Contact me: Laurel Mellien

Headstones and History

my story

During a family vacation in 2002, while visiting Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, IL, I was introduced to the subject of cemetery art symbolism. A cassette tape rented for $2.00 at the gate office, to be played while touring the cemetery, would lead me to a hobby and consequently to the next chapter of my life.

Purchasing my first digital camera in 2004, I decided to start photographing the cemetery art in my area. At the time I was employed by the Huntley Area Public Library to present children's programs. I convinced the library to let me produce a photo exhibit of local cemetery art, with the associated symbolic meanings as captions, as an adult program. The 2 day exhibit of my photographic work in Oct. 2004 was well attended by a wide age range of people from Girl Scout Troops to Red Hat Ladies.

In the spring of 2007 I decided to make my cemetery work a full time project investigating every cemetery in my county of McHenry which numbers almost 100. I also began to research the people laid to rest and how the artwork chosen to decorate their stones was connected in some way to their lives.

I met the people in many of my area's historic and genealogy groups. I became acquainted with the women of the Crystal Lake Historical Society during this research which would lead me to volunteering at the Colonel Palmer House programs. I would, through this volunteering, be asked to serve on their Board of Directors, a position I have held since Feb. 2011.

I also was introduced to the women of the local DAR Chapter (Daughter's of the American Revolution) through my research. My first Power Point Presentation was for DAR Kishwaukee Trail Chapter in April 2009. Several members immediately asked me to speak for other organizations they were connected with. I researched my Revolutionary War Patriot and became a DAR member in April 2010.

By 2010 my research had taken me beyond the bounds of McHenry County. I started visiting cemeteries throughout the Midwest, reading books, attending programs, and gaining more knowledge on the subject. I visited cemeteries in Kentucky and Pennsylvania to take photos for the second program to be added to my group "The Art of Civil War Commemoration". I gave my first presentation of the program in April 2011 which was the first month of the Civil War Sesquicentennial Celebration.

More full time research and adding thousands of photos to my collection for study has led me to produce 3 more main programs and also 2 full length presentations on individual cemeteries in my area, The Huntley Cemeteries and Union Cemetery, Crystal Lake, to my program line up. The Huntley Cemeteries was originally written to be presented for the Huntley Historical Society's  dinner/fundraiser held in the DeFiore-Jorgensen Funeral Home Oct. 2011. The program on Union Cemetery in Crystal Lake was created for presentation at the Crystal Lake Historical Society's Annual Meeting held Feb. 2012. I will be presenting the Union Cemetery program again in Sept 2014 as part of the Crystal Lake Centennial 1914-2014 Speaker Series.

As a member of the AGS (Association for Gravestone Studies) I presented my program "The Celtic Crosses of Chicago" for the Illinois AGS Fall Chapter Meeting that was held at Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, Sept. 2013. I am presenting my program on Headstone Ceramic Photograph Memorials for the Indiana AGS Spring meeting April 2014. I will also be presenting my program "Tree-stump Tombstone Symbolism of the Midwest" at the AGS 2014 National Conference in June.

Photography goes hand in hand with my cemetery research as a way to document headstones for examination and comparison at a later time. My collection of cemetery photos numbers over 100,000 which were collected in over 600 different cemeteries.

My photography skills have been used frequently by organizations I am associated with. The Crystal Lake Historical Society has used my photos in newsletters, museum displays, and program covers. Kishwaukee Trail DAR Chapter has used my photos in newsletters and also as their photo entry for DAR's Spirit Magazine. My photos have been featured in advertising pamphlets and trade magazines. Matt Hucke chose a photo I took to be his author photo for the second edition of his book "Graveyards of Chicago". Photos I took of the restoration of the GAR soldier monument in Union Cemetery, Crystal Lake, IL are sealed in a time capsule and placed in the base of the statue. This time capsule containing records and photos of the memorials restoration will be opened Sept. 11, 2089 which is the 200th Anniversary of the statues dedication.

From researching my subject, to walking cemetery rows with my camera, to presenting my findings to the public in the form of programs and social media, cemetery art is my passion.   

My photographs are Awesome

Contact me: Laurel Mellien


Contact me: Laurel Mellien