May 23, 2007

Example of a treestone from Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado

Treestones are basically grave markers in the shape of a tree. Often they will look like tree stumps or logs. Some will have branches. They are usually associated with the Woodmen of the World, and their various associated groups, although using tree-shaped grave markers pre-dates the organization. The treestones of Woodmen will usually include their symbols, and they might be inscribed with “Dum Tacet Clamet” (“though silent he speaks”), or “here rests a Woodman of the World.” Trees, branches and leaves are common symbols of nature in cemeteries.

According to Douglas Keister’s Stories in Stone, treestones were derived from the Victorian rusticity movement, and at one time could be ordered from the Sears and Roebuck catalog.

Photo: the tombstone of Alfred J. Day, Jr. (1892-1908), Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado

Colorado’s Mount Lindo Cross

March 16, 2007

Colorado’s Mount Lindo Cemetery and Mausoleum rests on top of a mountain that overlooks Highway 285 and Denver. On the East side of the mountain is the largest lighted cross in the United States. The history of the lighted cross goes back to the Olinger family, who founded the Olinger mortuary company in Denver in the 1890s.

George Olinger Sr., son of Olinger mortuary founders, John and Emma Olinger, bought Mount Lindo in the 1930s. He later sold it to Francis S. Van Derbur, who was married to George’s daughter, Gwendolyn. Van Derbur originally intended to develop the mountain, but instead he made it into a cemetery in 1963. His father, Francis C. Van Derbur, expressed an interest in being buried on Mount Lindo with the spot being marked by a cross. Francis S. had the famous lighted cross installed on the East side of the mountain so his mother, Pearl, could see it from her home in Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood.

Mount Lindo Cross near Morrison, Colorado

The cross is 393 feet high and 254 feet across, and can be seen from the highway and parts of the city it watches over. It was partially conceived by designer Donald Lee Frees, who also worked on designs for many Olinger buildings, including the Tower of Memories at Crown Hill Cemetery. The cross was first lighted on Easter in 1964.

The Mount Lindo cemetery gates are on South Turkey Creek Road just off Highway 285 near Tiny Town. Mount Lindo rises 7660 feet above sea level and is owned and operated by Olinger Mortuary.

Mount Lindo Cross from the Morrison exit off Highway 285, 10 November 2006; You can click on the photo for another, larger view.

Cemetery Burials:
For more information on Mount Lindo burials and Jefferson County, Colorado cemeteries see: Online Colorado Death Records Indexes and Cemetery Burials

Jones, Rebecca. “Mount Lindo bears its cross: regarding the big cross up on the mountain…My husband says there’s a graveyard there.” Rocky Mountain News, 2 March 1997, p. 27D.

Martin, Claire. “A Colorado Life: Designer helped conceive huge Mount Lindo cross.” The Denver Post, 15 December 2004, p. C10.

Daughters of the American Revolution – DAR

February 15, 2007

Daughters of the American Revolution - DAR - cemetery symbolThe Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) was founded in 1890. Today this lineage organization and genealogical society has about 168,000 members. Any woman 18 or older, who can prove a lineal bloodline descent from a patriot of the American Revolution, is eligible for membership. The DAR promotes patriotism, preservation of American history, and education.

A notable fictional member of the DAR is Emily Gilmore of the CW television show, Gilmore Girls.

Photo: Green Mountain Cemetery, Boulder, Colorado

Wo-He-Lo – Camp Fire Girls

January 16, 2007

Wo-He-Lo - Camp Fire Girls cemetery symbolCamp Fire Girls began in 1910 as a youth development organization for girls. Today the organization has both boys and girls and is called Camp Fire USA. Boys were first included in 1975.

The Camp Fire greeting “Wo-He-Lo” comes from the first two letters of the words, work, health and love.

Photo: from the grave marker of Edwin T. Larson (1876-1954) and Mabel L.E. Larson (1880-1940), Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado. The symbol is above Mabel’s name.


December 1, 2006

Angel Hand by Joe Beine

Lily - Cemetery SymbolFlowers are among the most commonly used symbols in cemeteries. I’ve included pictures of two of the most popular cemetery flowers, the lily and the rose. Liies symbolize innocence and purity. Roses are often associated with romance, passion and beauty. You will find numerous examples of flowers on grave markers, some merely decorative, others used as symbols. And of course live flowers are frequently left on graves. Lovelorn Joe DiMaggio had flowers sent to Marilyn Monroe’s crypt regularly for twenty years.

Both photos: Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado (the upper photo is clickable for a larger view)

Kohanim or Cohanim Hands – Priestly Blessing

November 1, 2006

On Jewish tombstones you will sometimes see a symbol showing two hands arranged for the Priestly Blessing like the example here. This is a symbol of the Kohen or Cohen (Hebrew for priest). The plural form is Kohanim or Cohanim. Kohanim are assumed to be direct male descendants of Aaron, who was the first Kohen and the brother of Moses. Some Jewish surnames frequently associated with this symbol are Conn or Cohn (Kohn), Cahn (Kahn), and Cohen (Kohen), but you will find the symbol on the grave markers of people with other surnames. Today families can sometimes verify a priestly lineage from the tombstones of ancestors that have this symbol.

Mr. Spock’s Vulcan Salute

And yes, Star Trek fans… You’ve probably noticed the similarity between this symbol and the Vulcan hand greeting (“live long and prosper”) used in the TV show and movies. This was suggested by actor Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock), who saw the Priestly Blessing in a synagogue when he was a child. He modified it as Vulcans use only one hand. See: The Jewish Origin of the Vulcan Salute

Kohanim or Cohanim Hands - Priestly Blessing cemetery symbol

Photo: from Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado

Improved Order of Red Men

October 29, 2006

The Improved Order of Red Men is a fraternal organization that traces its origins to pre-Revolutionary War patriotic societies like the Sons of Liberty, who were responsible for the Boston Tea Party. The name was changed to the Society of Red Men after the War of 1812, and to the Improved Order of Red Men in 1834. They use some customs and symbols of Native Americans. Today they are a patriotic fraternal organization that promotes freedom, friendship and charity. In cemeteries you will usually see an Indian head symbol like the example here, or an Eagle. The letters TOTE stand for Totem of the Eagle. The female auxiliary of the Red Men is called the Degree of Pocahontas, which was founded in 1885.

Red Men cemetery symbol - TOTE - Totem of the Eagle

Photo: from the headstone of John Z. Oak (1881-1918), Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado