Many of the largest, most expensive and most spectacular monuments fall into this category. All obelisks and columns borrow heavily from Egyptian, Greek and Roman architectural styles. The original obelisk was square in section, tapering up to a pyramidal capital (top-pyramidian). During the 1800s, stonemasons used a variety of obelisk types, some with straight shafts and different tops from blunt (truncated Roman influence) to cross-vaulted on the top. Obelisks and columns have three distinct sections: the base (bottom support), the shaft (centre column piece) and the capital (the top structure).
Columns come in a variety of shapes and sizes similar to obelisks. Pilaster columns are a type of column, but are almost a combination of the obelisk and the column monument. The pilaster column has a square or rectangular shaft and is either flat topped or topped with an urn. The term “pilaster” can also be used to describe a support column protruding from a wall. The terminology is confusing because “pilasters” have been used both in descriptions of single free-standing columns and of eclectic monuments. The most famous historical pilaster is the “Pilaster from the Severan Basilica” in Italy, which is a rectangular column dating from the 3rd century A.D. and is elaborately carved out of marble. Because of the confusion, it is better to refer to pilasters as either “pilaster columns” (free-standing) or “pilasters” (eclectic memorials). Cemetery pilaster columns tend to be smaller than most other column memorials.
The one great advantage of obelisks, pilaster columns and pedestals is the available space for inscriptions. Where headstones and markers only have one inscription face, obelisks, columns and pedestals provide at least four inscription faces. These types of monuments are usually found on family burials or those of people of high social status. Because obelisks, columns and pedestals are higher, they also tend to stand out more in the cemetery and are easily located.
The following are some sub-types in this type:
Standard obelisk – Shaped like a finger or ray from the sun. Egyptian in origin to represent “Ra” the giver of all life. Usually made of granite, sandstone or marble. One variation is the white bronze obelisk made of cast zinc that appeared in the late 1800s, but had disappeared by the 1920s.
Truncated or blunt obelisk – Similar shape to the standard obelisk but with a rounded capital (top). Roman in origin, it appears to be a modification of the Egyptian obelisk. Usually made of sandstone, marble or granite.
Vaulted obelisks – Shaft is similar to the other obelisk styles but the capital (top) is distinctive. The most common variation is the cross-vaulted obelisk. The cross-vaulted obelisk’s capital peaks cross over, which gives a “+” or cross-vaulted pattern. On some of these vaulted obelisk styles, the capital is designed to look like the vaulted ceilings in churches.
Gateway/bi-columnar monument – Usually appears as two columns supporting an arch. The columns can be Egyptian, Greek or Roman in styling. The columns and arch represent a gateway or entrance or what is referred to as “The portal to eternity.” Gateway columns are commonly found where the husband and wife are buried side by side. This monument type is also very common on Masonic graves. Usually gateway columns are free-standing, but can be found on top of ground ledgers. They also appear in a great variety of sizes and usually are made of either granite or marble.
Broken column – Usually found in the classical Greek style or tapering shaft. Originated in England about 1815. Denotes the burial spot of a child or young person whose life was cut short.
Classical Greek column – Tends to have a straight shaft with flutes; shaft can taper slightly or be straight. Column may have an urn at the top. Usually made of marble or grey granite.
Standard column – Tends to have a rounded shaft that does not taper and has no flutes, but a smooth surface running up to the capital, usually with an urn on top. This type of column is usually made of marble, sandstone or granite.
Pilaster column/rectangular or square column – Very similar to other columns except that the shaft is rectangular or square instead of round. Romans appear to have first used this type of column, which was elaborately decorated with acanthus and garlands. Pilaster columns tend to be smaller with urn-topped capitals. In many cases, the urns have been removed or broken because of their close proximity to the ground. Sometimes pilaster columns are referred to as pedestals. Pedestal monuments are generally much thicker in the shaft and larger.
Pedestal monument – Tends to be large, have four faces for inscriptions and flat vertical sides (tapering or straight) topped either with a flat capital or pediment (triangular roof-like structure). There may also be an urn above the pediment or the capital. The styling is adapted from architectural styles found in ancient Pompeii and usually is enriched with inscriptions, motifs and ornamental styling on four faces. Most often, these monuments are large and made of either granite or marble.
Eclectic monument – Tends to be large and incorporate two or three styles in one structure. This type of monument is commonly a large flat screen (for inscriptions) topped by either support pilasters or round or standard columns supporting a pediment capital. These monuments are generally massive and made of granite.