When 101-year-old Herb Haertel died in 2015, so did the last living master of his family’s 143 years of expert gravestone making. Maybe thinking about death every day gives you a long, long life, because even as late as his 100th birthday, old Herb was on local TV in Minnesota doing pushups like a character straight out of Lake Wobegon Days.
Sometime before he hung up his chisel and he and his brother sold their Fairmont Monument Works in 1974, they got these handy business pencils made in a soothing silver color similar to the granite and marble they used the mark the final resting places of townfolks since they took over their dad’s business in 1946. Curiously like all those graves, one of these Haertel Brothers Fairmont Monument Works pencils has survived the vagaries of time to remind future generations (us) that they existed.
And boy what a headstone dynasty it was!
It was fun enough to discover that Herb and his brothers got their start working in dad Emanuel’s gravestone works, which the elder Haertel had founded in 1899. But it turns out that Em’s sons were carrying on an even older Haertel tradition: Emanuel himself was one of five brothers carrying on THEIR dad’s gravestone business, spread out across the midwest in Illinois, Wisconsin, and of course, Minnesota.
Grandpa Henry had founded Haertel Monuments in Illinois waaaaaay back in 1872, when he was about 30, and he got his sons Martin, Walter, Henry Jr., William, and our patriarch Emanuel started in the biz before he retired in 1902.
A year before our Herb was born in 1914, dad Emanuel was (ahem) already being memorialized in journals like American Stone Trade for fighting off imposters trying to use the Fairmont Works name to trick local undertakers (no kidding!). He sued the fakers’ pants off and then joined forces with his brothers to carve a cutting-edge (yuk yuk) grave monument to the man who started it all, their dad Henry, who took his trip six feet under a custom Haertel headstone in 1918.
It’s no wonder granite dust was practically in Herb and his brothers’ blood. After apprenticing in the family biz after high school, Herb faced death even more up close serving in World War II. Perhaps because of all the horror he saw in the Pacific theater of the war, the man who returned in 1946 to help take over Fairmont Monument Works was universally known as “an extremely friendly person that took great interest in knowing the history of families.”
Though Herb and his brothers sold Fairmont Monument Works back in 1974, the company -- now known as Fairmont Monument Co. -- appears to still be in business, proudly touting the fact that they were established in 1899, and adding the punny tagline, “Planet Granite.”
The Illinois branch of the family, meanwhile, also continued in the gravemarking biz. Granddad Henry’s Haertel Monuments in Illinois stayed in the family all the way until 1987 when grandson Harold (our Herb’s cousin) passed away, but that business also lives on.
Just like the silver Haertel Brothers pencil that’s still here among us on this mortal plane.