In one of the oldest cemeteries in Lafayette, Indiana, there are a few gravestones that appear to be growing directly out of the soil. These are the intricately detailed family tree gravestones, handcrafted to look literally like tree trunks, logs, or objects made of wood.
For a short time in the mid-1800s, the family tree stone was a popular style of headstone in the Midwest, likely because many families made their livelihood from the lush forests that covered the land. Though no one knows when the tradition of using tree-like gravestones started, the symbolism is clear. Trees grow, as do families. As trees grow, seed and die, younger trees sprout and grow around them.
There are many examples of family tree and wood-related gravestones in Greenbush Cemetery. There is even a chair, crafted from stone to look wooden, with only the word “Father” inscribed on it. There are piles of logs, single logs, a stone gravestone fashioned to look like a cut tree trunk, and then the tall family tree gravestones themselves.
The names and dates of the deceased are placed on all sides of the family tree gravestones. Some of the trees have nuts and ivy carved into the stonework to add detail. In some places, real trees have grown next to the family tree stones, making it difficult to tell the difference from a distance.
Know Before You Go
Greenbush Cemetery was established in 1848 and is open to visitors during daylight hours. There are also the graves of soldiers from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, World War I, and World War II.