The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

These Tree-Shaped Tombstones Let The Dead Speak From Beyond The Grave

By Patty Wetli | October 31, 2016 9:26am
 Unique tree grave markers at Bohemian National Cemetery are loaded with symbolism.
Tree Tombstones
View Full Caption

NORTH PARK — Halloween is the spookiest night of the year, when ghosts spring from their graves to haunt the living.

But the dead are actually communicating with us all the time.

Bohemian National Cemetery, 5255 N. Pulaski Road, is home to the largest collection of unusual "tree tombstones" in the U.S., according to Marge Sladek Stueckemann, president of Friends of Bohemian National Cemetery.

The elaborately carved limestone markers were popular in the late 1800s through the 1920s, when they fell out of favor due to their expense, and contain symbols that speak volumes if you know what they're saying.

"Our superintendent thought they were really neat," Stueckemann said. "Graceland and Rosehill didn't."

Historian Samantha Chmelik has analyzed many of the tombstone's symbols, which she described in the Journal of the Czech and Slovak American Genealogy Society of Illinois.

Clasped hands, if the sleeves are masculine and feminine, denote marriage, for example. Ferns are a symbol of frankness or humility; ivy can symbolize fidelity; and wheat represents the divine harvest.

Many of the symbols have dual religious and secular meanings, but in both cases they eternally memorialize the deceased's ideals and philosophies, according to Chmelik.

Next time you visit a graveyard, listen to what the dead have to say.

Bohemian National Cemetery has more than 100 of the elaborately carved tree tombstones. [All photos DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]

Tree trunks are a symbol of life cut short.

Anchors were often used as a symbol of hope or as a disguised cross.

Wheat indicated the "final harvest" and could symbolize an exceptionally long life.

Ferns are a symbol of frankness or humility.

Grapes can represent Christian faith.

Tombstone symbols can be read like a book.

Ivy can symbolize immortality or friendship.

Mushrooms can symbolize decay and rebirth, or they can be a specific carver's "signature."

A fallen tree tombstone at Bohemian National Cemetery.

Tree tombstones and their living counterparts at Bohemian National Cemetery.

For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here.