A Grave Honour: Treestump Gravestones

treestump gravestone

Treestump Gravestone in Woodland Cemetery

For my sake, I hope not too many of you have had the opportunity to peruse a cemetery. Odds state that many of you have though. For those who have visited a graveyard or two, have you ever looked at some of the markers there? Often they can truly be a work of art in their celebration of those who have passed away. Sometimes they even tell a story, even just in the design of them. That is the case with treestump gravestones.

Treestump Gravestones

P1000549So what is the story behind treestump tombstones? For starters, they are typically older. Most cemeteries nowadays have regulations surrounding the size and shape of monuments, as well as the material they are made of. A treestump gravestone doesn’t usually fit within those confines. Even if you find a cemetery with laxer rules and regulations about what is used for a marker, price can be prohibitive to larger monuments, not to mention the details that come with an intricately carved marker. So finding a treestump gravestone is a rare and special thing. 

Meaning Behind Treestumps

P1000541While you can usually find plenty of live trees in cemeteries, what is the meaning behind the rare stone treestump tombstones you see? The story is sometimes sad. A short stump or tree stump with branches cut off can signify a life cut short. They can be for children or adults with a life interrupted. A tree sprouting has a more positive image, with the meaning of life everlasting. For anyone who has admired these pieces of artwork carved in stone, the meaning also brings to mind the beauty of life.

History of Treestump Gravestones in US

There are many treestump tombstones in the United States with a different history behind them. In 1890, Joseph Cullen Root founded Woodmen of the World (WOW). While you might imagine the organization to be full of burly lumberjacks and loggers, in fact it was an insurance company which offered affordable insurance policies for all. The mindset behind it was to “clear away financial hurdles for its members”; after Root was inspired by a sermon to clear away the forest to provide for pioneer families. And one of the perks of being a member in the early days was that you received a treestump tombstone as part of your policy.

The treestone gravestones were popular between 1890-1920, but the high cost of the markers were their downfall. Early treestumps included WOW images, like mauls, wedges and axes, all carved onto some form of tree stump. Like today, the more intricate a carved tombstone, the higher the cost. From 1890-1900 the treestumps were part of the policy. After 1900, a $100 rider covered the increasing costs of the one of the coveted treestump gravestones. By 1920, the program was discontinued and the ornately decorated markers became a part of history.

Their beauty lives on though in cemeteries across the US. And Canadian treestump tombstones are no less appealing. Look for some the next time you are in an older cemetery. I’ll bet you feel the same. Who wouldn’t want a tree commemorating their life?

treestump gravestone

A history long gone, a life cut short, but a legacy that lives on


Published by
August 17, 2016 12:27 pm