02 February 2012

What's in a name? Maybe a cemetery!

I learned something interesting about the last town I lived in. The town was named Killeen in 1881, after Frank P. Killeen, the assistant general manager of the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe railway, who built the town on land along the tracks being laid through Central Texas. The Killeen family apparently stuck around, because there are number of them buried in Killeen City Cemetery.

I always thought the name sounded vaguely Irish, but according to an article I recently read about a children's burial ground in Ireland, the name "Killeen" itself is an old Celtic word (cillĂ­n/killeen) for a burial ground for unbaptized children, the mentally disabled, those who committed suicides, and others prohibited from burial in consecrated ground in the 16th century.

The especially interesting part about this is that in order to have gotten such a thing as a surname, some distant ancestor of the Killeen family must have been very closely associated with such a burial ground.

01 February 2012

Wednesday's Child: Darling Infant Son (and Family)

The Darling Infant Son of John Franklin and Lecy (White) Brothers is buried in the Brothers family plot with his parents and his father's first wife, Susan Tennessee Brothers.

Infant Brothers' obelisk is surprisingly ornate for an infant in this area. Obelisks for infants seem rare in Central Texas; most of the baby gravestones that I have seen in Bell County tend to be smaller, often engraved with a resting lamb or a dove, but less ornate than that of the Brothers baby.

The obelisk features a resting lamb, which is a fairly common motif for infant gravestones, but Darling Infant's lamb rests beneath a radiant star. The scene is reminiscent of the nativity, with the Lamb of God resting beneath the star.

John Franklin Brothers' first wife, Susan Tennessee, died in 1901.

J.F. and Lecy must have married by the end of 1902 (not an uncommon practice at the time), because their son was stillborn on September 7, 1903. Lecy would have been about twenty years old on her wedding day, and her husband would have been more than twice her age (also not uncommon at the time). J.F. preceded her in death in 1937, when he was buried beside his first wife and his son.

His gravestone is beautiful and interesting in its own right, a massive stone block rather than the slender obelisks of his infant son and first wife.

Lecy lived on until 1973, when she was laid to rest between her late husband and their son.

31 January 2012

Tombstone Tuesday: Come Ye Blessed

M.P. Beck (1860-1920) is buried in Killeen City Cemetery alongside her husband, Samuel Vivian Beck (1859-1931). Her gravestone is a beautiful podium bearing a closed book, with an open gate motif on its front above the epitaph.

This open gate iconography was evidently a popular choice for Central Texas graveston
es of the early twentieth century. I have seen and documented several in cemeteries around Killeen. Once, I mistook the open space in the middle of a particularly weathered example for a willow tree (a much rarer image in this area). Most depict an open gate with a a star in the sky on the far side of the gate. The image symbolizes the gates of heaven, open for the faithful to enter (hence the caption above the gate, "COME ALL YE BLESSED.")

Atop the podium, the closed book is a slightly less common (though not unheard of, by any means) sight in Bell County, especially in combination with the gate. Open books are slightly more common than closed ones, but either usually represents the Bible.

I am still trying to identify the plant whose branch adorns the sides of the podium. Does anyone out there have any suggestions?

Samuel Vivian Beck died eleven years after his wife, and his gravestone sits alongside hers, smaller and much simpler in a more modern style (although plenty of gravestones from the 1930s still bear more of a resemblance to Mrs. Beck's than to Mr. Beck's; the 1930s seem to have been a period of transition in gravestone art, although my evidence for that is strictly anecdotal so far).

Mrs. Beck's epitaph is weathered with age, but it still says:

M.P. Beck
wife of
S.V. Beck
Feb. 10, 1856
June 16, 1920
Gone but not forgotten

30 January 2012

Once More, with Portraits!

Last Words is finally back, after a slightly disruptive relocation to El Paso, Texas! This week, I'll be posting the last of my photos from Killeen. On that last visit to Killeen City Cemetery back in September, I found the shared gravestone of Clinton Lewis Shafer (1886-1954) and Sadie H. (Parmer) Shafer (1890-1970).

The Parmers are a fairly prominent family in Killeen's history, and they are still part of the community; I recall serving some of Mrs. Shafer's relatives when I worked at the funeral home.

The portraits were what caught my attention, though. Gravestones and epitaphs become very familiar once gravestone photography becomes a hobby and/or mortuary iconography becomes a serious research interest, but there is something immediate and personal about seeing a person's face there that often catches me by surprise.

Portraits on gravestones were fairly popular in the early twentieth century, and black-and-white photographs set in stone dot the older sections of most cemeteries. These photographs are printed on ceramic plaques which are then mounted into an indention in the gravestone, which you can see in this (otherwise sort of oddly angled) picture of Mr. Shafer's portrait.

When researching an earlier post about portraits a few months ago, I discovered that some contemporary marker companies still offer this service, though I haven't seen many gravestones from the last couple of decades that incorporate pictures.