The Masonry of Veterans Day

Veterans Day has been celebrated in the United States since 1954, but it was known as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day since Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11th a Federal holiday in 1919.  On this Veterans Day 2014, the Masonry of Denver would like to celebrate the men and women who served the United States in times of war and peace.  I am especially grateful for the service of my grandfathers, uncles, and cousins; my father-in-law; and many friends.  Thank you all for your service.

So how does masonry play into the lives of American veterans?  A walk through any military cemetery will give you a hint.  Every man and woman who serves in the United States military is eligible to receive a free military grave marker from the Department of Veterans Affairs, regardless of where they are buried.  The VA issues both flat cemetery markers and upright head stones.  The flat markers, which are installed nearly flush to the ground, are available in marble, granite and bronze.  Upright headstones are available in marble and granite.

Marble is by far the most common military headstone marker, and the military only uses Danby marble quarried from Vermont.  It is an exceptionally pure, white stone, and is readily available due to a large vein of marble of varying quality that runs up the east side of the Hudson River from Manhattan to the Canadian border.  Vermont marble is typically a very high quality, white or whitish gray marble, while the marble historically quarried in upper Manhattan and southern Westchester County is a granular, lesser quality pinkish tan stone.  The quality of the stone improves the farther north one travels up the Hudson River.


VA-issued upright grave markers are 42 inches long, 13 inches wide and 4 inches deep, though the depth of their installation varies.  The veterans markers in the photo above appear to have been set several feet into the ground.  Inscriptions typically carved into headstones by the VA include the veteran’s name, rank, location of service, the war or wars in which he or she fought, the branch of the military in which he or she served, and the veteran’s birth and death dates.  Families may purchase additional inscriptions if there is room on the grave marker.  Finally, each veteran may have a symbol of their faith carved into the top portion of the grave stone.  Very few religious symbols were available, such as the Christian or Catholic crosses in the photo above, but over the years the VA has extended their recognized emblems to include 61 religious symbols.

Cemeteries all over Colorado have markers noting the grave of United States veterans.  I came upon three large areas for military memorials in Fairmount Cemetery in Denver several weeks ago when I visited.  The one closest to the cemetery entrance marks the graves of the Colorado Volunteers.  The monument itself is made of a gray granite with a bronze statue, but the grave markers arrayed in a circle around the monument are all white marble.  You will notice that their inscriptions are raised letters in a recessed shield.  This indicates the graves of veterans who served during the Civil War or the Spanish-American War, or during peace time before World War I.  Most of these grave markers represent veterans of the Spanish-American War.

CO Vols Memorial

A second military memorial, called the Garden of Honor, sits just northeast of the Colorado Volunteers memorial.  The Garden of Honor is simple and elegant, with upright marble headstones arranged in a circle around the United States flag.  All of the headstones face inward toward the flag, as opposed to the Colorado Volunteers memorial, whose headstones face outward.

Circle memorial

The third military memorial at Fairmount Cemetery commemorates Lieutenant Frances Brown Lowry, who served in World War I and died when his plane was shot down over France in 1918.  The Lowry memorial marks the graves of members who served in Lowry’s battalion, as well as other veterans of World War I.  The memorial, created in 1921, is made of a light granite with a bronze dough-boy statue.

Lowry Memorial

Once again, we would like to thank all of the men and women who have served the United States military.

Symbols on Grave Markers

Next time you walk into an historic cemetery, take a look at some of the symbols on grave markers.  Many of them are typical symbols of mourning, death, faith and the after life.  We are going to explore some of the more common funerary symbols, as well as some unique markers that you can find in Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery.

There are several websites that can help you decipher the symbols on graves markers, including the Cemetery Club and  But the most useful can be found at Grave Addiction because they provide photographs of each symbol.

Common Symbols on Grave Markers

Walrod-draperyDrapery is one of the more common symbols of mourning. has a good explanation why drapery is such a common symbol on grave markers:

“In the days when the body lay in state in the parlor, it was the custom to cover everything in black.  Draperies, with their fancy frills and tassels, are more elaborate than a simple shroud.  They allow the expression of mourning to linger long after the body has been taken out the front door and the accoutrements have been stowed for the next death in the family.”

 This marker at the left is dedicated to Frank C. Walrod, who died in 1895, and his wife Kate, who died in 1903.


Williams-lambLambs convey innocence and purity.  They are a Christian symbol (lamb of God), but apparently lambs have been used as funerary symbols since pre-Christian times.  Lambs are almost always used on the graves of children.  This grave at the right is dedicated to David Ralston Williams, who died in 1909 at thirteen months of age.


Margaret-scrollScrolls, especially scrolls that are rolled on both ends, symbolize the time span of a life, with the past and the future hidden.  An alternative interpretation is that scrolls symbolize the scriptures.  This grave marker at left dates to 1925.


The Mausoleums of Fairmount Cemetery

It’s Halloween week so I thought it only fitting to explore one of Denver’s great architectural treasures: Fairmount Cemetery.  Founded in 1890, Fairmount Cemetery was the third major cemetery to be developed in Denver.


The first, Mount Prospect Cemetery, was founded in 1859 by William Larimer, Jr. and was intended to be a beautiful burial ground to the east of Denver City.  Unfortunately it was located in an arid place far from water and its first inhabitant was Jack O’Neil, a man killed in a gunfight.  The non-denominational cemetery soon earned an unsavory reputation and was seen as a blight on the city.  In 1873, its ownership was transferred to the city and it became known as City Cemetery*.  (At that time, the two religious sections of Mount Prospect Cemetery were transferred to religious institutions: Mount Calvary Cemetery was transferred to the Catholic Church and the Jewish Burial and Prayer Ground was transferred to a Jewish congregation.)

In 1876, a group of prominent Denver businessmen formed Riverside Cemetery.  Located on the banks of the South Platte River just northeast of the city, Riverside Cemetery was planned as a ‘rural cemetery’ in a garden-like setting, similar to Mt. Auburn Cemetery outside of Boston.  It took several years for the owners to develop Riverside Cemetery into a lush oasis with tree-lined allées and beautiful plantings.  During that time, development began encroaching on Riverside, with railroad tracks and factories lining its perimeter.  So in 1890, a second group of prominent business men formed Fairmount Cemetery and rapidly transformed it into a beautifully laid out and landscaped cemetery to rival society cemeteries like Green-Wood in Brooklyn and Laurel Hill in Philadelphia.  Riverside and Fairmount cemeteries merged in 1900.

* In 1893, City Cemetery was closed and the remains disinterred to Riverside Cemetery.  The land later became Cheesman Park, a lush urban oasis in the heart of Denver.  The Jewish Burial and Prayer Ground, closed in 1923, became part of Congress Park, and Mount Calvary Cemetery, closed in 1908, later became the Denver Botanic Gardens.

Our first look at Fairmount will be the impressive mausoleums.  (On Wednesday we will look at unique monuments and carvings.)  Most of the mausoleums at Fairmount are centered around the Ivy Chapel near the northwest corner of the cemetery, not too far from the original street car turn around.