From inside a half-globe of clear Lucite, Harry Begler stares straight back at us. The young man’s image is amazingly intact and undistorted by the odd curvature of the material that protects his photograph. The clear casing has suffered somewhat over time, but is still in terrific condition considering it’s spent the last hundred years living through as many freeze-and-thaw cycles, the corrosive air produced by heavy industry, and the inevitable presence of no-goodniks. Centered below Beglar’s photo and cut into his long granite grave marker is the depiction of three chain links making an ever-so-graceful arc downward.
Chains are a not-uncommon symbol to find etched into gravestones and they appear in great frequency here at Workmen’s Circle Branch 45 Cemetery. Begler’s three links match the totem of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows whose symbol—standing for Amicitia Amor et Veritas (English: Friendship, Love, and Truth)—is its own standalone thing.
The rest of Workmen’s Circle’s linked chain imagery takes an entirely different form. For these, an unbroken chain encircles the deceased’s portrait.
Google the subject and you’ll find a whole lot more information around grave marker carvings that feature a broken chain—with its last link either missing or severed. There even appears to be a common twofer plan where the first half of a couple to die would have the broken link with her or his partner following it up with a connected chain to symbolize the pair united in the afterlife. We don’t see any of this at Workmen’s Circle, though—all chains are perfect circles and completely intact.
That the residents of Workmen’s Circle are all Jews may or may not be significant with regard to the symbolism of chains on grave markers. This goy couldn’t find anything connecting the two, but perhaps our O.T. brothers and sisters can help us out here.
Last week we took a look at the ghostly half-there posthumous portraits at little Workmen’s Circle cemetery in Shaler. Today, we’ve linked together [har har har] a very different theme from the same pool of ceramic grave marker photographs from the early 20th Century.
Speculation aside, it’s always interesting to see how these patterns emerge at certain cemeteries—it’s almost fad-like. So gander away at these terrific combos of grave marker photographic portraits and the wreath-like protective chains that wrap them up both as design elements and symbols.