Grand Army of the Republic

September 12, 2006

Grand Army of the Republic shield - cemetery symbolThe Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was a fraternal organization of honorably discharged Union Civil War veterans. Some of their rituals were based on Freemasonry. The GAR was founded in 1866 by Benjamin Franklin Stephenson in Decatur, Illinois. By 1890 they had 409,000 members. The GAR was involved in charity and politics, and they lobbied for soldiers homes and pensions. They also began the tradition of Decoration Day on May 30th, now called Memorial Day. Five presidents were members of the GAR: Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley. The last GAR member, Albert Woolson, died in 1956 at age 109 (although census research indicates he may have been 106 or 108). He was also the last undisputed surviving Civil War veteran on either side.

For help finding Civil War records see: Online Civil War Records, Indexes and Rosters of Soldiers

Grand Army of the Republic - Union Civil War veterans - cemetery emblem

Military Grave Markers

August 26, 2006

Headstone of WWI veteran, George T. Sims (1895-1969)Here are three examples of standard upright marble VA military grave markers that you might find in national or private cemeteries. These measure approximately 42″ x 13″ x 3″. Some of the newer ones are made of granite. Many have an optional religious symbol at the top of the marker (like the cross in the example at right). For a list of these see the Veterans Affairs website: Emblems of Belief on Government Headstones and Markers.

The two examples below are for pre-World War I grave markers. On the left is the headstone for the infamous cannibal, Alfred Packer, who was a Union Civil War veteran. On the right is one for a Spanish American War veteran. Note the way the name and regiment are enclosed in a shield on both of these markers – this was used for Union Civil War and Spanish American War soldiers. Some Confederate Civil War veterans have a symbol of the Southern Cross of Honor on their grave markers.

For help finding military records and indexes online see: Military Records and Indexes on the Internet, which includes some listings for Civil War cemetery burials.

Photos: Alfred Packer’s grave marker is from Littleton Cemetery, Littleton, Colorado; the other two are from Fort Logan National Cemetery, Denver, Colorado.

Gravemarker for Civil War veteran, Alfred PackerGrave marker for Spanish American War veteran, Charley W. McHugh (1874-1954)

Alfred Packer’s Grave

August 20, 2006

Colorado’s notorious cannibal, Alfred Packer (1842-1907), is buried in Littleton Cemetery in Littleton, Colorado with a military grave marker — he was a Civil War veteran. In the photo below you can see that his headstone is chipped and a cement slab covers his grave. Both of these were caused by a Halloween prank. In the 1960s and 70s kids would sneak into the cemetery and steal Alfred Packer’s gravestone, usually on Halloween. But it always turned up somewhere, often on someone’s doorstep. Your doorbell rings and you open the door expecting trick or treaters, only to find a cannibal’s tombstone on your front porch. During one of these pranks the grave marker was chipped, and eventually the city got tired of all this Halloween nonsense and had the grave and its marker cemented down. Just in case anyone had any strange ideas about stealing Alfred himself, they made sure the cement slab covered the whole grave.

Photograph of Alfred Packer's grave in Littleton Cemetery, Littleton, Colorado

This is a good example of a marble headstone for Union Civil War veterans – the person’s name and military unit are within a shield. Packer’s tombstone is engraved with: “Alfred Packer, Co. F, 16 U.S. Inf.”