The Wasserburger monument is one of the more memorable in Forest Lawn, but we have no idea why the Wasserburger's designed it the way they did, and what it meant to them. Made by J. F. Bloom & Co. of Omaha, fashioned from Balfour pink granite which is no longer available, it's become a local legend. Josiah Wasserburger purchased the monument in 1938, 18 years before he and his wife died, and it cost a staggering $3,500. This amount of money spent during the depression, in 2012 dollars would be approximately $60,000. It's curious that they took such care to plan their memorial almost 20 years before their deaths, and put so much thought into it.
Josiah was a manager for Household Finance (formerly Omaha Finance) here in Omaha. He died in 1956 at age 84, and Alma died just five days later at age 81; they had no children, so much of their history died when they did, but research has brought a few facts to light.
The Wasserburgers were avid small dog fanciers. A 1935 article talks about the how much time the Wasserburgers put into finding a replacement for Cricket, a beloved chihuahua that had died in 1927. He and his wife Alma traveled thousands of miles from Omaha to Mexico, many times, looking for another chihuahua that would compare with Cricket. In 1929 they found many dogs but none that met their standards. Finally, in 1935 the drove 40 miles outside of Tiajuana to a small house where chihuahuas were bred, and purchased Senora Perfecto, a three-month-old female. A tiny little thing, she weighed only 1 1/2 pounds.
What's more amazing about this is that Josiah retired in 1935 at age 64, and that they did all this traveling in the worst years of the Depression. Josiah had invested in real estate, apparently, and some of his wealth seems to have come from his investments. There are quite a few real estate transfers in the records for him. They lived in the Miller Park area until 1933, when they moved to 53rd and Country Club Avenue, which is essentially between the Benson and Dundee area. They hosted the marriage of family friends in 1934, and the article mentions their beautiful garden; I'm imagining that Alma liked to garden, or possibly they both did.
When they died, they left an estate valued at $100,000 in cash, and $25,000 in real estate. This explains why they could afford such an expensive monument. They donated the cash to Childrens Hospital, the Omaha Home for Boys, and the Immanuel Deaconess Institute, and their church. The real estate satisfied the $23,000 in bequests left to their family.
The motto of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the USA
The second stanza of the poem "A Psalm of Life" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I've heard it said that the seated figure represents Jesus (see the closeup below), but this isn't a correct interpretation and there is no evidence to back it up. Josiah and Alma left no record of what they were thinking when they designed their memorial. A key clue is that their monument has no biblical text on it, and because of this I feel the statue is more related to the other allegorical figures that have been created as monuments in other cemeteries.
I believe it was meant to mirror similar statues like Lorado Taft's splendid and haunting sculptural figure for the Dexter Graves plot in Chicago's Graceland Cemetery, called Eternal Silence. It is also extremely similar to the Clover Adams memorial sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Washington D.C. Both of these sculptures pre-date the Wasserburger monument by at least 30 years, in the case of the Lorado Taft work, and nearly 50 years in the case of the Adams monument. An excellent history of the fascinating story behind the Adams monument can be found at this link, as well as the story of an unauthorized copy of the statue and where it is today. It's a great article and worth the time it takes to read it.
Closeup of the figure's face.
A visitor has placed what looks like a spray of lilacs in the figure's hand. This gives it a curiously piquant look, and makes it strangely more human-looking.