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A to Z Texas: J is for Jesus in Cowboy Boots

Jesus in Cowboy Boots in Paris, Texas (photo by Tui Snider)
Jesus in Cowboy Boots in Paris, Texas (photo by Tui Snider)

Quirky Statue in Paris, Texas

After mentioning Paris, Texas recently in the post A to Z Texas: E is for Eiffel Tower I’m bringing up that little burg again because it’s home to a quirky statue known locally as the, “Jesus in cowboy boots.”

This statue is actually the 20 foot tall grave marker honoring a man named Willet Babcock, who died in 1888. While impressive, it would hardly be the quirky tourist attraction that it has become were it not for the unusual footwear worn by the cross-bearing figure it depicts; instead of the bare feet or sandals one often associates with Biblical folk, this one wears cowboy boots.

Close-up: Jesus in Cowboy Boots in Paris, Texas (photo by Tui Snider)
Close-up: Jesus in Cowboy Boots in Paris, Texas (photo by Tui Snider)

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Who was Willet Babcock?

Willet Babcock was a Civil War veteran who moved from Ithaca, New York to Paris, Texas where he became a prominent businessman with an interest in art and theater. Mr. Babcock’s love of the arts is evidenced by the fact that his furniture showroom in downtown Paris also housed the local opera house on its second floor.

Jesus in Cowboy Boots in Paris, Texas (photo by Tui Snider)
Jesus in Cowboy Boots in Paris, Texas (photo by Tui Snider)

Who Made Jesus in Cowboy Boots?

Babcock commissioned his impressive headstone from the Paris Marble Works in 1880, eight years before he was laid to rest on the south side of town in Evergreen Cemetery.

There’s argument over whether the statue depicts Jesus carrying a cross, or whether it’s actually supposed to be a mourning angel leaning against a cross. Some folks claim the face is too feminine looking to be Jesus. While I could tell that he or she did not wear a beard, I couldn’t decide for myself whether the face was masculine or feminine, since the statue was heavily backlit during my visit. Next time I go, I will try to get a better look (and take photos to show you here.)

Jesus in Cowboy Boots in Paris, Texas (photo by Tui Snider)
Jesus in Cowboy Boots in Paris, Texas (photo by Tui Snider)

Mysteries Surround Jesus in Cowboy Boots

More rumors surround the statue, as well. For one thing, unlike most of the other 40,000 graves in Evergreen Cemetery, Babcock’s faces towards the west instead of the east.

This might not seem like a big deal in our day and age; everyone has a GPS now, right? Seriously though, back in the 1800’s, the direction your body was laid to rest mattered to people. Facing west was weird because it breaks with the old Christian tradition of burying people facing east (so they will be facing the right direction when Jesus returns to earth.)

Modern viewers have also been taken aback by the upside down torches engraved on the base of the monument. Some have even interpreted the torches and the monument direction to mean that Mr. Babcock and his wife were atheists.

While I am also puzzled by the direction the Babcock monument faces, I do know that inverted torches are a Christian symbol. I’ve seen that motif in other historical cemeteries such as Kensal Green: A Historic Victorian Graveyard in London and subsequently researched the symbolism.

Upside down torch: Jesus in Cowboy Boots in Paris, Texas (photo by Tui Snider)
Upside down torch: Jesus in Cowboy Boots in Paris, Texas (photo by Tui Snider)

What Do Upside Down Torches Mean on a Grave?

So, what is the significance of upside down torches on a headstone? You know how a candle will go out if you hold it upside down? An inverted torch symbolizes the idea that one’s life is like a flame, and that even when this flame is extinguished by death, one’s soul continues to burn in the afterlife.

More A to Z blog posts

This was my post for the letter J of the A to Z blogging challenge. Tune in tomorrow to see what quirky Texan thing the letter K will bring!

In the meantime, click on this link to find out what other A to Z blogging challenge folks are writing about.

Tui Snider
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Published inHistoric CemeteriesTravel Photo Essays

18 Comments

  1. Fascinating! Love the little tidbits – the way the face is pointed West instead of East, the upside down torch.

    • mentalmosaic mentalmosaic

      Hi Courtney,

      I’ve learned a lot from the historic cemeteries here in Texas. I’m thinking of doing a post all about all the different symbols they used to use on the headstones.

      Thanks for visiting!

      ~Tui

    • mentalmosaic mentalmosaic

      It’s quirkiness galore, I tell you, Carol! I’m about due for another road trip to Paris, methinks!

      ~Tui

  2. I learned a couple of new things here. I had no idea about the torches on gravemarkers and honestly I never noticed that they were upside down nor that it was a Christian tradition for bodies to face east. I think you also taught me what Babcock Rd in San Antonio is named after. Now I can check the learning off my list for the day and get on with more fun stuff, like visiting the DMV ;).

    • mentalmosaic mentalmosaic

      Hi Charlie,

      First the dentist and now the DMV – I certainly hope you have something fun lined up for the weekend!

      I really enjoy the historical cemeteries here in north Texas. I’ll probably do a whole post on cemetery symbols here soon, too, since it’s something we have really lost touch with over the past few decades.

      ~Tui

  3. Well done post. Very interesting that mystery still surrounds this quirky gravemarker.

    • mentalmosaic mentalmosaic

      Hi DL,

      I am still curious about the story behind this monument. I would love to know the full story.

      ~Tui

  4. Brilliant. I love these little, out of the way things, that you probably wouldn’t notice. Great stuff :D

    • mentalmosaic mentalmosaic

      Hi Rebeccah,

      It’s so fun hunting these odd little sights in Texas down. I still have a long list of places to check out, actually.

      ~Tui

  5. Really interesting post, Tui. It’s obvious you love to do your research. It’s amazing what you can turn up when you start researching any town, village or monument. Good stuff.

    • mentalmosaic mentalmosaic

      Hi Wayne,

      Oh, yeah. I love digging up stuff like this. Texas is ripe with interesting bits of lore.

      Thanks for dropping by!

      ~Tui

    • mentalmosaic mentalmosaic

      Hi Patricia,

      I know! It’s just so silly, somehow.

      ~Tui

  6. Margaret Almon Margaret Almon

    My El Paso grandfather would have approved of the cowboy boots!

    • Margaret Almon Margaret Almon

      Oh, and my other side of the family is from Paris, TX!

      • mentalmosaic mentalmosaic

        Hi Margaret,

        So have you checked out any of the quirky stuff on your visits to Paris, Texas?

        I really want to swing by there again soon!

        ~Tui

    • mentalmosaic mentalmosaic

      Hi Margaret,

      From what I read, historians don’t even think that Mr Babcock owned a pair of cowboy boots. I thought that was really odd, since he commissioned the statue! Poetic license?

      ~Tui

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