Tue, 07 Apr 2020
I live near Woodlands Cemetery and by far the largest monument there, a thirty-foot obelisk, belongs to Thomas W. Evans, who is an interesting person. In his life he was a world-famous dentist, whose clients included many crowned heads of Europe. He was born in Philadelphia, and land to the University of Pennsylvania to found a dental school, which to this day is located at the site of Evans’ former family home at 40th and Spruce Street.
A few days ago my family went to visit the cemetery and I insisted on visting the Evans memorial.
The obelisk has this interesting ornament:
The thing around the middle is evidently a wreath of pine branches, but what is the thing in the middle? Some sort of leaf, or frond perhaps? Or is it a feather? If Evans had been a writer I would have assumed it was a quill pen, but he was a dentist. Thanks to the Wonders of the Internet, I was able to find out.
First I took the question to Reddit's /r/whatisthisthing forum. Reddit didn't have the answer, but Reddit user @hangeryyy had something better: they observed that there was a fad for fern decorations, called pteridomania, in the second half of the 19th century. Maybe the thing was a fern.
I was nerdsniped by pteridomania and found out that a book on pteridomania had been written by Dr. Sarah Whittingham, who goes by the encouraging Twitter name of @DrFrond.
Dr. Whittingham's opinion is that this is not a fern frond, but a palm frond. The question has been answered to my full and complete satisfaction.
My thanks to Dr. Whittingham, @hangeryyy, and the /r/whatisthisthing community.