2021 marks the 25th anniversary of the Olympics in Atlanta. I remember very clearly the morning in September 1990 when the announcement was made that Atlanta would host the games. It was so exciting to imagine athletes, heads of state, and other visitors from around the world coming to our city! A lot of work to be done, to be sure. The city of Decatur hosted the Irish Olympic team, as well as a delegation from the country of Burkina Faso in West Africa (to honor the 10-year relationship with Bousse, the sister city of Decatur). Also in Decatur, the DeKalb History Center became the “Irish House,” as the Olympic Council of Ireland rented the building for the duration of the games. They even brought a Blarney stone!
There was a lot in the news about the Olympic happenings in DeKalb: Southwest DeKalb High School band members performed in the opening ceremonies, the only high school band to do so. Mia Hamm and the U.S. women’s soccer team played a match against Germany (among others) at Decatur High School. Stone Mountain Park became Olympic Park, hosting events such as tennis, archery, and cycling. The Doraville Boxing Club featured athletes from Thailand and Burkina Faso.
Decatur and Bousse, Burkina Faso, are Sister Cities.
The news of the day also reported on other happenings in town, including festivals, parades, fairs and other events surrounding the Olympics coming to Atlanta! The torch carrying event pictured here started from the steps of the DeKalb History Center and traveled down Clairemont Avenue. Singer Nanci Griffith (“From A Distance”) performed in concert and Decatur native “Whispering” Bill Anderson hosted the “Fiddler’s Festival.” 200-meter and local star Gwen Torrence was featured in a parade through Decatur. DeKalb County hosted an Olympic Business Opportunity Fair. The Garden Club of Georgia proposed the Pathway of Gold initiative, to create “beauty spots” in and around Atlanta to show our Olympic spirit.
It seems like a whirlwind 6 years, from the initial announcement to the closing ceremonies. Do you remember what you were doing during the ‘96 Olympics? Did you attend any of the games, parades, or festivals? Were you working or volunteering for the Olympics? Share your Olympic memories with us on social media.
There’s a lot more to read and learn about the Olympics in 1996 in DeKalb County. Be sure to check out the “Research and Archives” section of our website to see our selection of subject files on the Olympics, as well as other items featured in this piece. Then, click on “Contact the Archives” to make an appointment to see items in person.
This is not a complete list, but rather a starting point for exploring the diversity of Mid-Century Modern worship spaces in DeKalb County. The following churches represent national architectural trends, religious schisms, progressive social changes, and reactions to desegregation. We know the names of some of the architects who drew on modern aesthetics for their designs, such as Belvedere United Methodist Church (now Spirit and Truth Sanctuary). Some congregations fled integrating neighborhoods, leaving behind traditional sanctuaries for modern designs, as in the case of Rainbow Park Baptist Church. And you’ll see that even the smallest of sanctuaries employed modern architectural choices that reflected the period, as in the case of Mt. Tabor Missionary Baptist Church.
What initially set me on the path of this research was remembering some Catholic churches I attended when I was younger. I’ll admit, I noticed more of the design than what was going on at the altar. When I think about Catholic architecture and modernism, Vatican II, or the Second Vatican Council (1962 – 1965), inevitably comes to my mind. Major changes to the Catholic Church ushered in liturgical reform. These changes included reorienting the altar so the priest would face the congregation, no longer requiring head coverings, and allowing mass to be given in the native language instead of Latin. The congregants would be “full and active participants” in the mass. One example, Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, cited Vatical II to revamp from a traditional interior to “Theater in the Round” in 1975.
However, in compiling this list, many of these churches would have been under construction or completed by the time Vatican II concluded in 1965. The dark, dusty, and cold stone of churches past was already being abandoned in favor of abundant daylight, natural materials, and streamlined elevations. Churches were still being designed in traditional styles around DeKalb County, but it became more and more common to see congregations chose modern designs for their house of worship. Sanctuary style could even vary out of a single “mother church.” Take the First Baptist Church of Decatur (1951) for example. “Daughter” churches that formed from that congregation included the traditional Columbia Drive Baptist, 1956 (now the Friends School of Atlanta), but also the modern Clairmont Hills Baptist, 1955 (now Decatur City Church).
Consciously or not, many of these congregants fled to the suburbs during what we now call White Flight. White families abandoned older intown bungalow neighborhoods such as Kirkwood, and Oakhurst, for modern ranch and split-level homes in new sprawling suburbs in areas like Stone Mountain, and North Druid Hills. The churches reflected the change as congregations left behind traditional facades for modern spires. Today, many of these congregations have either dissolved or retreated further into the suburbs. The physical buildings left behind have reopened with predominantly Black congregations.
A post-war emphasis on religion, family, and community led to a boom of neighborhood churches. Open any newspaper from the time and the pages were filled with advertisements for Sunday worship. In some cases, the neighborhood church and community were the selling feature, and houses of worship included social hours, extracurriculars, crying rooms, and education. The modern church was designed for hip, young, and growing families.
Larger social and spiritual trends of the 1960s were trickling into congregations and designs. Nature, natural light, and “Church in the Round” were no doubt influenced by Eastern thoughts permeating the mainstream. Beginning in 1951 and continuing to the present, the architectural firm of Barker and Cunningham (now Barker Cunningham Barrington, Architects) has been prolific throughout Georgia, and influential in modern church design. Jim Barker summed up the trend in 1961, “You can’t expect a child to live in the modern world during the week and then take him into a musty, old cob-webbed church like I remember on Sunday.”
Despite the best efforts of forward thinking architectural firms, church design ultimately came down to money and what the congregation could afford. Large sheets of stained glass, intricate structural work, and curved woodworking all cost money. With the congregation ultimately in charge of design, the final design might end up watered down, which also satisfied the older congregants. If advertisements were any indication, Sunday morning’s sermon was still the ultimate driving force bringing people to worship, not the sleek exterior.
Moving into the 1980s, many of these congregations saw dwindling numbers due to demographic shifts in the neighborhoods and the rise of megachurches. The architecture of these new churches ranges from “postmodern gothic revival” to 10,000 seat stadiums that reverted back to traditional designs. Easier transportation meant churches could be a destination and congregants left behind the small neighborhood churches they once frequented.
The modern churches on this list were built from the 1950s to the 1970s and display some common architectural themes.
A-frame roof line. This emphasizes the nave and therefore the congregation. This roof design still allowed the interior to have volume and height, but its uncomplicated construction cost less than a traditional sanctuary.
Church in the round. In some cases this is a traditional exterior design (Greek Byzantine) but was also used to emphasize the congregation, which was a very modern idea. Some postmodern architects and priests now deride this concept and link it to Paganism and “New Age” beliefs. In many cases the interior seating orientation remains traditional (facing one direction) while the exterior appears round.
Windows. Window styles varied widely. Some churches featured huge sweeping windows that showed off nature or brought in light, while others used hidden and minimized windows that directed the congregants’ focus to the altar. Some congregations still purchased very modern representational stained glass, but others used abstract patterns or varying colors of single panes of glass to enhance their modern design.
Ornamental features. As with residential construction, concrete block screen, brick, were used decoratively.
Images are either from Google Street View or the author. Google Street View is also a great way to peek inside some of these churches.
“Art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.” – Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor & Park
Clark Ashton remembers the first time he saw him. There was a man who wore the three-piece white suit; he would hang out on the street corner, swinging a gold chain. To a young Ashton, this man was fascinating. The man who fearlessly stood out in the small town of Augusta, Georgia. He was unique, inimitable.
For a new generation, Ashton has become a similar figure, “that strange man over on Druid Hills road.” Each year, for the past twenty-four years, he has sat on a throne in his front yard, waving at local school children who are trapped in morning traffic. He is trying to show kids that it is okay to be different, that people can prosper in alternative lifestyles. In his view, independent thought and action are increasingly important in a highly regimented society. Most people react favourably, but a few laugh or yell. It doesn’t bother him. Ashton believes in what he is doing. Continue reading “In the Kingdom of Dreams and Madness: Clark Ashton’s Druid Hill“
This Decatur Federal Savings & Loan branch building was built in 1952. Located at 1807 Candler Road, the low-rise bank building is now home to DeKalb County’s Beautification Unit.
Its mid-century modern style was not the norm in Georgia; many banks stayed away from modern and preferred a Colonial Revival style. This building gets much of its pizazz from the covered arched walkway made from concrete.
The red brick building features a granite base and aluminum framed widows punctuated by synthetic blue flecked panels. The drive-through window is still on the side of the building and much of the hardscape appears to be original. Kudos to DeKalb County for maintaining this beautiful example of a mid-century modern bank!
The architectural rendering is from our archives.
DEKALB COUNTY CODE COMPLIANCE ADMINISTRATION 1807 Candler Road Decatur, GA 30032
After the 1830s cholera epidemic, the public began losing trust in physicians. During the epidemic, university trained physicians used bloodletting and purging to cure patients, but this often produced the opposite result. By the mid-19th century, people started turning to eclectic healers, who used non-invasive techniques and plant-based remedies.
One such healer in Decatur in 1837 was Dr. Major Ra who lived on “the Atlanta Rd.” Dr. Ra had a lobelia patch near his home,” which was used to treat respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and coughing. However, in large doses lobelia can cause severe side effects from nausea to convulsions and even induce a coma 1. One afternoon, Preacher Singleton’s wife went out near the Atlanta road to gathered some greens. She wondered onto Dr. Ra’s patch of land where the lobelia plants formerly grew. When she became sick, Dr. Calhoun was called, and he stated the cause of death as lobelia.”
By the 1840s, plant-based healing was relatively common, and almost “anyone was free to practice [healing]”2 since most states in the US had abolished the requirements for “Physician licensing” by this time. Within Georgia 16 medical colleges, many botanico-medical and eclectic medicine schools opened and eventually merged or closed during the second half of the 19th century. “Scientific medicine was rapidly being replaced by pseudo-sciences such as hydropathy, phrenology, mesmerism, and patent medicines, often over-the-counter commercial products that were marketed without regard to effectiveness.”3 This became a growing concern for university trained and licensed physicians who came together between 1845 and 1847.
“On May 7, 1847, 250 physicians from 22 states – representing 40 medical societies and 28 colleges – met at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.”4 Just half a mile from the College of Physicians where you’ll remember founding father, Dr. Benjamin Rush studied and practiced a century earlier. This group formed the American Medical Association with the goal of advancing scientific standards for medical education and “launching a program for medical ethics and improved public health.” 5
Meanwhile, across the pond, in Europe, French chemist Louis Pasteur was working on scientifically-based experiments that would give rise to his germ theory. “The theory that certain diseases are caused by the invasion of the body by microorganisms.”6 Despite these unique advances in medical practice and theory, “the proliferation of commercial medical schools [in the US, continued to] contribute to low standards throughout the whole profession. As a result, American physicians had little appreciation for pure science.
Intensely pragmatic in their interests, they regarded the germ theory of disease as inconsequential because it offered no quick therapeutic returns.”7 Continuing in this vein (pun intended) for the next decade, the pseudo-science medical community and its followers were eventually “forced to systematically study the cause of disease and infection.”8 Following the Civil War “two-thirds of the approximately six hundred and 60 thousand deaths of soldiers were caused by uncontrolled infectious diseases.” 9
As the United States was awakening to this realization, British surgeon Joseph Lister was experimenting with Pasteur’s theory that microorganisms cause infection. Lister observed that that 45-50% of amputation patients typically died from sepsis. Once he began using an antiseptic during surgeries it resulted in a reduced mortality rate of 15%. 10 Despite the advances in medical science abroad, the United States was slow to accept change.
A decade after the Civil War, Dr. John Hamilton Goss, who had served Prof. of Diseases of Women and Children at the Georgia Eclectic Medial College in Atlanta, began practicing in Decatur. Dr. Goss built the first brick residence in Decatur on Church St. He had a little detached office building on a corner of his residence lot. Before Decatur had a dentist, he extracted teeth for his patients as a routine matter.
Two years later, in 1877, Dr. George Newton Flowers graduated from Nashville Medical College. Dr. Flowers, originally from DeKalb Co. returned to practice here. Unlike most other doctors, however, he was also the long-time postmaster at Doraville, and operated a mercantile business there. Like most other doctors of this period he rode horseback and compounded his own prescriptions and made his own preparations from herbs.
Finally, by the 1880s scientific inquiry began to reenter the medical community. Across the country, in Rochester, Minnesota, “Surgeon Dr. William Mayo began practicing antiseptic surgery … and won converts among colleagues. These studies in the scientific basis of disease combined with improved medical education to make “scientific medicine” the predominate philosophy by the end of the century. Alternative medicine was still practiced, but was often combined with scientific medical principles.”11
For instance, around the same time during the 1880s, the drug Vapo-Cresolene came on the market. “The device used Cresolene, a coal-tar byproduct in liquid form that was vaporized over a small lamp lit with kerosene.” 12 The manufacturer marketed it as a germicide with “powerful germ-destroying properties,”13 playing to the public’s renewed beliefs in medical science. “The company claimed that inhaling the fumes would cure numerous respiratory diseases, including pneumonia, whooping cough and diphtheria.”14 It took over 25 years for the American Medical Association to debunk these claims, and despite this Vapo-Cresolene continued to be sold into the 1950s.15
Six years after Vapo-Cresolene was on the market, Atlanta pharmacist John S. Pemberton of the Pemberton Chemical Company created his most famous patent medicine, a tonic that he claimed would “cure headaches, upset stomach, and fatigue.”16 Today, we know this drink as Coca-Cola, with its name stemming from its former main ingredients: cocaine and the caffeine-rich kola nut. 17
A few years after Pemberton sold Coca-Cola to Jacob’s Pharmacy for distribution in Atlanta, Wiley Shorter Ansley would work there part-time while he studying at the Atlanta College of Pharmacy. Dr. Ansley went on to work in pharmacies in Atlanta and Lithonia. He eventually attended the Atlanta College of Physicians and Surgeons and graduated in 1899. By 1903 Dr. Ansley opened his own drug store on Sycamore St. in Decatur and later moved it to the Masonic Temple Bldg. on the corner of N. McDonough St. and Atlanta Ave. He then went into business with his brother-in-law and opened the Ansley-Goss Drug Company.
Meanwhile, Dr. Daniel Roscoe Chupp of Lithonia was experimenting with a cure for rheumatism. Chupp had moved to Rock Chapel outside Lithonia 60 years earlier, when he was only four years old. He grew up in this area and made it is home, marrying twice and with 10 children. Dr. Chupp had a large scattered practice which extended into DeKalb, Gwinnett and Rockdale counties.
On March 25, 1897, Dr. Chupp’s name appeared in the DeKalb New Era newspaper. The notice stated: “A positive cure for rheumatism, Iodo-Salicylate sold strictly on a guarantee by all educated physicians. I refer by permission to Drs. Chupp and [Joseph Addison] Farmer. 50 cents a bottle at Kelly’s Pharmacy.”
Salicylate which Dr. Chupp was experimenting with is a chemical structure naturally found in the willow tree and historically known for its ability to relieve non-specific aches and pains. The lab produced compound is better known as acetylsalicylicacid the active ingredient in Aspirin – first produced and patented by the Bayer Company in Germany. 18
Practicing in Decatur, less than three miles from the square, Dr. C. Hunter House and Mrs. Mamie E. Crowley House lived in Kirkwood, near what is today 2053 Oakview Rd SE. “Dr. House practice began during the horse and buggy age, but not for too long. He purchased his first automobile which some think was the first auto driven by a doctor in DeKalb Co.” Eventually their son was born, but he was stricken with polio and left him disabled.
In 1906, the year after Dr. House’s death a new patent medicine entered the market – Moone’s Emerald Oil. It’s “a little less than magical, claimed its 1931 ad in the California Healdsburg Tribune. 19 For 85 cents per bottle,20 you could relieve itching and burning distress of externally caused skin irritation, muscular aches and pains due to overexertion or exposure through 5 active ingredients: chlorothymol, a chemical compound used as an antifungal in mouthwash; carbolic acid, a poisonous chemical made form tar; oil of eucalyptus to reduce nasal congestion and relieve asthma; wintergreen to reduce headaches, fever, and gas; and essential oil of camphor from the camphor tree to relieve inflammation and congestion.
If Moone’s Emerald Oil didn’t cure your aches and pains, perhaps Dr. Thacher’s Liver and Blood Syrup might help. Dr. Thacher’s Liver and Blood Syrup Instant Relief Liniment came with a vial and glass syringe. AND! If you purchase Dr. Thacher’s Liver and Blood Syrup Instant Relief Liniment you could receive a bottle for FREE.
Maybe this product isn’t for you, but you have a horse or mule with colic? Simply mix half a bottle of Dr. Thacher’s Instant Relief Liniment with a pint of water and drench. Instant Relief is an excellent counter-irritant and has remarkable influence on all muscular aches and pains and gives instant relief in Rheumatism, Neuralgia, and headaches.
This packaging and marketing caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1914 when its misbranding violated the Food and Drugs Act, stating “the packages indicate that the product was useful generally in the treatment of liver and blood diseases, when, as a matter of fact, it was not, and said name was therefore misleading, false, and fraudulent.” On June 2, 1915 the court ordered that the product be destroyed by the United States marshal. 22
About a decade after Dr. Thacher’s Syrup was removed from the market, Dr. William Andrew Webb founded Lithonia General Hospital. As a young man William Andrew Webb first worked for a railroad associated with the Rock Chapel Granite Company. While working, he was thrown from a box car and as a result of the wreck he received a severe spinal injury. With the money he received from damages he bought half interested in a drug store with Dr. James Addison Bell. Not being a licenses druggist himself, it was necessary to engage a licensed man to help him run the business as well as fill prescriptions.
Not only was Webb handicapped by the spinal injury, but he suffered poor eye sight as well. And although he had gone into the drug business, he wanted to be a doctor. In a couple years he sold his interest to Bell who told him he would never make it as a doctor because his eyes were too weak to do the required amount of studying. To which Webb replied, “I’m going to try it if I go blind trying.”
Webb graduated from Atlanta Medical School. He and Dr. Bell reestablished their partnership, this time with a small clinic. They went on to found Lithonia General Hospital in 1926. The partnership ended once again, and Dr. Bell returned to his small clinic, while Dr. Webb continued to operate the 16-bed Lithonia Hospital and became known for his pediatric surgery.
Closer to the Decatur square, Dr. Washington Jackson Houston Jr. was practicing medicine. Houston Jr. was born in DeKalb County in 1865 and was the grandson on Dr. Chapman – who you might remember owned the Medicine House – on Clairmont road in the 1830s. Despite the modest appearance of the Medicine House, “The Powells must have rated socially as each of his 8 children married into families in the high social strata. They also listed prominent families as their friends, particularly the Bulloch’s of Roswell. Both families were intimae and Powell’s daughter Amanda Katherine and Mittie Bulloch, later mother of President Theodore Roosevelt, were quite chummy.” Amanda’s son Houston Jr. spent much time on his grandfather’s farm, the Medicine House, which was purchased by Amanda’s husband. After a successful career in civil engineering Houston entered the Eclectic College of Medicine in 1895 and graduated 3 years later. Dr. Houston practiced medicine for 34 years (until 1932) in Decatur.
The oldest headstones in this cemetery date to 1827, but burials continue now throughout the entire cemetery. These photos are from the historic “Old Section” which includes about 7.5 acres while the entire cemetery is now 58 acres. Decatur was established as DeKalb County’s seat of government in 1823 and for decades it remained a small town. The modest nature of this beautiful cemetery does not detract from its serene beauty. Much has been written about the history of its occupants; links for additional information are found at the end of this photo essay.
Early American cemeteries seldom had any formal design and were often found at churches or on private land. The tombstones tended to have little symbolism or romantic language; they presented death in a straightforward manner. This began to change in the Victorian period, when cemeteries were treated more like parks and romanticism was used to comfort the living. While religious symbols were still used, natural imagery was also incorporated adding deeper context and additional sentiment about those who had passed away. The cemetery became a more peaceful place of contemplation with restful images bolstering the visitors’ emotions in the face of death. Each entry in this symbol guide has a primary focus, but you will see repeated themes on some of the more ornate or complex headstones. Keep in mind that symbols are also a personal experience; some meanings listed here may resonate with you, or you may find an image brings a different concept to mind.
Here are some of the common symbols found in historic cemeteries. Next time you visit the Decatur Cemetery – or any historic cemetery – you can ponder the meanings sent to you from spirits of the past.
This plant motif is often found in classical architecture. The thorny leaves of the acanthus can be thought of a symbol of the “prickly” journey from life to death, and ultimately the final triumph of eternal life.
An anchor was used to signify safety, hope, and steadfastness. It could represent a sailor and was used by early Christians as a disguised cross.
Bible or Book
Books are often found on headstones and are most commonly bibles. On open version may suggest the Book of Life, while a closed book may indicate the completion of a life’s story.
From the simple to the complex, the box tomb is a memorial shaped like a box. The structure is above ground and typically hollow.
The calla lily is often used to represent marriage, resurrection, and majestic beauty. The top image is from a Woodman of the World headstone. The bottom two examples show the calla lilies displayed in classical vases and are for a husband and wife from different families.
Chain – Three Links
This image was almost imperceptible on this worn headstone. This is the symbol of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Because of this widely used symbol Odd Fellows have become known as “The Three Link Fraternity.” The three links represent friendship, love and truth, which is sometimes also represented by using the initials “F L T” within the links.
Chain – Broken
This image symbolizes Christ’s hand reaching from heaven and breaking the chains of death. It is also a reminder that death is only a temporary state.
A straightforward and poignant symbol of the loss of a beloved child.
Many classical architectural motifs are used in funerary art. Some of these are explored individually in this guide, like the acanthus leaf, urn, and laurel wreath. Here are three grave markers that exhibit hallmarks of the neoclassical architectural style in America. A detail from a larger monument focuses an urn and egg and dart molding.
A cradle grave is one where the grave space is outlined with a border made from concrete or stone. They became highly popular and can be found in fancy or plain materials and were used for adults as well as children. Sometimes the outline is intentionally made to look like a bed with a headboard, footboard, and side rails. The cradles, or beds, were meant to console family members who would think of their loved ones participating in eternal sleep.
Cross & Crown
The Christian symbol of a cross inside a crown can represent suffering (the cross) followed by eternal reward (the crown) and a triumph over death.
Crosses are well-represented in Christian cemeteries and appear in many different styles and designs. They are a symbol of both Christ and the Christian faith. Oftentimes large crosses are placed as a monument for an entire family plot. Another common way a visitor will see one is on a military marker. Here are just a few of the crosses in Decatur Cemetery – from the large to the small.
A mournful plant, even to the Greeks and Romans, cypress tree are usually found in cemeteries and have multiple meanings to ancient faiths across the world. It is one of the trees believed to have been used to make the cross used in the crucifixion, so it is associated with Christ and self-sacrifice. And as a long-lived tree, it is also a reminder of eternity. It has been used in funeral rites since ancient times and continues to be used to make caskets.
Dogwood flowers can symbolize strength, purity, resilience, and rebirth. Some Christians believe that it was dogwood that was used in the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. The four petals are said to represent the cross, while the pink tips signify the nails of the cross. The center of the flower also represents the crown of thorns.
Doves are a traditional symbol of innocence, love, peace, and hope. For Christians, the dove may also represent resurrection, the Holy Spirit, or the safe transport of the soul to heaven.
Drapes, Palls, Veils, and Tassels
These nearly synonymous symbols became very popular to represent mourning and can be found on small headstones, monuments, obelisks, and urns. A pall is simply the cloth that is laid on a coffin or tomb. A veil can be considered to be a partition between the living and the spirit realm. And draperies and tassels come from the Victorian era custom of covering the visitation rooms of homes or funeral parlors in decorative heavy black cloth. All of these also bring to mind a shroud which would have been placed over a body. Carved here in stone, these draperies serve as a sign of loss and morning.
Ferns are used to refer to eternal youth or a person’s humility and sincerity.
The Gates of Heaven
Symbolizing the entrance to heaven, they are shown open. The gates are a passageway to the afterlife and some believe departed souls are able to pass back and forth between Heaven and earth. In this way you are connected to your loved ones who may return to watch over you.
Grapes symbolize the blood of Christ.
Hand Pointing Up
A hand pointing up refers to the hope of heaven or a soul’s ascent to heaven.
A lit torch represents life and immortality while an extinguished torch represents death. These inverted torches, which are still lit, represent death and the passing of the soul into the next life. The flame may remain to guide the soul on their journey.
Ivy carved onto a tombstone can represent friendship, fidelity and immortality.
The lamb was often used for children as a symbol of the innocence and purity of those who had passed. However, there are two examples here for a Mother and Father. It is unfortunate that several of the statues are missing their heads.
The laurel is an evergreen plant; as a wreath it represents victory, distinction, eternity or immortality.
The lily represents innocence, purity, renewal, and the resurrection of Christ. In other faiths, it has been associated with the divine feminine and was sacred to Hera, Queen of Heaven (Greece). It also has a strong association with the chastity of the Virgin Mary.
A Greek lyre is a string instrument symbolizing wisdom, moderation, heaven, and peace. It can also represent the journey from this world to the underworld.
In this cemetery, a monument is a structure erected to commemorate a person or family. These are larger or more complex than ordinary headstones but do not include obelisks which are listed separately. These generally have a great deal of symbolism and/or text to commemorate the deceased.
The morning glory represents the mortality of life.
Oak Tree & Acorns
With symbolism dating back to ancient times, the leaves and acorns of an oak tree represent longevity, strength, power, honor, prosperity, and triumph.
An obelisk is usually a four-sided stone shaft with a pyramid shaped point at the top. They can vary in height and have a long history as grave markers. Obelisks were first used at Egyptian temples and later appeared in the mortuary complexes of pharaohs. They became a popular form of cemetery art in the United States by the 1840s and continued to be used until about the 1920s. There are several covered, or draped, obelisks also shown in the “Drapes” section.
Symbols on headstones often represent concepts resonant with one’s faith. But they are also a place to show symbols from organizations important to the deceased. Examples seen in the Decatur Cemetery include the Shriners, Masons, Woodmen of the World, and the Order of the Eastern Star.
Although they were carved to achieve this look, these rustic markers were made to appear more natural in their settings.
There are at least three of these unusual grave markers in Decatur that look like bolster pillows and are meant to convey a peaceful eternal rest. However, one is actually a draped log.
Nearly every type of flower can be found on a headstone, but none seem as popular as the rose, which symbolizes love, beauty, and virtue. As a popular funeral flower, their deep fragrance can also be evocative of piercing sorrow. Rose buds, or broken stems, are often used to represent a child’s life cut short. Sometimes, the fuller the rose bloom is depicted, the longer the person has lived.
The sphinx was a popular motif from the Egyptian Revival style of architecture (here from the 1920s) and is guarding this family plot, They are representative of courage, power, and honor.
Tree Trunks & Logs
Another unusual type of headstone came from the fraternal organization know as Woodmen of the World. A tombstone in the shape of a tree trunk is symbolic of the brevity of life. Some of these headstones do not seem to be from W.O.W., but have a folk art quality which combines the natural world with the transition of death.
Urns have a long association with death and the memorialization of life. They were used to hold the remaining ashes after a cremation, but that is not an accepted burial practice in some faiths. So even when cremation was not used, the empty urn was symbolic of immortality and is meant to represent the soul. They are also found draped, as shown earlier in this article.
The drooping branches of the tree are a visual representation of sorrow, or mourning.