Ceme­tery tour pro­vides sto­ries be­hind sym­bols

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - News - By Sue Ellen Ross Post-Tri­bune

Dozens of area res­i­dents re­cently spent a Sun­day af­ter­noon leisurely walk­ing through Oak Hill Ceme­tery in Ham­mond.

But they weren’t there to visit fam­ily mem­bers or friends, they were par­tic­i­pants in the 20th an­nual Oak Hill Ceme­tery Tour, spon­sored by the Ham­mond His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety.

This year’s theme was: “Iden­ti­fy­ing Stones and Sym­bols” (to honor the de­ceased) on 12 gravesites.

“This par­tic­u­lar tour is un­like all pre­vi­ous walks, in that we will ob­serve per­son­al­ized sym­bols that fam­i­lies chose to en­grave on var­i­ous type of sur­faces to memo­ri­al­ize their loved ones,” Ruth Mores, Ham­mond His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety vice pres­i­dent and tour guide, said as she greeted vis­i­tors. “Some of the old­est stones have lost their mes­sages due to the pas­sage of time and weather con­di­tions — while oth­ers con­tinue to of­fer glimpses of past lives lost but not for­got­ten.”

The first stop on the path of one dozen unique graves, con­structed of var­i­ous ma­te­ri­als, was the Rose fam­ily mon­u­ment.

The top part of the four­part rose-col­ored gran­ite stone is en­graved with or­nate arches (in­scribed “MOTHER” and “FA­THER” with the large let­ter “R” in the mid­dle.

The sec­ond (main) part is a solid piece of Ver­mont red gran­ite; the third is a large, fin­ished, but not pol­ished, white gran­ite base with a cut out rose. The three parts are sit­u­ated on a huge piece of lime­stone with an­other arch.

Mar­ble was used for head­stones mostly from the 1870s to the mid-1920s, ac­cord­ing to the tour guide.

“This ma­te­rial is mostly dam­aged by wind and rain,” Mores said. “Mar­ble was easy to carve, but can slowly dis­solve over time, un­til you may not be able to read the in­scrip­tions.”

Also, large pieces of mar­ble will crack as they set­tle, she added.

The sec­ond gravesite vis­ited on the tour was the burial ground of the Tap­per fam­ily, con­sist­ing of some of Ham­mond’s ear­li­est set­tlers.

The fam­ily pa­tri­arch died at sea, so the cross, pil­lars, large an­chor and dec­o­ra­tive leaves on the front of the me­mo­rial — all hand-carved by stone ar­ti­sans — held spe­cial mean­ing for the fam­ily left be­hind.

In ad­di­tion to head­stones made of lime­stone, gran­ite or mar­ble, the tour vis­i­tors also ob­served some made of metal.

White bronze was a fancy name for grave mark­ers made from zinc, which was used na­tion­wide from the 1870s to about 1912.

They were pur­chased for sev­eral rea­sons — less ex­pen­sive than their coun­ter­parts, and they could be cus­tom­ized with scroll­work, wreaths or roses — and they held up bet­ter than neigh­bor­ing mar­ble stone mon­u­ments.

“Some mar­ble me­mo­ri­als that are weather worn (with time) can barely be read,” said tour guide Marc Males. “But those fash­ioned in zinc stood the test of time much bet­ter.”

Ham­mond res­i­dent Paul Dil­beck brought his daugh­ters Faith, 12, and Ellen, 9, to the ceme­tery tour fundraiser.

“This (tour) is a great idea,” he said, “Peo­ple can have an un­der­stand­ing of early set­tlers and take pride in their com­mu­nity.”

See­ing is dif­fer­ent than just read­ing about it in a book, he added, so the tour proved more per­sonal to his daugh­ters.

The an­nual ceme­tery tour be­gan in 1997, af­ter Ham­mond res­i­dent and ge­neal­o­gist Suzanne G. Long, along with a group from the South Sub­ur­ban Ge­nealog­i­cal and His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, tran­scribed Oak Hill grave­stones for a so­ci­ety pub­li­ca­tion.

Long used her knowl­edge to cre­ate that first tour as a fundraiser.

Af­ter Long’s death in 2002, the Ham­mond Pub­lic Li­brary changed the name of their Calumet Room to the Suzanne G. Long His­tory Room in her honor.

For more in­for­ma­tion, call 219-931-5100.

SUE ELLEN ROSS/POST-TRI­BUNE

Tour guide Marc Mikals points out sym­bols and etch­ings on one of the burial mon­u­ments in Oak Hill Ceme­tery in Ham­mond. The pa­tri­arch of the fam­ily died at sea, which is the rea­son for the an­chor on the front of this grave­stone.

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