Metal Monuments of Greenwood Cemetery

by Mark Culver

In the original part of Greenwood Cemetery, many headstones date before 1900. Of these, numerous old marble or sandstone monuments are decayed or broken. Some cannot even be read due to the decay left by decades of weathering. If one looks close, one can see that there are a handful of nineteenth century monuments which are not made of stone. Throughout the oldest portion of Greenwood Cemetery stand twenty-one monuments made of metal. Unlike their stone counterparts, these monuments have resisted weathering and most survive in excellent condition. These metal tombstones are over a century old and are rust-free. Ten of these monuments are labeled as White Bronze. They are not made of bronze however. These monuments were casted from pure zinc. Zinc forms a coating of zinc carbonate, that when it is left exposed, is rust resistent. The monuments have taken on a bluish-gray color that is a result of the zinc-carbonate.(1) The term "white bronze" was used only to make the monuments sound more appealing.

These monuments range in shape and size, but possess many of the same characteristics. These zinc sculptures range from two feet high to as much as fourteen feet tall. Most of them are in the shape of an obelisk, four-sided monolithic pillars that taper as they rise.(2) All have the family name molded on to them, usually at the base of the monument. The base of the sculpture is often cast to resemble rock.(3) Epitaphs are commonly found above the base of the sculptures. In the middle of each there is a tablet which contains names of family members, dates of birth and death, or symbols. All monuments contain symbols, most of a religious nature. Some are topped with crosses, while others have Biblical scriptures quoted on their base. One commonly found symbol, is a bushel of wheat. Wheat is used instead of bread to symbolize the body of Christ. On the grave monument it is used to show remembrance and gratitude for his sacrifice.(4) It can also be used to symbolize that the great harvest has come and life has ended. Another symbol commonly found is that of the rose. Roses symbolize beauty, and can also symbolize the Virgin Mary.(5) Crosses are present on many of the metal monuments throughout the cemetery. The Latin cross is used as the symbol of Christ’s redemption for the sin of mankind.(6) The letters I.H.S. can be found on a number of the crosses. These letters are an abbreviation for the Greek spelling of Jesus.(7) Other symbols commonly found on the monuments are hands. Scenes in which hands are clasped are meant to state that the union of love and family is stronger than death.(8) Other symbols include wreaths, lilies of the valley, and angels.

Two men, M.A. Richardson and C.J. Willard, are credited with perfecting the means of casting these metal monuments in 1873. They did not have the capital to set up a factory so they contracted with W.W. Evans. Evans quickly gave up on the idea and sold the rights to Wilson, Parsons and Company of Bridgeport Connecticut.(9) At this location all the plaster casts were made from wax models. The wax models were created by an artist, who worked at the plant. The metal casts were done in pieces and then fused together using hot zinc.(10) The Monumental Bronze Company made graveyard monuments from 1874 to 1914. The government took over the plant for the manufacturing of munitions during World War I. After the war the demand for the monuments had faded, and the company was dissolved in 1939.(11)

Monumental Bronze established subsidiaries throughout the U.S. in an attempt to expand their business. The first subsidiary was opened in Detroit in 1881. Detroit Bronze operated until around the year 1885, when it was closed.(12) After the closing of Detroit, two more subsidiaries opened in 1886 in Chicago and in Des Moines. American Bronze operated in Chicago for twenty-three years, until it closed in 1909.(13) Western White Bronze Company in Des Moines operated for twenty-two years, and closed in 1908.(14) These subsidiaries did not do the original casting, but instead they acted as final finishing stations for the monuments. All the original casting took place in Bridgeport Connecticut.(15)

The price that these monuments could be purchased ranged from under $10, to as much as $5,000. There were no showrooms to buy these monuments. Neither Bridgeport nor its subsidiaries sold these monuments directly. Instead sales-agents were used and were the backbone of the selling efforts. People chose the design of their monument by looking at ones already set up in the cemeteries. They could also choose designs through catalogs.(16)

With over one-hundred years of exposure most of the metal monuments of Greenwood Cemetery are in great condition. One problem of these mounments is caused by their foundations. Some of the cement bases that the monuments are bolted to are starting to crumble. The decay of their foundations is causing the monuments to lean at an angle. This decay is caused by weathering, and the pressure from the weight of the monument. Another weakness that damages these monuments is also caused by the pressure from their weight. Zinc has a tendency to creep or bend when it is exposed to pressure over time. The Chapman and Phillpot monuments, the two largest in Greenwood, bow outward in their mid-sections. This creeping action has also caused tiny cracks on some of the monuments.(17)

The number of metal monuments in Greenwood Cemetery is larger than most other cemeteries. According to Rotundo cemeteries usually contain less than a dozen metal monuments, but Greenwood boasts twenty-one.(18) Of these, ten possess a stamp from the Western White Bronze Company. Two other monuments were finished by the Detroit Bronze Company. The origins of the other nine monuments are not labeled on them. It is highly probable that they were finished at American Bronze in Chicago.(19) The oldest metal monuments in the Greenwood are from Detroit Bronze; both were erected in 1883. The eight from Western White Bronze were erected from 1886 to 1908. The unlabeled monuments were placed in Greenwood from 1886 to 1909. The Casey and Clark family monuments have years of death labled on them that occur after Monumental Bronze ceased their monument production in 1914. This is due to the fact that Monumental Bronze continued to cast the name tablets well after they had stopped making the monuments. Other monuments contain dates in which the years of death occured before the existance of Monumental Bronze or it's subsidiaries. The Gannon, Chapman, and Phillpot families all added names to their family monunents of relatives who had passed away in previous years.

One of the metal monuments was erected for the sons of Michael and Jane Gannon. It is at least seven feet tall and topped with a large cross on its peak. On it is inscribed "Our Darling Boys". The Gannons experienced the loss of three sons in three decades. Thomas died on August 14, 1858 at two. The next death occurred on January 24, 1879, to 19-year-old son. A third son, John, died on April 24, 1885, when he was 22 years old. This monument is located within the Original Section, on Block C.

The largest metal monument commemorates the Chapman family. This monument is a large obelisk that stands nearly fourteen feet tall. There are over fourteen family members listed on it. The monument was finished by the Western White Bronze Company in Des Moines, Iowa. There are also two more small metal headstones that surround the monument. These commemorate Rena Smith, wife of M.W. Chapman. On one of the tombstones is the epitaph "Gone But Not Forgotten".The Chapman monument is located in the Original Section, Block C.

On the Western edge of the First Addition there is a monument to the Plummer family. Daniel Plummer was a Captain with the 27th Michigan Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War. On the top of the monument is the depiction of a woman with a cross by her side. On one of the tablets there is a woman who is holding onto a cross. The monument stands about ten feet tall, and has some of the best details in Greenwood Cemetery.

In Block 5, just west of the Original Section, is a monument erected in memory of John Messerly and Barbara Messerly. This, too, was finished by the Western White Bronze Company in Des Moines. The monument is between six and eight feet tall, and is well preserved. John died in 1880, and his wife passed away fifteen years later, on September 10, 1895. Located on the monument below Barbara’s name is an epitaph that reads: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; hence forth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness".

These monuments have lived up to the sales-agent’s promises and have remained in excellent condition for over a century. So why is it that they were no longer made after World War I? It did not have to do with them being too expensive. People from many economic backgrounds were able to purchase a metal grave monument.(20) It also was not because they were made of a low quality material. Some cemeteries did pass regulations that prohibited the use of metal markers. But the main reason that Rotundo gives was the over all attitudes towards these monuments. She states that the taste-setters never did accept zinc grave markers. People did not fully accept the claims that these monuments were superior to stone monuments.(21) Only over time has claims that these monuments were superior to their rock counter parts been proven to be true.





1. Rotundo, Barbara. "Monumental Bronze: A Representative American Company"(p. 263)

2. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary. 9th ed. 1985.

3. Rotundo, 278.

4. Whittick, Arnold. Symbols, Signs. and Their Meaning. (Mass: Charles Branford Company, 1960) 292.

5. Whittick, 246.

6. Whittick, 164.

7. Webster's 599.

8. Whittick, 195.

9. Rotundo, 264.

10. Rotundo, 267.

11. Rotundo, 266.

12. Rotundo, 270

13. Rotundo, 273.

14. Rotundo, 274.

15. Rotundo, 273.

16. Rotundo, 275.

17. Rotundo, 286.

18. Rotundo, 276.

19. Rotundo, 275.

20. Rotundo, 287.

21. Rotundo, 288.

  Works Cited

Merriam-Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. 9th ed. 1985.

Rotundo, Barbara. "Monumental Bronze: A Representative American Company," in Cemeteries and Gravemarkers: Voices of American Culture. Meyer, Richard E. ed., Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Press, 1989.

Whittick, Arnold. Symbols, Signs, and Their Meaning. Boston, Mass: Charles Branford Company, 1960.



 Table of Metal Monuments



Family Name Years of Death Location --------------------Company Name


1. Burke ----------------1894 -------------------------------------First Addition ---------------------------------------Western White Bronze Company

2. Plummer ------------1894,1910 ---------------------------First Addition------------------------------------------- Western White Bronze Company

3. Clark ------------------1889-1922 -------------------------------Original Sect. Block A ---------------------------Western White Bronze Company

4. Johnston -------------1883 -------------------------------------Original Sect. Block A

5. Huffman --------------1884 -------------------------------------Original Sect. Block D ---------------------------Western White Bronze Company

6. McNally --------------1886 -------------------------------------Original Sect. Block D ---------------------------Western White Bronze Company

7. Glass -------------------1883-------------------------------------Original Sect. Block D ---------------------------Western White Bronze Company

8. Casey ------------------1899-1916----------------------------- Original Sect. Block D

9. Ripke ------------------1898, 1899 -----------------------------Block 5 ----------------------------------------------Western White Bronze Company

10. Messerly ------------1896, 1888 ----------------------------Original Sect. Block H ---------------------------Western White Bronze Company

11. Henry ----------------1874-1887----------------------------- Original Sect. Block E ---------------------------Western White Bronze Company

12. Showers -------------1899, 1891---------------------------- Original Sect. Block E

13. Moore, Brookings -1899-1901---------------------------- Original Sect. Block B

14. Shepard --------------1864----------------------------------- Original Sect. Block C

15. Chapman ------------1828-1888 ----------------------------Original Sect. Block C

16. Gannon --------------1858-1885 ----------------------------Original Sect. Block C--------------------------- Western White Bronze Company

17. Budge ----------------1883----------------------------------- Original Sect. Block F ---------------------------Detroit Bronze Company

18. Hedgelin -------------1883,1883 ----------------------------Original Sect. Block J--------------------------- Detroit Bronze Company

19. Hoeppner ------------1888-1901 ---------------------------Original Sect. Block J

20. Phillpot ---------------1858-1877--------------------------- Original Sect. Block G

21. Schindler -------------1880-1881--------------------------- Original Sect. Block A


 Metal Monuments Map Key


1. Burke, 1st Addition

2. Plummer, 1st Addition

3. Clark, Block A

4. Johnston, Block A

5. Huffman, Block D

6. McNally, Block D

7. Glass, Block D

8. Casey, Block D

9. Ripke, Block 5

10. Messely, Block H

11. Henry, Block E

12. Showers, Block E

13. Moore, Block B

14. Shepard, Block C

15. Chapman, Block C

16. Gannon, Block C

17. Budge, Block F

18. Hedgelin, Block J

19. Hoeppner, Block J

20. Phillpot, Block G

21. Schindler, Block A