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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Cemeteries contain unique art

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cemeteries offer much more than a final resting place for friends and family members. Nearly every community has an old cemetery of historic and educational value.

Putnam County has numerous sites which reveal much about the lives of the people who braved a wilderness to settle here. Of particular interest are some "carved tree monuments" which depict the lives of Putnam County residents.

People come from many parts of the country to tour sites in Putnam County and oddly, often include some of the local cemeteries in their itineraries. While not all are taphophiles, (the official term for people who study cemeteries, it literally means lovers of tombstones), many do come looking for unusual stones. And, they find them in the form of the tree monuments.

These stones were created by the Durlauf family stonecutters from Jasper, and most date from the last decade of the 1800's. The Durlaufs were Bavarian natives who began monument carving in this county in 1888. Their story begins with Michael Durlauf, Sr. who arrived in Jasper from Bavaria in 1858. He later bought a lot in Jasper and sent for his son Michael in Germany to begin a monument business. Before 1888, Michael Sr. left Jasper and returned to Germany. But his son remained and built a reputation for his monuments.

Michael Jr.'s stones were small but ornate. He took local limestone and built up its texture with a pick axe. On top of the rectangular limestone foundation, he placed an upright stone on which he chiseled in fancy lettering.

The 19th century idea of death was a culmination of the deceased life's work. Death was masked in symbols of nature and the tombstone was a chance to reaffirm social hierarchy, upward aspiration and individuality. Michael took note of the deceased occupation and carved the tools of his or her trade. These might include reaping hooks, mallets, axes, or firearms. These went on the stones along with religious symbols, such as a cross and anchor or naturalist symbols of ivy and fern.

Michael's creations attracted attention and are still today, considered works of art.

Cemeteries all over Putnam County, from Brick Chapel to Forest Park have his "tree monuments" still standing.

For any taphophiles, at least four styles of his tree monuments can be spotted at Forest Hill Cemetery in Greencastle.

Brick Chapel Cemetery has one which can been seen from U.S. 231 and Cloverdale's cemetery has one tree tomb which has been sanded and restored to it's original beauty.

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