This article originally appeared in the Phillips community's Alley Newspaper, August 2006.
Photo: Sue Hunter Weir
Woodmen of the World
The one place that you would expect (and hope) to be free of advertising is cemeteries. In our time, that’s essentially a hope that’s realized since most cemeteries prohibit advertising of any sort within their borders. That wasn’t always the case. If you’ve walked through cemeteries that date before 1935, you have probably noticed markers that carry the Woodmen of the World seal. The seal essentially was a form of advertising for an insurance company.
The Woodmen of the World was founded by Joseph Cullen Root in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1893. In its earliest days, it was a fraternal organization that raised money for the families of members who had died. Within a few years, the organization evolved into an insurance company that sold policies which included death benefits to its members. One of those benefits was a grave marker bearing the Woodmen seal.
The company’s original intent was for all of the markers to be identical. That practice didn’t last long since many stone carvers saw this as an opportunity to show off their skill and began adding their own artistic touches to the markers. In doing so, they created some of the most distinctive markers made during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The most interesting of these are the tree-shaped markers, many of them four or more feet tall. The limbs of the trees are broken off, a symbol of life cut short. There are several of Woodmen markers tree-style markers in Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery.
The tree-style marker went out of fashion around 1910, when other styles of markers, mostly upright granite markers, became more popular. By the 1920’s the practice of providing markers ended altogether when the cost of the markers became too high and when cemeteries began to restrict the types of above-ground markers that could be placed on graves. The Woodmen continued to give its members’ families $100 to help cover burial costs until 1935. In exchange, the families agreed to have the Woodmen’s seal carved on the marker. There are several different styles of seals containing symbols such as olive branches, axes, wedges and mauls.
The marker in the photo belongs to Nils Peterson who died on March 26, 1907. Mr. Peterson was born in Sweden in 1852. He lived at 2909 Bloomington Avenue. He is buried in Lot 2, Block A of Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery.
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Potter's Field -- Sept 2006