On the Subject of Cemeteries


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If this is your first visit, welcome to Musings. If you have been here before, welcome back. Over time we are going to talk about many things: the past, the present, perhaps the future, travel, art, society and more. Wherever my musing takes me. I hope you will come along with me.

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Cemeteries and Monuments

Today I thought I would talk about cemeteries, places most of us are going to go to but seldom visit.

I’ve found cemeteries to be very interesting and they tell you a lot about local history.

Back in the 70’s I used to sell Tax Sheltered Annuities (TSAs) to school teachers.  I worked one particular school district in Globe, Arizona.  My aunt had taught there for years and she was unaware of Tax Sheltered Annuities.  My thinking was that Globe  was a wide open market that wasn’t being worked.  And that turned out to be the case.

I teamed up with a buddy and we would drive up to Globe, take a motel, get on the phone calling the teachers to make appointments for the next day.  We would book ourselves on the half hour to meet teachers during their free periods or breaks trying to meet with as many during the day as possible.  We only worked the town one day each year.

So what does this have to do with cemeteries?

Well, it wasn’t possible to fill every available half hour appointment slot.  The days usually had periods of free time.  There was not much to do in Globe since we were from out-of-town  and I got tired of sitting in the local café drinking coffee.  On the hill overlooking the main part of town was the old cemetery.  So I got into the habit of wandering through it when I had a hole in my day.  And it was very interesting.

Globe is a mining town.  My grandfather moved there with his family in 1912 or 13.  Many of the miners were slavic, immigrants from europe.  When they died it was the fashion to attach their photograph encased in glass to their headstone.  Walking through the rows of graves I would see these photos of young men staring out at the world.   Many had been target practice for the local kids with bee bee guns and hadn’t held up well over time.  It was common for them to be in uniform.  Not an american uniform but a uniform from back home, wherever that was.  Most of the headstones bore names that  I would guess were eastern European, not what I expected in Arizona, deep in the west.

One day I was meandering through the rows and a car was paralleling me slowly.  Finally the driver stopped and called out,  “Are you looking for someone?”

“No, I’m just killing time, trying to get a sense of the town’s history.”
“Well, the oldest grave is over there under that tree”, he said pointing to a large tree behind me.  “It’s sort of caved in.  When I was a kid we used to feel around in there.  You can feel the bones”, he said helpfully.

I went over and looked.  There was a depression under the tree and a wooden marker on which was carved a message that went something like “Here lies Will Stanley foully murdered on this spot by the heathen Indians.  Laid to rest by his brother 1876”.  I guess that was the start of the cemetery.

Locally

Entrance to Woodlawn Cemetery

Entrance to Woodlawn Cemetery

Now locally in West Palm Beach we have the Woodlawn Cemetery established 1905. Woodlawn was originally designed by Henry Flagler to be a beautiful park as well as a cemetery.  In the early 1900s, people would gather there to socialize on a Sunday afternoon.   At that time it was out-of-town but now it is right dab in the middle on some of the town’s prime real estate.  Today it is rather shop worn and not park like.  It is essentially a burial ground.

There are several things I find interesting about Woodlawn.  Here are a few.

Early Community Leaders

McDonald Monument

McDonald Monument

Memorials to some of the earliest families are found here: Lainhart, Potter, Chillingsworth, Dimick and many others.  I find this one beautiful.  This memorial is to Joseph Albert McDonald, a partner in the construction firm of McDonald-McQuire. For Henry Flagler, the firm built the Ponce de Leon (1888), Alcazar (1888), Union Station in St. Augustine (1888), Kirkside (1893), Ormond  (1891), Royal Poinciana (1895), The Royal Palm in Miami (1897), The Colonial in Nassau, Bahamas (1899), and The Breakers (1905). McDonald was the construction manager for the Royal Poinciana Hotel and the Breaker’s Hotel.  The statue on the bench used to sit loosely with the result that pranksters would carry her about.  I heard that she was buried for a number of years, thought to be lost.  She is now attached to the bench.

 1917-1918 influenza epidemic

July 1917

July 1917

july 1917
July 1917

Nearby are several headstones for children.  They died in July 1917.  They are from a number of different families.  There are many more deaths clustered in 1918.  These deaths must be the result of the influenza epidemic that killed so many people.  The flu would eventually kill 675,000 Americans and more than 20 million people (some believe the total may be closer to 40 million) around the world, proving to be a far deadlier force than even the First World War.

The Great Depression

The cemetery has relatively few monuments dated in the 1930’s.  I suspect the depression prevented many people from buying headstones.

The Jewish Cemetery

Jewish Section

Jewish Section

There is also a small Jewish cemetery within Woodlawn, which opened in 1923 and all lots were sold by 1952. Not being a particularly religious person I don’t know if this is protocol or prejudice, but I find it interesting that the Jewish graves are segregated from the others.  There is a concrete border separating the Jewish section from rest of Woodlawn cemetery.  There are exceptions but most of the Jewish graves are within this enclosed area.

Woodmen of the World

Woodmen of the World

Woodmen of the World

Within the cemetery are several markers for members of Woodmen of the World,  a fraternal organization based in OmahaNebraskaUnited States.  One enduring physical legacy of the organization are distinctive headstones in the shape of a tree stump. This was an early benefit of Woodmen of the World membership, and they are found in cemeteries nationwide. This program was abandoned in the late 1920s as it was too costly.

Typically the headstones would include a depiction of the WOW relics—symbols of the organization. These include most notably a stump or felled tree; the maul and wedge; an axe; and often a Dove of Peace with an olive branch. As Woodmen “do not lie” a common inscription: “Here rests a Woodman of the World”.

Tells a Story

Tells a story

Tells a story

Sometimes the marker simply tells a story.

War Veterans

And, of course there are markers for deceased veterans.

confederate veteran

confederate veteran

Confederate veterans

Union veteran

Union veteran

Union veterans

Spanish American War

Spanish American War

Veterans of the Spanish American War

MILITARY VETERANS

MILITARY VETERANS

And the wars that followed.

And then there is this

Monument to Confederacy

Monument to Confederacy

Front inscription

Front inscription

Back of Monument

Back of Monument

Monument back inscription

Monument back inscription

Prominent in the center of Woodlawn is this monument.  I was stunned when I saw it.  This is not the sort of thing one expects in a cemetery.  But most curious to me was its timing.  It was erected in 1941.  If it had been 1880 or 85 I could understand, but 1941?

On a different topic but very similar is this

Monument to a forgotten war

Monument to a forgotten war

Nearby in Howard Park this soldier remains on guard.  I call him the Monument to a Forgotten War.  He is dedicated to the memory of the soldiers who served in the Spanish-American War, the China Relief Expedition and the Philippine Insurrection 1898-1902.  It was dedicated in 1949!  To my knowledge we have no monuments to the veterans of  World War I or of  World War II in West Palm Beach.  It is said things are slower in the South, but really!  What was the thinking?

More to come

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About Thomas L. Tribby

Professional artist: painter, sculptor, print maker. Maintains a studio in West Palm Beach, Florida
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2 Responses to On the Subject of Cemeteries

  1. Hi, I really like your blog. I give historic cemetery tours. I’m rather curious about your the new information you provided about the McDonald plot and the statue of the lady. If it really was a memorial to J.A. McDonald who built the Flagler Hotels, etc., it is epic. Can you please share your findings with me. I thought he was buried in Miami, but perhaps this J.B. McDonald the Realtor and developer of Grandview Heights is a relative.

    Thank you,

    Janet DeVries

    • Janet,
      I do not recall how I came to understand the McDonald in Woodlawn Cemetery was the builder employed by Flagler. Someone must have told me that. Because of your inquiry I did some searches on the web and I think you are right. Joseph A. McDonald died in Miami, where he lived and I suspect he is buried there although I could not find that record. JB Mcdonald was buried in Woodlawn in 1941. I couldn’t find an obituary.

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