Silas Weaver was only a year old, and his stone also resembles a scroll mounted on a based of carved brick, with the addition of a rose, suggesting innocence or purity.
There are many children's stones in Millard.  Some simply say "Baby" or like this one, part of the Bigelow plot, feature lambs.  There is no name, just the engraved words, "Baby sleep."
Warren and George Loomer died not very far apart, so their parents had one stone for the two boys.  I think I remember reading that they died of measles, something we rarely see these days.  This stone used to stand upright, but now lies flat on the grass.
Henrietta Monroe died when she was 23 years old.  The graceful curving top of her stone tablet is covered with carved lilies and roses, suggesting purity.
Another carved symbol I found on several stones is that of the dove, carrying an olive branch.  This might stand for peace, purity, or the soul ascending to heaven.
This nicely preserved tablet features the broken column, which stands for a life cut short.  William Kester was 48 years old when he died.
I know that tree trunks also often stand for a life cut short, although this is a family monument.  The name, Barker, carved into the trunk, says it all.  Members of the Modern Woodmen of America also sometimes used tree trunks, though I do not know if the Barkers were members of that fraternal organization.
James Bigelow's tall upright monument is topped with an urn, as are many of the other stones in Millard cemetery.  The graceful shape of the urn is partly decoration, partly a reminder of the return of the body to dust, and the immortality of the soul.  His stone also features a weeping willow, long a symbol of mourning and grief.
I was interested in how few crosses I found on the old headstones at Millard, despite the fact that the oldest burials were associated with the Baptist church.  This one, and another that was carved in the shape of a cross, but now is badly damaged.  Still, this carved cross clearly identifies the man as a Christian.  There are no angels on the graves at Millard, perhaps because they were too costly to carve.  The people buried here, were, for the most part, rural people.  Farmers, teachers, ministers, a doctor or two.  The stones that mark their graves are simple, not showy.  No ostentation for these folks. Many have nothing more than a name  - sometimes just a first name, and a date of death. Plain and simple, like the people themselves.


Judy said...

Interesting and fun to see. I just can't resist a tour of tombstones Sherry!
fyi: I found this site talking about the meanings of the willow tree.

I'm loving your new artwork incorporating the old photos!

debi baron said...

That's cool, thanks for sharing with us.

debi baron said...

Thanks for sharing this with us, very cool. I also enjoy cemeteries. I feel sad when I see broken head stones, as if those people have been forgotten.