A tree stump cross made of stone stands out against a background of blurred silhouettes of twisted, bare branches. Like trees in winter, we too have the strength to persevere.
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This tree stump cross resides in St. Louis No. 3 Cemetery in New Orleans, sitting atop a mausoleum. As such, it lacks insignia or other inscriptions.
While many mausoleums in St. Louis No. 3 feature crosses on top, this is one of few rustic motifs in a very urban cemetery.
Tree stump markers come in a variety of configurations:
* Single vertical stump
* Double vertical stump
* Horizontal stump
* Ledger tree stump
* Tree stump bench
* Tree stump chair
* Tree stump cross
They’re often embellished with various other decorations, especially things that signify something about the deceased.
According to the Rural Life Museum:
Most date from the 1880s to 1920s, when funerary art in the United States moved away from grand mausoleums and obelisks to more simple grave markers. Tree-stump grave markers were also part of a movement to turn the focus away from death back to the life of the deceased. For the Victorians, grave markers shaped like tree stumps or with tree stump imagery as part of the gravestone was a powerful symbol of both eternity and humanity, recalling the Bible's tree of life and tree of knowledge.
The trend of tree stump markers owes much to Joseph Cullen Root, founder of Woodmen of the World (1890), a fraternal organization that offered life insurance policies.
WOW offered its members free gravestones from 1890 until 1900, and the tree stumps were a popular choice.
From 1900 to the mid-1920s, members could add a $100 rider to their policies for a gravestone.
The cost of the stones ultimately proved too great for WOW to continue offering them as a benefit. However, they still made them available to members to purchase until the 1970s.
Many tree stump markers therefore bear the insignia of WOW or its sister organization, Modern Woodmen of America (1883).
Another likely reason for the prevalence of tree stump markers in cemeteries is that people could buy them through Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs.
These pre-made stones provided a far more affordable option for bereaved families to mark a loved one’s grave. (Other designs were also available.)
I’ve noticed that a fair number of “clinging woman” statues feature tree stump crosses – two fads for the price of one! (See “Hold On” for an example.)