Wooden cemetery markers are mostly gone these days, but a few can still be found. Why wood? I n the early days it was simply the norm, inexpensive and easily made, but not long lasting or impressive as a 70 foot marble obelisk or mausoleum.
Back in the day there were thousands of these simple wood grave markers in our cemeteries. They largely predated marble and limestone monuments designed and cut by professional cutters.
Most families could not afford a work of art and marked their graves with either a wood slab or cross.
I was most curious to learn more about Mr. and Mrs Joseph Maier and why their graves were marked with wood. You might well be surprised to know about their interesting background!
Grave Markers have been made of wood for centuries, as wood is inexpensive, easy to find , easy to carve and paint. The largest drawback to wood is that it does not last. Wood suffers from decay, weathering, moisture, fungi, insects and more. Once wood gets wet it shrinks and swells, splits, warps, cracks, hastening its demise. They are also easily damaged from cemetery lawn mowers and weed trimmers.
Wooden markers often were the indirect cause of cemeteries that fade from our landscape.. As the wood markers decay or even burn in grass fires, a cemetery, without markers begins to resemble a grassy park. Next, a cemetery may curtail maintenance or mowing the lawn and it becomes overgrown. Then finally a cemetery then can fade from people’s memory and the burial place is ends up largely forgotten. Cook County Cemetery at Dunning in Chicago with 38,000 bodies underneath is a poster child for “disappearing”. It was forgotten for sixty years! Visit www.cookcountycemetery.com for more.
Joseph and Bertha Maier are buried under one of the few wooden markers that I have found in the Chicago area in recent times.
They are buried in a cemetery within the grounds of the Altenheim (German word meaning Elder’s Home) . Located at 7824 West Madison in Forest Park it began as an old peoples home for Chicago’s Germans opening in 1878.
The cemetery is literally in the back yard of the Altenheim. Burials occupy about 5 acres in the southwest corner of the grounds and contains an estimated 300-400 burials.
All the burials at Altenheim Cemetery were transcribed in 1989 by the Chicago Genealogical Society and published in the Spring of 1991.
Most gravestones are of a plain, unvarying design made of formed concrete poured over a red brick base. Some inscriptions have letters inverted or in the wrong order resulting from letters incorrectly placed in the mold
But the Baier’s marker was quite different from all the rest. So, that begs the questions, Who were they? What had they dine during their lives? More than I originally thought I discovered.
Joseph Baier was born in Germany on June 12, 1888. The birthdate June 10th on his marker is incorrect. His wife Bertha Stollmaier Maier, born Ulm, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany on April 13, 1988 to Johnnes Georg (George Baier) and Christine Pauline Murdel. The Maiers immigrated to America and first settled in Chicago. The 1930 census show them living at 1009 Webster in Chicago where he had a restaurant.
In late 1938, Joseph and Bertha moved out to Orchard Place, an area now known as Rosemont Illinois in the shadow of the Douglas Aircraft plant. After the war, in 1945, the factory became Orchard Field Airport, and in 1949 was renamed O’Hare, now O’Hare International Airport. Orchard Place got its start in 1887 when farmer Elbert D. Scott agreed give some of his apple orchard to the Wisconsin Central Railroad.
The Baiers bought the Elms Inn on the southeast corner of Higgins Road and Mannheim, also sometimes referred to as LaGrange Road. Des Plaines Illinois was just to the north. Elms Inn, was a combination of a tavern, a restaurant serving German food, something of a cabaret, casino, and beer hall. It was a typical roadhouse of the day, its postcard advertised home cooking, a picnic grove for rent, gas pumps, and a baseball diamond popular among the farmers. Signs advertised Rhinegold beer and 7-Up. Before Joe bought Elms Inn there were mnaany interesting events and advertising in local newspapers.
Elms Inn was in an unincorporated area, where gambling and slot machines were prevalent in many of the other area roadhouses and taverns, and possibly Elms Inn as well.
When the Elms Inn closed, the land became a mobile home sales facility and finally the Sheraton Chicago O’Hare hotel complex.
After retirement, both became residents of Altenheim. Joseph died April 14 1978 followed by Bertha on May 26, 1982. You might notice that the death date does not appear on Bertha’s marker. A missing death date often means that the person has not yet died or that the person was buried elsewhere. In this case I had taken this picture years after her death.
I have not found any records of children or close family other than Margareth (Margaret) Stollmaier, Bertha’s younger sister born 1892. In 1930, she lived with Joseph and Bertha in 1930 and was a waitress in the restaurant and married William Fred Steinman. But maybe one or more of you might know more about the Baiers. Feel free to leave your comments or add your thoughts about wooden markers..
In any case, there you have a real glimpse of the two interesting people under those most unusual wooden grave markers.