Field Guide


Treestones, or tree stumps, are some of the most curious varieties of funerary art. They were derived from the Victorian rusticity movement, the most commom example of which is cast-iron lawn furniture that looks like it's made of twigs. As folklorist Susanne Ridlen tells it, any decorative art that was popular outside the cemtery in Victorian times eventually made it inside the cemetery. The heyday of treestone monuments was a quarter-century span from the 1880s to around 1905. Where one treestone is seen, often many will be found, suggesting that their popularity may have been tied to a particularly aggressive monument dealer in the area or a ready local supply of limestone, which was the carving material of choice. Treestones could also be ordered from Sears and Roebuck, which may explain why they seem to be more popular in the Midwest where more people read the catalog and became acquainted with the style. Treestones provide a ready canvas for symbols because so much symbolism is closely tied to nature.

Taken from Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography written and photographed by Douglas Keister, published by Gibbs Smith, Salt Lake City, 2004.

A Treestone Grows In Cornwall

In the Evergreen Cemetery on Route 74 in Cornwall, Vermont, is a most intersting example of a Treestone. The headstone is about 5 feet tall and is the marker for Julius Peck, born March 21, 1845, died August 15, 1911. As the pictures show, it is quite ornate and detailed. At the top of the marker is the symbol for the Woodsmen of the World fraternal organization. According to Wikipedia, the organization was founded in 1890 in Omaha, Nebraska, by Joseph Root. Root, who was a member of several fraternal organizations including the Freemasons, had founded Modern Woodmen of America in Lyons, Iowa, in 1883, after hearing a sermon about "pioneer woodsmen clearing away the forest to provide for their families". Taking his own surname to heart, he wanted to start a Society that "would clear away problems of financial security for its members. After internal dissention within the MWA, Root was ejected from the organization that he had founded. When moving to Omaha, Root decided to start again with a new group he originally called the Modern Woodmen of the World. He soon dropped the "Modern", and the organization became simply, "Woodmen of the World". 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.