Memorial and mortuary columns were common pole types found in Southeast Alaska. Memorial poles, along with house posts, are among the oldest forms of totem poles.
There seems to be a fine distinction between memorial and mortuary poles. The mortuary pole was an actual internment, while the memorial pole was a column of remembrance. In some instances, a memorial pole was raised to honor a living person.
In earlier days, the dead were sometimes cremated. The backside of a mortuary column often had a hole used as a receptacle for the ashes of the dead. A mortuary column was usually topped by a single figure indicating the moiety or the clan of the person interred.
The similarities in construction and appearance of these two types of poles make it difficult to determine their original purpose.
Though the totem at the top of this column is similar to Raven in form, the feathers actually portrayed on the back of the head and wings and the length of the beak suggest a cormorant. Compare this bird to the Raven memorial pole farther along on the Totem Loop Trail.
This pole is a reproduction carved in 1979. The original pole now stands in Totem Hall in the visitor center.