Gravestone Art

Outdoor Sculpture at Risk



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A Primer on Gravestone Art

by Nancy C. Thornton,(c) 1999-present

Cemeteries dating from the 19th century and earlier bear a historically significant progression of grave marker styles. Canal Heritage Enterprises has researched pioneer markers. For example, marble markers dated between 1846 and 1860 are square top slabs. Markers dated between 1854 and 1878 have the general outlines of Palladian windows. One variation adds multi-curved edges like old English gables.

Early American gravestones are topped by motifs with symbolic significance. These include flying angels, clasped hands, weeping willow tree, cross, lamb, dove, garland, crown, wreath, the symbol IHS, and pall. Inscriptions are usually a mix of block and script lettering. The Irish family custom of recording the parish and county of birth on gravestones provides an impressive reminder of a community's Irish cultural past.
After 1880, pedestals, obelisks, pillars, and tree-stump replicas became popular. Pedestal monuments exhibit at their tops a diverse collection of funereal art including sculptured figures, crosses and urns. Often local carvers and monument dealers autographed gravestones, and monument bases. These are distinctive and unique to individual communities.

The gravestone art in a pioneer cemetery contributes to the study of our historical and cultural landscape. Each graveyard is a replica of the living community which established and used the burial grounds.

As pointed out by W.E. Warner in The Living and the Dead, the cemetery serves both functional and emotional purposes. It is a place to dispose of corpses; but far more significant, it is a place and a landscape where the living community maintains its psychological and emotional contacts with the dead.

Activity by cemetery workers strips the cemetery of damaged funereal art. Curbs around plots are eliminated and smaller monuments are lowered flush to ground level. This deprives scholars, the interested public, and future generations of one of the most beautiful and distinctive forms of our cultural heritage. Policies which treat a pioneer cemetery like a golf course are destructive when fast-paced lawn care with large-scale riding mowers is the preferential weekly or semi-monthly treatment. This practice necessitates the elimination of all materials which might hinder the grounds crews in the speedy completion of their duties. Gravestones in pioneer cemeteries, a significant form of outdoor sculpture, are at risk. What are you doing about it?

Note: Click on images for bigger view.

Gleanings about Monument Makers in the 19th and early 20th century
who had a trade in the vicinity of the I and M Canal.

Sept. 10, 1887LP Advert. for P. Schmitt.
Sept. 24, 1887LP Mr. Philipp Schmitt will give a dance this evening at his hall on State street, Singer Hill. All who attend are sure of having a good time.
Justice Huston's court, Oberlin plaintiff, Philipp Schmitt defendant. Oberlin sued Schmitt for labor which he faithfully performed, yet the case was dismissed. We were surprised.
Mntt. Schmitt, of Chicago, called on his brother Philipp, Wednesday.
Oct. 8, 1887LP Mr. Philip Schmitt has removed his marble shop to Singer Hill near his residence.
Oct. 22, 1887Lemont Press
Marble City Locals.- Stop the gambling, and by all odds stop Phillip Schmitt's and M. Dillenburg's pleasant (?) Saturday night dances.
Louis Marwitz will hold a Grand Raffle and Free Dance at Phillip Schmitt's saloon on Singer Hill, Saturday evening, October 22d.
The work of Noble Friends. Hart L. Cobb was born Feb. 15, 1801, in the East. At an early day he moved to Illinois and located near where Cass Church now stands, about four miles north of Lemont. He was successful as a farmer, and about 1865 moved to Lemont. From then until the time of his death, he took an active part in church and town affairs. The people of Lemont remember Mr. Cobb as a model man. Other hope had he none nor wish in life, but to meekly follow, with reverent steps, the sacred feet of his savior."
His wife Betsey died Dec. 23, 1876. From that time until his death Dec. 22, 1880, he waited patiently for the last call.
He came to Lemont comparatively a rich man; yet he was so liberal with his children, the church, and the needy, that he died almost penniless. He was buried by the side of his wife in the Cass Cemetery and there for seven years they have lain, "unknown and unnoticed."
The early part of this summer Mrs. J.B. Rood commenced the noble work of raising funds for the erection of a monument to their memory. With the aid of Mr. Cobb's old friends and especially Mr. J.A. Wells, who not only gave liberally, but superintended the placing of the monument, Mrs. Rood was successful. Thursday afternoon, for the benefit of our readers, a Press representative went over to the cemetery.
The monument, which is about five feet in height, is of Bedford stone. It represents a broken tree, on top of which rests a large open book. On one leaf of the book is inscribed: "Hart L. Cobb, born Feb. 5, 1801, Died Dec 22,1880." On the other, "Betsey Cobb, born Jan. 5, 1802. Died Dec. 23, 1876." At the foot of one side of the monument, standing out in bold relief, is a flower pot, containing a lily.
The monument is beautiful, and is a worthy semblance of the love which the people bore of this couple.
As we stood beside the graves of our old friends we thought how appropriate were the words of Longfellow.
"Daily the tides of life go ebbing and flowing beside them,
Thousands of throbbing hearts, where theirs are at rest and forever,
Thousands of aching brains, where theirs no longer are busy,
Thousands of toiling hands, where theirs have ceased from their labors,
Thousands of weary feet, where theirs have completed their journey."
April 21, 1888LP Philip Schmitt ran unsuccessfully for member of the Village board coming in fourth for three seats open. Nct.
June 9, 1888LP I am overstocked. I will make it worth while for people who want monuments or mementoes of departed friends to come and see me and examine my stock, workmanship and prices. My studio is open everyday, Sundays included and I cordially invite everybody to call and inspect it. Respectfully, Phillip Schmidt.
June 30, 1888LP Phillip Schmitt is fitting up an elegant summer garden with all conveniences for those who may wish to patronize him. There are quite a number of splendid shade trees, beautiful flowers, nice walks, and everything in first class.
July 21, 1888LP The Cordisell, now owned by Philip Schmitt will be run every Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.
Mr. Ph. Schmitt has purchased...
The adjusters...
Aug. 4, 1888LP Mr. P. Schmitt visited with Ph. Kramer in Orland last Tuesday.
Feb. 18, 1899. The party up at the home of Mrs. Philip Schmidt up on Singer Hill last Monday evening was largely attended and all present had an enjoyable time.
Jan 26, 1905 LPAO Display advertisement for Ernst Wunderlich Granite Co. 808 North Hickory St. Joliet Illinois. The largest granite and marble company in Will County. Branch works and warehouse, Chicago Bethania cemetery in Summit, Cook Co. Ill., and Naperville, Ill. Estimates on low prices on vaults. Sculptor and dealer in Italian and American Granite and marble. Tombstones and monuments and all kinds of cemetery work. Works, 806 N. Hickory St. west side, three blocks north of German Catholic Church. Take N. Hickory St. car from court house, which passes the door. Orders promptly filled. Chicago phone 1872; N.W. phone 949. Largest work done in the state.
May 7, 1906LPAO A remarkable family group. Ernst Wunderlich Granite Co., Established 1874. The engraving given above is a picture of a really remarkable family group - Ernst Wunderlich and his seven sons. Mr. Wunderlich's grandfather, a sculptor, had a family of six sons, all of whom learned the business. His father also had six sons, all of whom served regular apprenticeships in the same line and devoted their lives to either ornamental sculptor work proper, or stone contracting. He has seven sons. Of these, William, the oldest, was actively engaged with his father for a number of years and then went into the undertaking business on his own account. Ernst, Jr., Arthur, Edward and Walter, have served a full apprenticeship and are now employed with their father, taking upon themselves the active management of the business. Alfred and Milton, the two younger boys, are still in school.
Ernst Wunderlich, head of the Ernst Wunderlich Granite Co., was born in Filissen, Germany. At the age of fourteen he entered on a three years' apprenticeship to his father, learning the art of sculpturing in granite and marble, and then served three years as an apprentice in the city of Leipaic[?]. In 1869, at the age of twenty years, Mr. Wunderlich came to Joliet, and for two years worked for his brother, the late Charles Wunderlich, a building contractor, carving capitals for columns, etc. He then went to Chicago where he spent a year, afterwards returning to Joliet and opened a little shop for himself on the same lot where his now large establishment is located, at 806 North Hickory street. The development of the business was slow, but constant, and today it represents an investment of many thousands of dollars. In the past few years Mr. Wunderlich has bought up six competing plants, and now has three branch shops; one in Naperville, one at Bethania and one at Resurrection cemetery, in Chicago. Just at this time of year, the month preceding Memorial day, the Wunderlich Granite Co., is a particularly busy concern and the efforts of all its members and employes are devoted to giving careful and prompt attention to all orders.
Mr. Wunderlich was married in Joliet, in 1869, to Miss Margaret Giepel, who is still living, and with four daughters completes a most interesting family group. One son died several years ago.
Dec. 20, 1906 Wunderlich ad, pneumatic aid.
Dec. 26, 1907 Display advertisement for Ernst Wunderlich Granite Co. 804-806-808 North Hickory Street, Joliet Illinois. Largest Granite and Marble Co. in State. High-grade Memorials. Branch works and warehouse, Chicago Bethania and Resurrection Cemeteries in Summit, Cook Co., Ill. and Naperville, Ill. We use pneumatic tools for carving & lettering. Polishing done by machinery. Take Hickory St. car from courthouse. Car passes the door.
Display advertisement for Monuments. John Lennon & Sons. All kinds of cemetery work in granite, marble and stone. 111 S. Joliet St. Joliet.
John Hills Dealer in granite and marble monuments all kinds of cemetery work promptly attended to. Interstate phone 1795. 1901 Cass St. Joliet Il.
Jan. 9, 1908 Display advertisement for Monuments, John Lennon & Sons. 111 S. Joliet St. Joliet.
Jan. 30, 1908 Monuments (ad) Headstones, Markers. C.M. Braun, Cor, Cass & Collins. Phon N.W. 140. We will cheerfully submit estimates when you are in need of one or anything else in our line. Write us.
Apr. 2, 1908 Display Advertisement for John Hills, Dealer in Granite and Marble Monuments. No agent's profits charged up. All kinds of cemetery work promptly attended to. Interstate phone 1705. 1901 Cass St. Joliet, Ill.
Dec. 22, 1910 John Hills - new advertisement.

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