‘Be 4 You Go, See Elmo’: Chicago tombstone maker endures

‘Be 4 You Go, See Elmo’: Chicago tombstone maker endures

CHICAGO (AP) — Elmo’s has been making tombstones on the South Side of Chicago for more than half a century, hand-carving grave markers for the bereaved families of everyone from local celebrities to victims of the gang violence that has become a hallmark of that part of the city.



Hosea Knox, owner of Elmo's Tombstone Service cuts out the lettering Thursday, May 28, 2020, on a stencil glued to a granite stone in his shop on Chicago's Southside. Knox and assistant Leon Brown take pride in distinguishing themselves from the modern "computerized laser" cut, a technique that Knox claims is just a "skin" cut that will fade over time. "It is just like a photograph, it is not cut in there deep," Knox said, "When I cut a stone, it is down in there and will withstand the weather." (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)


© Provided by Associated Press
Hosea Knox, owner of Elmo’s Tombstone Service cuts out the lettering Thursday, May 28, 2020, on a stencil glued to a granite stone in his shop on Chicago’s Southside. Knox and assistant Leon Brown take pride in distinguishing themselves from the modern “computerized laser” cut, a technique that Knox claims is just a “skin” cut that will fade over time. “It is just like a photograph, it is not cut in there deep,” Knox said, “When I cut a stone, it is down in there and will withstand the weather.” (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

“Be 4 You Go, See Elmo,” the catchphrase coined by Elmo’s Tombstone Service’s original owner, Robert Williams, still graces the small shop’s awning. The line underneath, “Tombstones made while you wait,” might be the final hook that gets through the door of the Black-owned business.



Hosea Knox, left, owner of Elmo's Tombstone service talks with a customer Thursday, May 28, 2020, in his office on Chicago's Southside. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)


© Provided by Associated Press
Hosea Knox, left, owner of Elmo’s Tombstone service talks with a customer Thursday, May 28, 2020, in his office on Chicago’s Southside. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Like its counterparts throughout the state, Elmo’s had to close briefly early on during the coronavirus pandemic — deemed nonessential despite the high numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Chicago, particularly on the South Side. The pandemic has slowed funerals and cemetery operations, but it’s current owner, Hosea Knox, said Friday that Elmo’s should be fine.



In this Sunday, June 7, 2020 photo, the afternoon sun casts shadows across State Street in front of Elmo's Tombstone Service on the Chicago's Southside. The slogan  "Be 4 You Go, See Elmo" was coined by original Elmo's Tombstone Service owner, Robert Williams, graces the awning of the small shop now owned by Hosea Knox.  (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)


© Provided by Associated Press
In this Sunday, June 7, 2020 photo, the afternoon sun casts shadows across State Street in front of Elmo’s Tombstone Service on the Chicago’s Southside. The slogan “Be 4 You Go, See Elmo” was coined by original Elmo’s Tombstone Service owner, Robert Williams, graces the awning of the small shop now owned by Hosea Knox. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

“It’s going really well, I have sold more expensive stones this year than the year before,” he said, noting that it was too soon to tell whether the uptick in business was due to the pandemic.

Knox’s industrial arts education at Grambling College — now Grambling State University — led him to work for Williams more than four decades ago. Knox and his wife, Bobbie, bought the business from Williams in 1987.

“It was an opportunity to stop working for someone else,” Knox said.

Knox, 81, lost his wife to cancer in 2012. He inscribed “WIFE, MOTHER, GRANDMOTHER, IN GOD’S HANDS” on her blue pearl granite stone, and Bobbie remains listed on his business cards.



Hosea Knox, owner of Elmo's Tombstones, looks over a work order Thursday, May 28, 2020, for the next stone in his shop on Chicago's Southside. The process of transcribing begins as a collaboration between the deceased's family and Knox.   (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)


© Provided by Associated Press
Hosea Knox, owner of Elmo’s Tombstones, looks over a work order Thursday, May 28, 2020, for the next stone in his shop on Chicago’s Southside. The process of transcribing begins as a collaboration between the deceased’s family and Knox. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The process of transcribing begins as a collaboration between the deceased’s family and Knox. Once lettering and design are agreed upon, Knox and assistant Leon Brown begin transforming a standard stone into a piece of memorial art.

An average stone can cost $700 to $2,000.

Knox and Brown take pride in distinguishing themselves from the modern “computerized laser” cut, a technique that Knox claims is just a “skin” cut that will fade over time.



Seen through plexiglass Thursday, May 28, 2020, Hosea Knox checks the precision of a sandblasted cut for the design of a new tombstone at his shop on Chicago's Southside. Knox and assistant Leon Brown take pride in distinguishing themselves from the modern "computerized laser" cut, a technique that Knox claims is just a "skin" cut that will fade over time.  (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)


© Provided by Associated Press
Seen through plexiglass Thursday, May 28, 2020, Hosea Knox checks the precision of a sandblasted cut for the design of a new tombstone at his shop on Chicago’s Southside. Knox and assistant Leon Brown take pride in distinguishing themselves from the modern “computerized laser” cut, a technique that Knox claims is just a “skin” cut that will fade over time. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

“It is just like a photograph, it is not cut in there deep,” Knox said, “When I cut a stone, it is down in there and will withstand the weather.”

The South Side has seen more than its share of tragedy, including its many gang-related shootings and now the pandemic.

Roebuck “Pops” Staples, patriarch of The Staples Singers, brought the family to Knox’s shop to select his monument before he died in 2000. Staples was buried in the Oak Woods Cemetery along with journalist/activist Ida B. Wells, nuclear scientist Enrico Fermi, Olympic champion Jesse Owens and Chicago Mayor Harold Washington.



Hosea Knox, owner of Elmo's tombstone service, visits the grave of his wife Bobbie, Wednesday, June 10, 2020, at the Mount Hope Cemetery, on Chicago's Southside. Knox created her stone after losing her to cancer in 2012. Knox has thought about his own stone. "I will have to eventually do it, my name, birthday, deceased date, and I might put a little thing that says, 'Elmo's Tombstone Service' on the bottom." (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)


© Provided by Associated Press
Hosea Knox, owner of Elmo’s tombstone service, visits the grave of his wife Bobbie, Wednesday, June 10, 2020, at the Mount Hope Cemetery, on Chicago’s Southside. Knox created her stone after losing her to cancer in 2012. Knox has thought about his own stone. “I will have to eventually do it, my name, birthday, deceased date, and I might put a little thing that says, ‘Elmo’s Tombstone Service’ on the bottom.” (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Knox has thought about his own stone.



This Wednesday, June 10, 2020 photo,  Hosea Knox points to where he will rest next to his wife Bobbie at the Mount Hope Cemetery on Chicago's Southside. Knox wanted to put a monument there for both of them, "But the cemetery won't let me." Knox has thought about his own stone. "I will have to eventually do it, my name, birthday, deceased date, and I might put a little thing that says, 'Elmo's Tombstone Service' on the bottom." (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)


© Provided by Associated Press
This Wednesday, June 10, 2020 photo, Hosea Knox points to where he will rest next to his wife Bobbie at the Mount Hope Cemetery on Chicago’s Southside. Knox wanted to put a monument there for both of them, “But the cemetery won’t let me.” Knox has thought about his own stone. “I will have to eventually do it, my name, birthday, deceased date, and I might put a little thing that says, ‘Elmo’s Tombstone Service’ on the bottom.” (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

“I will have to eventually do it, my name, birthday, deceased date, and I might put a little thing that says, ‘Elmo’s Tombstone Service’ on the bottom.”

Continue Reading

Source Article