By Bill O’Neill
From the name, one may assume that Henry T. Crosby & Son Monuments is a family business, and while in many ways it is, it’s no longer run by the Crosby family.
The Harwich business began in 1872 and Tom Blute took it over in 1989. His mother, Mary Lou, helps in the office. His older son, Zachary, is an apprentice, and his daughter, Jessica, a recent college graduate, helped update the company website. Nicholas, an eighth-grader, isn’t involved with the business – yet.
But it’s a family business in another way, since Blute says the most important thing he does is to help families make a decision about memorial markers when they are at their most vulnerable.
“I know walking in the door is difficult,” he says. “This begins to bring closure. Once a monument is installed and you see the name and the date, there’s a finality. I think and hope it brings the family peace and comfort to have something in place.”
Crosby Monuments is located in a building that was constructed in 1835 as a shoe and saddle shop. In 1872 Henry T. Crosby took over the building when he left his brother’s monument company in Orleans to open a monument business in Harwich with his son Bertram. Henry died in 1929 and his son ran the business until 1949.
At that time, the town of Quincy was winding down its reign as one of the nation’s major suppliers of granite. Weldon “Bud” Erikson moved from Quincy to take over Crosby Monuments.
In 1988, Blute was working in Quincy, but in a more modern industry, as a retirement fund portfolio accountant at State Street Bank.
“Life in a cube was not for me,” he says. “My father was in the funeral business so he had a connection with Bud. I decided to come down and apprentice with him.
“Through Bud I learned about the materials and sales, and through Pete Carr, his brother-in-law, I learned about layout and drafting. I’d work on a sketch for hours and Fred, the stonecutter, would tear it up, saying it wasn’t good enough. I learned the hard way.”
Janet Our has worked with him for eight years on sales and administration, and he praises her sensitivity and professionalism.
Blute, 52, says family traits have been an important part of his success.
“My compassion and my ability to listen to people and work with them certainly came via my father. He exemplified that in his daily life as a funeral director.
“My attention to detail and my desire to feel good about completing something and doing for others came from my mom.”
He also learned some important lessons during his time in finance.
“I learned how to handle rejections, I learned how to close a sale, I learned how to listen and I learned accounting methods and computer skills.
“The biggest lesson was learning what I didn’t want to sell and that was securities. It wasn’t anything tangible for me. I’m much happier doing this, selling something that people embrace and that they can see and feel good about.”
Creating memorial stones for individuals has always been an important part of the business of Crosby Monuments, but the work also includes stone engravings for schools and government buildings.
Projects can be as large as the 21-foot veteran’s honor roll monument at Veterans Memorial Park in Truro or as small as the engraved bricks used in fundraising walkways for local organizations.
Blute created 9/11 memorials in four Cape towns and a monument bench for U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Tip O’Neill at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Harwich. He installs granite, bronze, and marble veterans’ markers that are ordered through the Veterans Administration.
In recent years, he’s picked up steady work around the Cape fixing older cemetery tablets and markers that have been damaged by weather and time.
Community Preservation Act funding pays for the preservation of historic places. “The towns have good cemetery administrators who are determined to keep the cemeteries looking good,” he says. “Before, they waited until something broke and then sent us out to fix it. Now they’re trying to preserve the markers.”
Henry T. Crosby & Son Monuments is located on Main Street in Harwich, across the street from Morris, O’Connor & Blute Funeral Home (which is managed by Tom’s brother John) and within sight of Island Pond Cemetery.
In the days when the Crosbys ran the business, a key part of the location was the blacksmith shop next door, where they could drop off their chisels for sharpening. Today, the tools have durable carbide tips.
“We still do hand carving, but it’s a pneumatic tool,” Blute says. “You take the chisel, put it in the sleeve, and as soon as you apply pressure, you get that pounding vibration, so it’s much easier. You’re not doing each one with a hammer.”
Many of today’s monuments are etched, rather than carved, using an electric Dremel tool. That allows for much finer detail.
When Blute meets with a family in need of a memorial, the conversation begins with the types of stone and the available shapes and colors. But what most families seek is something to make the memorial personal.
“We’ll sit down and talk about what they can use to symbolize the person who’s passed. What can sum up a full life in a snapshot or a few words? It might be a saying they loved to say or a Bible verse, or an accomplishment they were most proud of. Sometimes it’s a symbol – an angel, a boat, or a martini glass.
“My favorite quote when people leave here is, ‘You made this a lot easier than I thought it was going to be.’ That’s job satisfaction right there.”