Exploring Woodmen of the World grave markers at Oakland Cemetery


This is part of my occasional series on history, by studying Oakland Cemetery.

If you visit cemeteries often, you’ve probably noticed the tree stone monuments. Several can be seen in Oakland cemetery. Two organizations are given credit for their proliferation, Modern Woodmen of America and Woodmen of the World.

Joseph Cullen Root originally founded Modern Woodmen of America (MWA) in January, 1883. After heated arguments, Root was thrown out of the group. Root then organized Woodmen of the World, in 1890, which is perhaps better known. Root wanted to create a fraternal benefit society that would “bind in one association the Jew and the Gentile, the Catholic and the Protestant, the agnostic and the atheist.” He used the name ‘woodmen’ because he was inspired by a sermon that talked about “woodmen clearing the forest to provide for their families.” The Woodmen of the World organization is probably best known for its gravestones. From 1890 to 1900, WOW’s life insurance policies provided for special grave markers, free of charge for members. From 1900 to the mid- 1920’s, members purchased a $100 rider to cover the cost of the monument. By the mid-20’s, the organization had discontinued the grave marker benefit due to cost.



The society designed a four to five foot high tree trunk monument pattern for adults and three stacked logs for children. WOW would send a copy of the pattern to the local stone carver in the deceased woodman’s hometown, so that all of the tree stones would be similar in appearance, though they were not identical. Other decorations were added to the tree trunk to make each marker more individualistic. Many times, the tree stone pattern was altered; sized differently, cut in a different manner, or branches were added or broken off each time a family member was buried. Many of these tree show sawed or broken limbs traditionally symbolizing a life cut short.

An occupation or hobby in the wood industry has never been required to be a member of Woodmen of the World. Still, the main symbols found on the tree stones include axes, mauls, wedges, any type of tool used in woodworking. Doves became popular as well. The WOW motto “Dum Tacet Clamet” meaning, “Though silent, he speaks” was often inscribed as well.

WOW later created a simpler template of a log that would rest atop a regular gravestone. Members could order the log to be placed on a deceased woodman’s regular grave marker. A woodman emblem is now available and can be attached to a regular gravestone.


Further History

In one of the best known events in the Woodmen’s history, the company launches first a radio staion and in in 1949, a television station. One of WOW-TV’s first performers was local resident, Johnny Carson, who had a daily show called The Squirrel’s Nest. Meredith Corporation bought out the radio and TV station in 1958. In 1999, the Journal Broadcast Group from Milwaukee purchased the stations and the historic call letters were changed.


Woodmen of the World is one of the largest fraternal benefit society with open membership in the United States. The not for profit organization provides not only insurance, but also investment, bonds, real estate and mortgage loans to its members. Its 2010 financial performance included gross revenue of $1.2 billion. WOW is active in local communities, providing aid to senior citizens, the physically impaired and orphans. Woodmen of the World has partnered with the American Red Cross to provide disaster relief nationwide. Woodmen of The World Life Insurance Society is located in Omaha, NE.

Even though monument benefits have not been included in the WOW package for years, the society makes sure that “no Woodmen shall rest in an unmarked grave.” A fitting tribute to WOW members, and a brilliant way to augment those striking and outstanding tree stone monuments into cemeteries everywhere.

More information

More history is available in a blog post by Joy Neighbors Woodmen of the World and the Tree Stone Grave Markers

And another blog post by Joyce M. Tice explains Woodmen burial rituals655025668_7ef1bb85dd

Oakland Cemetery Halloween Tour tickets on sale


This year’s Halloween tours are called Capturing the Sprit of Oakland and they promise to be the biggest and best yet.

The tours now span TWO weekends. Tours begin at 5:30 and last about an hour, but you MUST have a ticket to enter:

  • Friday, October 18
  • Saturday, October 19
  • Thursday, October 24
  • Friday, October 25
  • Saturday, October 26
  • Sunday, October 27

Adults: $20.00; Children 4-12 years of age: $10; Children 3 years of age and under: Free. An additional service charge will be applied at the time of purchase. Buy tickets NOW! NO TICKETS WILL BE SOLD AT THE GATE!

Want to know what you’re in for? Check out this video from last year:

Historic Oakland Cemetery receives many visitors each day, but only at Halloween do the gates stay open after dark. Witness the magnificent final resting place of Atlanta’s sons and daughters during the Capturing the Spirit of Oakland 2013 Halloween Tours. Join us this year and hear first-hand accounts about our city’s past, narrated by a host of Oakland’s eternal “residents.” You’ll also see gorgeous candlelit mausoleums in this one-of-a-kind annual tradition. Bring a flashlight and wear comfortable walking shoes. There will be beer, wine, and soft drinks for sale, and browse Oakland’s Museum Shop for unique finds.

Guided tours start at 5:30 pm each night at the Bell Tower and last approximately one hour. You must have your ticket to enter the cemetery. To ensure all ticket holders are accommodated, tour tickets are sold in timed increments, and a limited number of tickets are available. To buy tickets, click links above.

Limited free parking is available near the main entrance and on neighboring streets. Due to the event, parking inside the cemetery is not possible. Carpooling or taking MARTA to the King Memorial Station is recommended.

There is no rain date. In case of a severe weather cancellation, ticket holders will receive via the mail, a free pass for a future guided tour at Oakland.

This event is appropriate for children 8 and above.

Please note: There is no promotion code or discount for this event. There is an additional processing fee applied by TicketAlternative for each ticket purchased.  Due to the historic nature of Oakland Cemetery, not all areas of the park are ADA accessible.

Atlanta’s banker and builder, Joel Hurt

This is part of my continuing series on Atlanta history, as told through the residents of Atlanta’s Historic Oakland Cemetery.

A young Joel Hurt, courtesy of Wikipedia
A young Joel Hurt, courtesy of Wikipedia

Joel Hurt (1850–1926) was a key businessman and developer in Atlanta. He was the last of that bread of great “movers and shakers” of the South: entrepreneur, inventor, banker, engineer, builder and railroad man. His work helped to shape the city we see today. He’s responsible for local banks, the first electric street car in Atlanta, the city’s first skyscraper, the neighborhoods of Inman Park and Druid Hills, and his masterpiece—The Hurt Building—still stands in downtown Atlanta. Inman Park named a street after him and the city commissioned a park downtown.

But as with the fortunes of many great men, Hurt’s wealth and fame was—at least partially—built on the backs of those less fortunate. Though born after slavery and the Civil War, Hurt still managed to enslave others. Convict labor—mostly black men—was exploited to construct many of Hurt’s projects. These convicts were harshly disciplined and cruelly deprived of their most basic civil rights. The Wall Street Journal’s bureau chief Douglas Blackmon’s 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning book Slavery by Another Name revealed the extent to which Joel Hurt’s fortune was built on this practice. It was made into a PBS Documentary of the same name.

Joel Hurt, circa 1900, courtesy of Wikipedia
Joel Hurt, circa 1900, courtesy of Wikipedia

What is perhaps even more shocking to us today, Hurt admitted to full knowledge of this crime against humanity. According to Wikipedia, “Hurt was unrepentant in hearings in 1908 that brought out the shocking abuses in the Hurt family convict labor camps. His callous indifference to evidence that many of his workers had died of abuse and his viciousness in asserting that convict workers could not be beaten enough horrified even contemporary Georgians. These hearings led in large part to the banning of convict leasing in Georgia.”

Was he an Atlanta hero or a villain? Both. Hurt’s life is an example of the complexities that make us the human race. We are all of us capable of hard work, grandeur and petty greed.

Joel Hurt’s name and gravestone just might come up during the Oakland Cemetery Special Twilight tour, Pioneers of Atlanta: Meet the founding sons and daughters of a town originally known as “Terminus.”  Wander among the graves of the first farmers, lawyers, early mayors, and town commissioners. Hear stories of accomplishments and failures, civil strife, gunfights and interaction with other developing communities that made us a community of people, not just an economic center. The tour is conducted these select Saturdays at 6:30p: 6/15, 7/20, 8/17, 9/21.

courtesy Larry Felton Johnson's photos of Oakland Cemetery
courtesy Larry Felton Johnson’s photos of Oakland Cemetery

The Joel Hurt Cottage still stands near Elizabeth and Euclid Streets in Inman Park.

Twilight tours: the murder of Mary Phagan

This is part of my continuing series, discovering the history of Atlanta using the “residents” of Historic Oakland Cemetery, located in Grant Park, near downtown Atlanta. 421179_161357924036332_1247656934_n

If you’ve never been on a tour of Atlanta’s most historic cemetery, Oakland, go to one of the Guided Overview Tours at 10a, 2p and 4p on Saturdays or Sundays. Or take a Self Guided tour.

8353c403ce78a5f8b934b142e043cd67But if you’re looking for a more in depth experience, attend one of the Special Topic Twilight Tours. No reservations required, just show up at the Visitors Center any  Saturday or Sunday from, March 16 through October 13, Tours start at 6:30 and last roughly an hour. Or longer if you keep asking questions.

A Special Topic Tour coming up June 23 is Fear and Accusation: The Leo Frank Story – In 1913 Atlanta was a city in transition socially, culturally, and politically. The Old South had crumbled less than fifty years before and the memory of the Civil War still hung heavy in the air. In fact, the Leo Frank story began that year on Confederate Memorial Day, April 26. Thirteen year old Mary Phagan planned to enjoy the festivities but her life came to a sudden, violent end that day at the National Pencil Factory. Thus began a series of events that rank with the most tragic and indelible in the history of the city. Although much of the evidence collected was questionable at best, factory superintendent, Leo Frank, was soon accused, tried, and convicted of the heinous crime. Numerous Oakland residents played key roles in the event. Lives of both the rich and the poor were forever changed. Learn the stories behind the story in this thoughtful and thought provoking tour.

The lynching of Leo Frank occurred right outside of Marietta, GA. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
The lynching of Leo Frank occurred right outside of Marietta, GA. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Details behind the murder and trial

Here’s more background on that murder and the trial of Leo Frank, which I researched at the Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Midtown Atlanta.

My favorite part of this museum is in the permanent collection showing Jewish life in Atlanta from 1845 to the present. Of special interest to me is the video about the murder of Leo Frank. It’s impossible to talk about the Jewish experience in the south without discussing this case, which caused half the Jews in Georgia to flee the state. Frank was convicted in 1913 of the death of Mary Phagan, a young worker at the National Pencil Factory, where Frank was an engineer and superintendent. The trial and evidence was flawed and the jury prejudiced against him since he was both a Jew and a northerner. The prosecution portrayed him as a rich Yankee Jew lording it over vulnerable working women. Governor John M. Slaton eventually commuted the sentence to life imprisonment as he was leaving office, since it was effectively political suicide. A few weeks later, a group of armed men took Frank from the Milledgeville Penitentiary, carried him to the Marietta area and lynched him. No one was ever charged with Frank’s murder, though the ringleaders were prominent men of the community. Several photographs were taken of the lynching, which were sold as postcards, along with pieces of the rope and Frank’s nightshirt.

Leo Frank
Leo Frank

It is now widely believed by historians that Jim Conley, the factory’s janitor and the main witness for the prosecution, is the real murderer of Mary Phagan. In 1986, the state of Georgia pardoned Leo Frank. It is a sad chapter in Georgia’s history. This video is not the one at the museum, but it is very informative and includes several photos taken at the time.

Currently at the Breman, Project Mah Jongg.

Another tour that should be particularly interesting is the Jewish Grounds of Oakland – Dates: Sundays: 6/30, 7/28, 8/18.

Mother of Orphans, Carrie Steele Logan, Oakland Cemetery

This is part of a continuing series on Atlanta history, told through the Historic Oakland Cemetery.

m-5968The African American Grounds of the Oakland Cemetery were set up in 1866 as an area where Blacks could buy burial space. This separate section reflected the policy of racial segregation that lasted long after the Civil War. Called originally the “colored section,” was a small improvement over the “Slave Square” which was originally designated for African Americans. This section of the historic cemetery is one of the best places to take a self-guided tour, using the iPhone audio guide.

One of the most notable interments is of Carrie Steele Logan (1829-1900), known as the Mother of Orphans. In 1888 this former slave founded the first African-American orphanage in Atlanta. The Carrie Steele Pitts Home is still in existence and paid to repair her plot.

Orphaned as a child, Carrie Steele was born a slave to a Georgia plantation, but she managed to learn to read and write. She worked as a matron in the Macon railroad station after the Civil War, but later moved to Atlanta, accepting a position of “stewardess” at Union Station, in what’s now Five Points, downtown Atlanta. In the 20 years she held this job she became increasingly more concerned about the homeless Black orphans. She received permission to use an abandoned boxcar as shelter for these children during the day. At night, most came to her Wheat Street (now Auburn Avenue) home, but soon her home could not fit them all.

m-6606Buy a larger home to better take care of those orphans was her solution. She quit her job at the railroad in order to write and sell her autobiography. With the money from the sale of her original home plus financial support from organizations and individuals across Atlanta, she acquired a 2-room house, calling it the Carrie Steele Orphan Home in 1888. At this time she also married the New Year minister, Reverend Joshua Logan, who became a partner in her work.

A new and more permanent place In 1892 Atlanta Mayor William Hemphill and the city council granted her a 99 year lease on a new and larger home. The three story residence could hold 50 children and provided basic education, religious instruction and technical training.

Carrie Steele Logan directed the home until her death in 1900, and was succeeded by her longtime assistant, Clara Pitts, who continued the work for another 40 years. Pitts was succeeded by her daughter, May Maxwell Yates. It’s estimated that over the last 120+ years, over 20,000 children have been provided for at the Carrie Steele Pitts Home.

Cast bronze relief sculpture, by artist Brian R. Owens and commissioned by the Corporation for Olympic Development in Atlanta (CODA)
Cast bronze relief sculpture, by artist Brian R. Owens and commissioned by the Corporation for Olympic Development in Atlanta (CODA)

Carrie Steele Logan is buried beside her husband who died in 1904. Her epitaph is a simple tribute to the woman who was the mother of so many orphans. “Mother of Children, She Hath Done All She Could.” She was inducted into the Georgia Woman of Achievement in 1998.

Special tours at Oakland Cemetery

African American History at Oakland – Learn about the many interesting African Americans who helped shape the history of Atlanta including Mayor Maynard Jackson; Bishop Wesley John Gaines, minister and founder of Morris Brown College; Carrie Steele Logan, who established the first black orphanage in Atlanta; Antoine Graves, pioneer real estate broker; and Selena Sloan Butler, co-founder of the PTA in the United States. Dates: Saturday: 6/29, 8/31, Sunday: 3/31, 9/29.