Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tombstone art at Oxford

Although not prepared to nominate it to the Lucas-County's-best-tombstone list, I really like Gustus and Christina Johnson's memorial at Oxford Cemetery, primarily because of the shock of wheat carved as a centerpiece on its crown.

Granite is more durable than marble, but also is more difficult to carve. That's one reason why the lettering on granite stones usually is less elaborate than on marble and why the carved decorative elements, fewer. But the wheat here is beautifully done.

And this is an old symbol of death, usually reserved for older people (Gustus was 77 and died first, so the design here probably was selected with him in mind). It is used not only in stone, but also occasionally in print, as the first paragraph of the 1949 obituary of my grandfather's aunt, Tobitha (Carson) Miller, illustrates:

"Not bound with affliction and disease except the infirmaties of old age, but like a shock of fully-developed wheat, Mrs. Tobitha Miller came to the terminal of her earthly life at one p.m. Monday at the home of her son, Chester Miller, east of Williamson."

Another notable thing about this stone is the fact someone --- family or stonecutter --- made a mistake regarding Gustus's birth year. The only way to correct it was to cut the error out and carve the correction a little deeper. Not the look the Johnsons were hoping for, I'm sure, but truth often is not pretty.


You can actually see James Johnston's marble monument, predating the Johnson stone by about 20 years, in the background immediately to the left of it in "Johnston corner," where many members of this once widely known Lincoln Township family rest. The last to be buried there, and the last of the family in Lucas County, was the late Charles Johnston Prior. The old Johnston home, a neighborhood landmark, still stands less than a mile south of the cemetery.

James died during January of 1876 leaving behind a widow and four young sons. His stone was the first of the Johnston monuments erected here. If you look carefully, you'll see a foot at the bottom of the photo. That's mine. I decided to leave it in just to demonstrate the lengths folks will go to take photos of tombstones. I was lying flat on my back at a downward angle following the lay of the land when this was taken. Besides, I've never managed to photograph my foot at quite this angle before.

James's inscription, obscured a little by lichen and softened by 135 years of weathering, is a fairly typical example of how a stonecutter, working in marble, wrote in stone.

I especially like the medallions half way up the shaft of the monument --- the one on the west face depicting clasped hands and a star; the one on the south, a flower looking like a snowflake. Although spaces for additional medallions were allowed on the north and east faces, none were carved.

And finally, the Jacob McDowell tombstone farther south, selected primarily because it's a cousin of Ellen Noble's stone at Brownlee, featuring a giant ball as crown. In this case, the material is marble rather than granite and the ball rests in a carved cradle. But the concept behind both was the same.

1 comment:

John Lindquist said...

I am so glad you posted the James Johnston stone. My ancestors came across from Sweden and Peter Lindquist lost his wife at some point that we have not figured out but he could not care for his children so my ancestor John Alfred Lindquist was adopted by Matthew Johnston a descendant of James Johnston and then became John Alfred Johnston. I am not sure the relationship of Matthew to James. My son Jacob is our family genealogist and would be able to answer that. But that is how my family became Johnston but was Lindquist when coming to USA.
I am John Johnston a descendant of John Alfred (Lindquist) Johnston. Thanks for all this great info Frank.