"Silverbrook Legacies" is a series of articles that have appeared in the Niles Daily Star.  The articles appearing here on the Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery website may include additional material not in the newspaper article.

Symbols of Our Lives

Symbols of our lives

Niles Daily Star, Published 11:11pm Wednesday, April 2, 2008

 By Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery

Part of a continuing series on Niles' historic Silverbrook Cemetery, provided by Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery, a group working to preserve and restore the cemetery.

NILES – A stroll through Silverbrook Cemetery is more than a relaxing walk. It is an education.

We meet those we feature in this column and are inspired to learn more about the area's history. Often such research leads us to knowing more about the region, country and even the world during their lifetimes, just as we do through our stories on local veterans.

Inscriptions tell us the details of their birth and death. We learn something of their relations and perhaps how they were thought of by the poetry or scripture chosen for the stone.

Sometimes we learn of their association with a particular organization or group as was the case with the story of the Woodsmen of the World and their members' tree trunk markers.

Now we take a look at other gravestone symbols and what the choice of these carvings might suggest.

For instance; what might the person who chose the hands shaking on the stone of Christian Nieb, who died June 6 of 1889, have been thinking?

Handshakes carved into gravestones carry a variety of meanings: greeting, goodbye, friendship, solidarity, unity and agreement and the doubling of power achieved through partnership. The right hand symbolizes the life-force or hand of power.

The shaking-hand motif can be interpreted as the deceased meeting their maker, although when an eye is associated with a hand it can symbolize clairvoyance. For some reason the two hands are always depicted as men's hands even in the event of a woman's grave.

While a lamb on a stone often depicts the death of a child, some graves seem protected by more common pets. As in life, a carving or statue of a dog is a symbol of faithfulness and dogs often appear at the feet of women on medieval tomb engravings.

Loyalty, vigilance and courage continue to be represented by the canine guard in death as they were in life. In Christianity, the dog guards and guides the flock becoming an allegory of a priest.

In ancient Egypt and Greece it was believed that a dog would follow its master into the afterlife therefore becoming a companion of the dead on their crossing.

Many cultures believed that dogs were mediators with the realm of the dead as in the case of the Egyptian god Anubis with his jackal-head, who oversees embalming and weighs the heart of the dead.

A draped bed, with or without occupancy, symbolizes the death itself with drapes indicating mourning and mortality.

"During the Victorian Era, mourning was raised to an artform, especially for women," according to one website on history of graves. "Widows were expected to wear black (and, as time passed, shades of gray) for years after the death of their husband. They also donned mourning broaches and created wall ornaments made out of the hair of the deceased."

This could explain the iconic representation seen on certain headstones of a woman clutching at a cross, either kneeling or leaning on the religious symbol of death.

Some stones use quotations from hymns as epitaphs.

The common occurrence has led to the supposition by some that the mourning woman at the cross could be based on the 18th century hymn "Rock of Ages." Words of the song make this a plausible idea:

"…Thou must save, and Thou alone. Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling; Naked, come to thee for dress, Helpless, look to thee for grace: Foul, I to the fountain fly, Wash me, Saviour, or I die."

Some symbols like anchors can represent either what a person did in life – a seafaring profession – or their faith as when an anchor appears wrapped in vines designed to show firm Christian faith.

A broken column can indicate the loss of the head of the family, while a broken ring symbolizes that the family circle has been severed.

When a clock or watch is depicted the transitory nature of human existence is the theme while an hourglass suggests mortality and the swiftness of time. Sands running out represent the cycle of life and death and heaven and earth. In Christianity it personifies temperance and gives the hourglass wings the representation is that of a short life.

The common key takes on a number of meanings. In Catholicism it is a papal emblem of the keys to the gates of heaven as opposed to Greek mythology when the opposite was the case. In Judaism the key of god controls both birth and death. In Japan it is the key to happiness.

A dove with a key suggests the spirit opening the gates of heaven. Ancient Egyptians gods were depicted holding the ankh from the top as if it were a key possibly to immortality.

Whether seen as the key to insight or simply decorative artwork, the carvings and sculptures within Silverbrook Cemetery add to its peaceful beauty.

If you would like to help discover the secrets and maintain the legacies of Silverbrook, contact: Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery c/o 508 E. Main St. Niles MI 49120, Tim and Candace Skalla at 684-2455, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or Ginny Tyler at 684-3687, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Niles own Julius Caesar gets proper burial

Niles own Julius Caesar gets proper burial

Niles Daily Star, Published 9:49pm Wednesday, August 22, 2007


By By Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery

The man, who was a plasterer by trade, could not afford his own headstone. His family was needy and unable to defray the expenses of burial.

However, a proper burial was owed to Julius Caesar. Henry C. Beswick, county agent at the time of Caesar's death in 1907, determined that Mr. Caesar had indeed "served the full term of his enlistment in the Eighth Regiment of U.S. colored troops," according to a report of his death in The Niles Daily Star of the day.

According to the history of the Eighth United States Colored Infantry (USCI) Regiment, the company was formed at Camp William Penn near Philadelphia, Pa. from September to December 1863. During the Civil War, Camp William Penn produced 11 regiments of United States Colored Infantry – more than any other single camp.

The Eighth USCI was made up of free black men from Pennsylvania and other northern States and runaway slaves from several border states. In late 1864, the Eighth was assigned to the newly formed 25th Army Corps, Army of the James. The 25th Army Corps was the first and only all Black Army Corps.

Through the troop's service to this country, four officers and 115 enlisted men were killed or mortally wounded and 132 enlisted men died by disease. By the end of the Civil War, the Eighth USCI numbered third among all Black Regiments in terms of combat losses.

Caesar's survival of the war is not a surprise. He had already survived much.

Born in Clark County, Va., in 1817, he was sold as a slave and taken to Paris, Ky., where he was raised.

After enlisting in the war, he was present at the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, Va.

Caesar escaped Paris via the Underground Railway route to the free states and took up residence in Niles. Here he practiced both plastering and broom-making to support his family.

He was active with the Grand Army Post in Berrien Center and attended Second Baptist Church on Ferry Street. At the time of his death, the whereabouts of his son Charles was unknown, however two daughters, Mrs. Etta Gault and Miss Cora Caesar, were still residing in Niles. His wife had died in 1904.
He was 84 years old, drawing a pension of $12 a month and had made application under a new pension law, which came into effect Feb. 10, 1907. His next check, due at the time of his death, would have been in the amount of $20, the rating for all pensioners who had reached the age of 80 years.

Due to Caesar's record of service to his country, Beswick ordered that the county pay the $40 for his burial and the war department was to furnish a $12 headstone "12 inches in width and four inches in thickness, to extend three feet above ground and made of gray marble, marked with the date of birth, date of death, the name of regiment of which he was a member, age, etc.," the news reported.

The funeral service was described as "impressive." Its description continued: "The Woman's Relief Corps and members of Frank Graves' Post G.A.R., attended, besides a large concourse of sorrowing friends.

The Relief Corps furnished a beautiful floral wreath and other flowers were in evidence.

Julius Caesar may have been born into slavery, but he died a free man, rich in respect. A final note to the reports of death said:

"Those who knew Julius Caesar esteemed him highly. He was excellent citizen and a Christian gentleman. He did all in his power to make his surroundings pleasant and those about him happy. Always bright, happy and cheerful, he carried sunshine with him wherever he went. Peace to his ashes!"

The Friends of Silverbrook have cleaned the stone of this esteemed Niles resident and are determined he will get his proper recognition with the flag awarded all veterans who rest within the cemetery. They are proud to make Caesar's story known.

If you are interested in joining their efforts in caring for local history and the legacies left within the borders of Silverbrook Cemetery, contact: Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery c/o 508 E. Main St. Niles MI 49120, Tim and Candace Skalla at 684-2455, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or contact Ginny Tyler at 684-3687,This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Woodmen leave mark in Niles

Woodmen leave mark in Niles

Niles Daily Star, Published 4:59pm Monday, July 23, 2007


By By Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery
NILES – Here even the trees tell a story.

Last week we learned about the tree within Silverbrook Cemetery that holds a portion of the wrought iron fence within its trunk. Today we look to where the trunks themselves commemorate the dead.

Come to the grave of our Sovereign,
Sweet emblems upon it we see.
Come to the grave of our Sovereign,
Strew flowers upon it with me.

This chorus, sung to the tune My Bonnie is part of an opening ode sang during a "Woodmen of the World, Ceremony of Introduction to the Protection Degree, promulgated by the Ritual Committee of the Sovereign Camp, 1903," according to the website: www.phoenixmasonry.org/masonicmuseum/fraternalism/woodmen.htm.

Woodmen of the World is a fraternal organization in the United States. The organization was grounded in 1890 in Omaha, Neb. by Joseph Cullen Root, after he began a similar organization known as Modern Woodmen.

Woodmen of the World is one of the leading presenters of U.S. flags to schools and non-profit groups. Woodmen lodges have presented more than 1.4 million U.S. flags over the past 60 years.

Originally, when a member died, a hat would be passed to provide assistance to the member's family. Later, the organization began offering life insurance to its members with its first certificate of membership issued to William A. McCully of Independence, Kan. on Dec. 29, 1890.

Niles' first notable connection with the Woodmen came six months later. The organization paid its first death claim on the life of a teen, Willie D. Warner, who drowned June 14, 1891, in Niles.

The Niles Republican II reported the incident in its Thursday, June 18, 1891 edition.

Transcribed by Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery member Ann Flora, the transcript states:

"A distressing accident occurred Sunday afternoon about 5 o'clock, by which William Warner, a bright and promising young man, lost his life.

"At the hour above indicated three boys – William Warner, John Young and a little brother of the latter, were bathing in the river at a point about three-quarters of a mile from the city, known as Brown's eddy.

"From numerous reports, it seems that the unfortunate young man could not swim and getting into deep water seemed to lose all presence of mind and gave up without even so much as a call for help. One of the Young boys noticed him as he went under the water and calling to his brother, endeavored to rescue him but to no avail, he nearly losing his own life in the attempt."

It would seem the river, as with recent news out of South Bend, has always lured young men to its banks. The notice made mention of young Warner's relationship to the Woodmen of the World.

"Deceased was a member of the Woodmen of the World, having only been a member about six weeks, and carried an insurance of $2,500, which reverts to his mother…

"The funeral of the late William Warner occurred at 10:30 o'clock Tuesday morning from the Methodist Church under the auspices of the Woodmen of the World, which organization attended in a body."

Wikepedia speaks of the physical legacies of the tree stump monuments such as those found in Silverbrook Cemetery as follows:

One of the most enduring physical legacies of the organization may be the number of distinctive headstones erected in the shape of a tree stump. This was an early benefit of Woodmen memberships and headstones can be found in cemeteries across the nation."

The Woodmen continue. This year Caralyn A. Shelton, daughter of Joseph and Deborah Shelton of Niles, was the recipient of a $2,750 four-year Modern Woodmen fraternal college scholarship, following a national competition of other members.

As one of 36 regional winners, she met the selection standards regarding personal and academic achievement in addition to qualities of leadership, character and participation in extracurricular activities.

For more information on Friends of Silverbrook with regards to memberships and work days to help restore and catalog the monuments contact: Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery c/o 508 E. Main St. Niles MI 49120, Tim and Candace Skalla at 684-2455, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or contact Ginny Tyler at 684-3687,This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The lasting legacies of Charles Kingston

January is when most of us spend some time in reflection. While we strain to gaze into the crystal ball of the future, we also revisit the past to see what lessons might be learned from it as we move ahead.

Family legacies are the backbone of our Silverbrook Legacies. By looking at our history, through the eyes of those who once lived and worked here, we learn much.

A winter’s walk through Silverbrook might lead you to pause at the Kingston family plot. At first glance the site may not strike you as all that much different than others and then you see it. A small marker that simply says: “Papa.”

Click here for the full article on the Niles Daily Star website.

Published January 21, 2010

Revisiting the past

NILES-Who is buried in Silverbrook Cemetery? What does that rather cryptic inscription mean?
This and other questions will be answered as the Niles Daily Star begins a series entitled "Legacies of Silverbrook." A short article, accompanied by a photo will feature one of the interesting gravestones currently being catalogued, restored and cleaned by the Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery.
"It is one way to bring attention to this wonderful historical site. It has already piqued a good deal of interest of the junior high students who got involved in the cleanup days," said Ann Flora, local history/genealogy librarian at the Niles District Library.
Candace Skalla, president of the Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery, said the project has proven to be so interesting to those who volunteer, many return on their own to clean stones and work on the landscape. Often those who have painstakingly cleaned one of the old stones are then interested in researching the story behind the stone.
This week we feature the Dittmer family plot's "angel."
Readers are asked to help to pass on information they may have on some of the many gravestones which are a mystery. Some weeks you will discover interesting facts and tidbits about Niles' past residents.
Here is a sampling of what is to come:
Silverbrook's oldest and its tallest tombstones.
The story behind the old hitching post.
Which gravestones were ordered by mail order?
Who paid for the poor doctor's headstone?
What was the 'holding house' used for?
Who donated a cannon to Niles?
The story behind the Dodge brothers.
The tree trunks and stumps that serve as headstones.
Who is the Revolutionary War soldier buried here?
Which soldier served in both the Mexican and Civil wars?
"We hope the entire city will get behind this project. The preservation of our history for generations to come is at risk, and by doing the work now, we will be able to pass so much more on to those who follow us," Skalla said.
Coming across some records of the 1895 Superintendent of Silverbrook's salary information, it is interesting to note that he received the grand sum of $45 per year-and $75 for his horse. Today's upkeep by the Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery carries no such elaborate price.
"Volunteers will be out the first and third Saturday of each month to work on the Silverbrook project.
This coming Saturday, May 5, we will be out there between 9 a.m. and noon and all who are interested are welcomed to join us," Skalla said.
Much of the wrought iron fence along Cherry Street had been in need of repair for some time. This week, the Skalla's have been out taking sections from one area to fix them in another.
It is hard physical work. The posts and stakes are heavy and worn.
However, it is a labor of love and Skalla's enthusiasm has been contagious judging by the growing interest in the project by young and old alike.
The cemetery was started about 1826, when George N. Bond purchased six acres.
Today, Silverbrook encompasses approximately 80 acres and is the final resting place for more than 26,000 individuals.

Published May 4th, 2007