Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tombstone Symbols of Fraternal Organizations

Strolling through cemeteries in western Kentucky will reveal a number of tombstones in the shape of a cut off tree trunk and with a plaque-like emblem, which identifies the deceased as a member of the fraternal organization, Woodmen of the World. This organization provides life insurance for a small fee and originally provided  a free tombstone when a member died. That practice was discontinued during the 1920s, although some members continued to erect similar tombstones for some time. This organization continues to operate today and is especially popular in western Kentucky, southeastern Illinois and southwestern Indiana.

The tombstone of Ervin Davis (1894-1918) in Crooked Creek Cemetery, Crittenden County, Kentucky has a W.O.W. tombstone and plaque with the words "Dum Tacet Clamet." This translates to "Though Silent, He Speaks."

Another Woodmen of the World monument is that of John N. Lawrey (1857-1906) in Fernwood Cemetery in Henderson, Kentucky.  The plaque on his tombstone is somewhat different than others I have seen.

In Pilot Knob Cemetery, Crittenden County, can be found the tombstone of James T. Hodge (1845-1894) with the initials "A.O.U.W." This signifies that he was a member of the Ancient Order of United Workmen, the first fraternal group to offer death benefit life insurance to its members. The organization no longer exists. The organization had a several objectives, one of which was "to unite into one brotherhood all persons employed in the mechanical arts." Another objective was "to establish libraries, provide for lectures and other means of education."

Seen slightly less often is a tombstone with the initials, "F.C.B", which stand for Friendship, Charity and Benevolence and indicates the deceased was a member of the Knights of Pythias. This fraternal organization was founded in 1864. In addition to believing in a supreme being, members had to be 18 or older and could not be a gambler or involved in drugs or alcohol. Members also could not be a Communist or advocate the overthrow of the government. This tombstone is found in the Pythian Ridge Cemetery, Sturgis, Union County, Kentucky.

Copyright on text and photographs
by Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG
Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog

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