In the northeast section of Boone’s Linwood Park Cemetery is a poignant tree trunk grave stone. It marks the burial site of a little girl named Zoey who died 137 years ago. It is a stone that has spawned a local legend.
Over the years, a mythology surrounding “Little Zoey’s” death and the symbolism on the stone has grown up and has been passed down through successive generations. It is said that Zoey died from an accident incurred while she played on a rope swing. The rope swing twisting around the grave marker is cited as evidence for that belief.
In reality, Zoey Edna Guliher died on Nov. 3, 1875, of “membrane croup” (diphtheria). Her funeral took place with many people in attendance at the St. James Hotel, which was located on the east side of the 800 block of Story Street. Her death was sudden after an illness of only two days. The Rev. Josiah Cooke, pastor of the Presbyterian Church, officiated.
The legend of Zoey’s death by a swing accident lies in the depiction of the swing on the tree trunk marker. Perhaps the child was fond of swinging, but the inclusion of the swing on her gravestone was more likely a symbol of childhood. During the 19th century, gravestones carried much symbolism.
Little Zoey’s tree trunk, without its branches, suggests that she was cut down in the prime of life. The cut-off limbs also refer to other family members who died in their prime. The ivy twisting around Zoey’s gravestone represents friendship and immortality, and, according to the newspaper account of her death, Zoey had many friends. “Everybody knew little Zoey, and loved her, and although but a child will be sadly missed.” The flowers on the marker convey the fragility of life as well as love and grief. A broken flower symbolizes premature death, and the morning glories that twist around Zoey’s gravestone symbolize resurrection, beauty, youth and love.
The swing may be a graceful tribute to childhood, but the rope from which it is hung signifies passion and lasting connections.As it twists around the stone, it forms a “circle of rope,” which in gravestone iconography indicates eternity. The board forming the swing’s seat serves as a tender and convenient tribute to “Our Little Zoey,” because it is upon the seat which her name is lovingly inscribed. Today, Zoey’s gravestone often has artificial flowers woven around it.
Tree trunk gravestones were popular during the last quarter of the 19th century. There are more than a dozen of varying sizes in Linwood Park Cemetery. Some are small; others are tall, including a traditional Woodmen of the World stone.