Friday, July 19, 2013


I have written before about tombstones carved to look like trees ( and how they often have objects carved into them that give us a hint as to the life of the person buried underneath. One of the saddest and most unique tree tombstones I have ever seen is at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois.  It marks the grave of Jacob Raffsky, who died in 1889.

Many of the tombstones at Waldheim have porcelain photos of the deceased incorporated into them, but this one has an actual carving of Jacob Raffsky incorporated into the carving of the tree:

What can we find out about Jacob Raffsky, who died at the age of thirteen?  Let's see.

Jacob Raffsky was born in Chicago December 19, 1875 to Morris Raffsky (1850-1912) and Sarah, nee Harris (1851-1921).  Jacob and Sarah had both been born in Russia/Germany.  Morris came to the US in 1870, Sarah in 1871.  Morris was a tailor by trade but branched out, acting as a bail bondsman.  He and Sarah were married in Chicago in 1871.  The Raffsky family became US citizens in October of 1880.

Morris Raffsky was convicted of trying to bribe a grand jury in 1885 but let off with a fine.  He must have gotten back on good terms with the legal system because after he retired he acted as a Yiddish interpreter for the courts in Chicago.   

On the 1900 US Census, Morris and Sarah said they had five children, of whom only two were living in 1900.   I could only identify four:  three daughters - Mary (b. 1872), Jetty (b. 1873) and Lillie (1888-1931) and one son - Jacob.

Jacob Raffsky's tree tombstone is inscribed with Hebrew letters:

and then:
Our beloved son
Born in Chicago
Dec, 13, 1875
Sep 13, 1889
Rest in Peace

Let's look all the way around the "tree".  Note the ivy symbolizing friendship:

On the back of the monument note the doves - the live dove at the top is looking down at the dead dove lying at the base of the tree.  This signifies the death of innocence.

Note the oak leaves signifying victory over death and the calla lilies symbolizing beauty - in this case the beauty of youth.

I was not able to find a death certificate for Jacob Raffsky, but it is certain he died from one of the myriad of diseases that killed young people at the end of the nineteenth century.

Thanks to Jacob Raffsky's family he is remembered with an elaborate tree tombstone, but the only one I have ever seen where a carving of the departed was part of the tree.  A beautiful and unique memorial to one who died so young.

The Raffsky family plot can be found at Gate 28 - Moses Montifiore, at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois.

May Jacob Raffsky rest in peace.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating ---- I have seen many "trees" but never a figure carved into one!