Gravestones of the Week
11 April 2011: Lambs of Innocence
Lambs are popular symbols, especially on children's graves. Usually lambs are placed at the top of a stone, and occasionally are carved in 3-D. This lamb is more charismatic than most, with its two legs hanging off the oval within the headstone and partially sitting on a daisy. The deceased was an infant who lived less than 2 months.
29 March 2010: Musical notes
Contemporary stones often highlight hobbies, in addition to religious and/or mortuary motifs. This image is carved at the base of a modern-day granite stone. It features a treble clef and three note in a sharp key. Maybe this is the beginning of a favorite piece? If someone recognizes the piece, please email me at [lynn @ locohistory . org].
22 March 2010: flush markers
Contemporary cemetery management companies encourage patrons to select markers that are flush with the ground. This allows for easy mowing and "perpetual care." Many 21st century cemeteries outlaw 3-d markers all together. This week's marker is metal set into concrete and features a simple cross. The flower is not part of the design, but rather placed there by a mourner.
13 March 2010: Graveside Flowers
The cemetery landscape includes many features, not just markers. In this photo a recent burial is adorned with beautiful flowers. In the 19th century is was more common to bring the flowers to the home of the deceased to fill the parlor (where the body was laid out). This served a symbolic function and a practical one (helping to mask the smell of the decaying body indoors during the wake).
3 March 2010: 3D cross
Crosses are a very common motif, but usually they are carved into a larger stone. In this case, the stone is shaped as a cross, with the birth and death dates running vertically along the base of the cross. Most likely this stone fell backwards, to come to lie flat in the grass. It dates to the 1960s and is made of marble. The remains of a plant lie to the right.
2 February 2010: Black History Month begins
This week's stone comes from an African-American cemetery in NW Albemarle County. While the cross is a standard motif, the lily laid at its base is more unusual (and beautiful). Lilies are associated with mourning, innocence, and purity. There is also a rose, associated with rebirth, beauty, and love. Behind the cross is a symbol of a rising sun (and rebirth) and/or the rays of sunlight, associated with the presence of God. The deceased died in 1972 at age 48.
3 January 2010: Mortuary Poetry
Most gravestone inscriptions are taken from the Bible or popular poetry. Less than 5% of American stones contain unusual or unique epitaphs. The one on this 1926 stone is not be unique, but it is rare and beautiful: "She faltered by the wayside and the angels took her home." The carved roses are also unusual in their design (compare them to more standard shapes in the stones featured in earlier posts). Note, I cropped the photo so the morphology and motif would be clearer at this small size, the inscription lies just below the cropped area.
21 October 2009: R.I.P.
During this season you will often see halloween decorations which read "R.I.P." Any school child could tell you that it stands for "rest in peace." However, a closer look at real cemeteries would reveal that the acronym is hardly ever used on a gravestone. The inscription becomes popular in the 20th century as mourners distance themselves from the pain of "death" by using euphemisms, like "resting." This week's stone makes a more active statement, proclaiming that the deceased "entered eternal rest."
30 September 2009: More hobbies
Gravestones have always revealed changes in technologies. In the late 19th century granite became more accessible as cutting tools improved (granite is a much harder stone than the earlier marble or slate). In today's rapidly changing world the biggest impact on stones has been the transfer of photographs and other high resolution images directly to the stone. This polished granite stone depicts a complex hunting scene (complete with dogs, pheasants, hunters, and woods). A scene too complicated to carve by hand except at great expense.
14 September 2009: A fish
Earlier gravestones have featured icons that represent personal hobbies. While this fish might very well indicate that the deceased was a fisherman, the choice of a fish on a gravestone has many additional meanings. In Christian theology a motif for the Greek word for fish, "Ichthys," is used as a symbol for Christian beliefs (commonly seen today on car bumper stickers). Ichthys is meaningful because each of the letters stands for other Greek words which spell out: "Jesus Christ, God's son, savior." The Bible also references several "fish stories."
9 September 2009: Paired with Last Week
If you look at last week's gravestone you will see that it is only the left-hand side of a granite memorial. This week's selection is the right-hand side, where the wife/mother lies buried. While her husband had a lily, heart, and praying hands, her side contains a cross within a heart and a rose: complementary opposites. Her name is inscribed within a rather unusual scroll, with notches at either end.
17 August 2009: Lovebirds Forever
This week's motif is hard to visualize without seeing the entire stone so I'll put it up piecemeal. This is the left hand side of the granite marker, with a beautiful bird. The motif ties into the theme on the other site, two entwined birds which represent the eternal love of the husband and wife buried here. In addition to the bird motif there are praying hands, a heart, a lily (which is repeated on the footstone), and a banner with a quote from the Bible.
3 August 2009: A butterfly
When I first saw this stone, I didn't notice the unique addition. Instead I saw the standard flower, ivy, and scroll pattern (accompanied by the family name, not visible, but to the right of this photo). But when I looked closer I noticed the butterfly sucking nectar from the flower. A wonderful, personalized touch!
13 July 2009: Ray of light with a rose
This beautiful design combines two common elements, a rose and a ray of light, but adds a twist, making it appear as if the rose is ascending to heaven along the rays of light. The inscription is surrounded by an oval border. This granite stone dates to 1993 and is located in a church cemetery in Albemarle County.
29 June 2009: Dove and a ring
This gravestone combines multiple motifs. First there is the dove, which symbolizes peace or love. They can also be seen as messengers. In this case, the dove carries a ring with a ribbon laced through it. More commonly doves carry an olive branch, symbolizing peace. But here the ring suggests marriage. On the edges of the stone are roses, pieces of ivy, and columns of light. Note the nickname "Pappy."
15 June 2009: More flowers
Flowers are a common motif on gravestones because they symbolize life, beauty, and sometimes, innocence. Conversely, since most flowers have a short life span they can symbolize fragility and impermanence. This week's pink granite gravestone features two carved petals. You can also interpret flowers as a grave offering, in other words an eternal gift of flowers to commemorate the dead.
1 June 2009: Roses
This motif combines "praying hands" with a branch from a rose bush. This rose is elaborately carved, with numerous leaves (although no thorns are visible). Serendipitously (or perhaps intentionally), a real live rose bush can be seen growing just behind the granite marker. Flowers are a symbol of rebirth and regeneration.
25 May 2009: Memorial Day
Memorial Day 2009: In Remembrance of those Who have Served and Continue to Serve our Country. To view a global memorial of individuals who died while serving, visit http://www.mapthefallen.org/. You will need to install Google Earth version 5.
11 May: Mother's Day
Happy Mother's Day! If you'll read carefully you will notice a remarkable inscription "Mother of 19 children." In addition she lived a long life, dying at age 95. The motifs include praying hands, a cross, and an angel. The stone was found in a medium-sized rural neighborhood cemetery.
13 April: flowers
Today's gravestone illustrates a motif and a morphology: the former is a lily, the latter is an ornate cross. If you look closer you will also see a fern leaf. The floral motifs correspond to ideas of rebirth and regeneration. The stone commemorates the life of a woman who died in 1901. Romantic styled stones like this one were popular at the turn of the last century and flowers were often associated with women.
30 March: Pastoral Scene
This stone presents a pastoral scene, somewhat inexplicably containing two cows and a calf (perhaps the deceased was a dairy farmer or loved cows). The two realistic trees are very different from the 19th symbol of the willow tree. To complete the scene, there is a bush in the background.
23 March: Wedding Bells
Some gravestones include information about the marriage of the deceased. These motifs most often occur on stones shared by husbands and wives. This motif, a wedding bell, appeared between two names.
10 March: Reading Difficult Inscriptions
Sometimes the most difficult thing to decipher is the inscription. The best light source for reading obscure letters is the sun itself. This week's soapstone gravestone dates to 1825. The inscription was very faded. In the photo a mirror is used to reflect sunlight directly onto the surface. Under these conditions the names "Baz." with a suprascript "L" is visible. The stone lies in a small family cemetery and marks the resting place of Bezaleel Brown.
2 March: Praying Hands and a Cloud
Last week's motif combined a pointing hand, emerging from a cloud, clutching a Great Chain of Being. This week's motif combines praying hands with rays of light emerging from the clouds of heaven. The motif is interesting because it only takes a handful of drawn curves to evoke the idea of "heaven." As noted before, the hands are clearly male (it is very rare to see female hands). The cuffs suggest that the person is wearing an ecclesiastical robe.
23 February: Clutching the Great Chain of Being
This stone combines two popular motifs: pointing hand and the Great Chain of Being. But in this case, both motifs come with a twist. The hand is emerging from a cloud (presumably located in heaven). While the "chain" is grasped by the hand (usually it is depicted singularly as three links). The chain is a metaphor for life on earth. Here it is broken, symbolizing death.
16 February: Gravestone paraphernalia
In addition the gravestone, burial sites can contain flowers, offerings, vases, and plantings. Here the pink granite marker (just visible on the right) is accompanied by a flower vase (filled with fake flowers). The iconography on the vase is the praying hands motif.
9 February: Jesus Christ
It is very rare to see a carved "Christ" on a gravestone. Although inscriptions often reference "asleep in Jesus," or "God," it is unusual to see a figural representation of either (except with the "shaking hands" motif discussed in past weeks). This gravestone depicts Christ on the cross, with a banner above his head. Although blank on the stone, if they had had space I assume they would have carved "I.N.R.I." The acronym stands for "Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Iudaeorvm" and translates to "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."
2 February: Praying Hands (craftsmanship)
Several posts have illustrated the popular "hands motif." Somtimes they are praying (like here), sometimes pointing to heaven, and even hands that shake with their maker. In this week's stone (praying hands on top of a Bible), look carefully at the carving style. It's easy to overlook the individuality of hand-carved stones if you recognize the motif. Here the thumb on the left hand is very distinctive. Compare this style to the Oct. 8th entry.
26 January: More Euphemisms
Several of the examples in this list use euphemisms instead of the word "death" or "died."
In this week's stone the inscription reads "Passed away." Below this is the date of death and then a reference to a Bible passage, "John 11: 27." The King James version reads "She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world." It's intriguing that the author assumed the viewer would be able to call this phrase to mind by memory.
18 January: Pet Gravestones
Humans are not the only ones who receive memorials at death. Many owners commemorate their pet's death in some fashion. This week's photo is a series of pet graves, located on the lawn of a house in Charlottesville. These granite markers are miniature versions of a person's tombstone. Notice the ivy growing in the background, the same groundcover that is found in graveyards. In Beloved Memory, Carbon, (11/11/1997 - 1/17/2009).
12 January: Grave Offerings
This blog usually focuses on gravestones, but above-ground grave offerings are just as interesting. This stone is located in a family cemetery. The stone is typical for the early 20th century, a curved marble stone, with no imagery. The funerary statues are more unusual: two squirrels and a small rabbit (in the middle of the photo). The top squirrel is hoarding nuts while the lower one watches for his/her opportunity to "borrow" a pawful.
5 January (2009): Humorous Epitaph
In 2008, every gravestone featured in this blog was located in either Albemarle, Nelson, or Amherst County Virginia. But occasionally I get a submission from further afield. To illustrate other regional styles, I decided to post a non-local stone every once in a while. This week's stone comes from Abingdon. The epitaph on the forward-most stone reads:
Of This vain world I only took a peep
Disliked it closed my eyes and fell asleep.
Thanks to Martha Wiley (in Kentucky) for the photo.
31 December: The 61 second minute and other New Year Chronologies
In addition to making those new year resolutions, don't forget to set your clocks ahead by a second (the 2009 leap second). Sometimes mourners are almost that precise in their desire to memorial the time that their loved one passed. On this 1915 headstone, the family members recorded that Bertha "Died. Oct 2., 1915. at 7:40 a.m." May we all be as precise and accurate in 2009. Happy New Year!
22 December: Celebrate the Solstice and the Holidays
This mini-blog focuses on gravestones. But there are other features to notice within historic cemeteries. One important attribute is the plantings within a cemetery. In this week's photo a large yucca plant is planted in lieu of a gravestone. The pink heart-shaped wreath was brought by a mourner. So even though the identity of the deceased is obscure for the public, the deceased's kin keep track of who is buried under this bush.
15 December: Cross motif with a twist
This week's stone takes a traditional motif, a cross, but combines it with an unusually shaped granite marker, that of a heart. Here the cross is strewn with flowers and the heart sits atop the base of the marker (which contains the complete inscription). This is a newer style.
8 December: reaching hands
Some gravestone designs are works are art. This unusual motif shows god's hand reaching down from the clouds to the deceased. A dense array of flowers fill in the remainder of the scene. The pithy inscription reads: "Precious Lord Take My Hand." The stone is granite and dates to the 1960s.
1 December: Til Death Do Us Part
Gravestones tell many stories, and most of those tales are not about death. This week's photo is the middle of a long, granite memorial, commemorating the lives of a husband and wife. The photo shows the center of the marker, with roses, ivy, and an inscribed heart, "Love Lives On." The Family Name is carved above this beautiful remembrance.
17 November: Euphemisms
The stone reads: "Fell asleep. March 23, 1885. Aged 70 years. John 11: 25.26." In the Bible, the quote is "25. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?" This is interesting because the actual quote mentions death, but the inscription on the stone simply reads "Fell asleep."
10 November: a child's death
Children were often commemorated with specific images. Here, the motif invokes the image of a cradle, with a tied bow. At the bottom are a pair of baby shoes, along with a decorative scroll and flowers. Flowers invoke the idea of rebirth. The brief inscription reads "infant son." The marker is granite and lies in a church cemetery in southern Albemarle.
3 November: Floral Motifs
Floral motifs are very popular because they symbolize rebirth and growth. Often flowers are associated with women or children, to emphasize their supposed beauty and innocence. In this case there are two different floral elements: a rosette design in the center and more abstract leaves, possibly ivy, at the edges. The stone commemorates the life of a woman who died in the early 20th Century. There is an extra flourish in the design, three vertical tick marks. The end result is an elegant carving.
28 October: Halloween Symbolism
This week's gravestone is more of a hypothetical post. What if we used Halloween imagery on gravestones ? I find it counterintuitive that despite the association between death and Halloween in this country, that symbolism does not carry over onto our gravestones. This is in contrast to other mortuary celebrations (such as the Days of the Dead in Mexico) where there is an association between cultural practices (remembering the dead by picnicking in cemeteries) and mortuary rituals. I have yet to see a Halloween-inspired motif on a gravestone (no black cats, ghosts, jack-o-lanterns, or witches). But do drop me an email if you find one on your travels. In the meantime, Happy Halloween!
13 October: Hobbies
Often gravestone iconography focuses more on the individuals' life than on their death. In this late 20th-century, granite stone, the decedent (or their surviving family members) selected images that represent interests or hobbies. From left to right: a hammer, a football helmet, and a saw. This selection provides biographical information and substitutes for a more formal, written epitaph.
29 September: Kinship Relations
Inscriptions often provide clues about kinship relations. Here, the surviving children selected a pink granite marker for their "beloved mother." Note, the woman lived to be over 100 years old. The floral motif at the top is typical for indicating women (the color pink may also be a reference to her gender). The secondary inscription reads "Always in our Hearts."
8 September: Unpreserved Markers
This photo (taken several years ago) may be the last memorial for this spot. In this case the grave "stone" is made out of wood. While inexpensive and easy to carve, wood does not last long in the humid south. In this case, the wood is already splitting and it is impossible to say how long it has been in the ground. Moreover any inscription is long since eroded.
1 September: flush markers
Often grave hunters are expecting three-dimensional or upright markers. But during various time periods, flush markers are more popular. One theory behind this design was to make the markers less visible and thereby reduce the overwhelming sensation of walking amongst 100s of graves. A more practical advantage is that they can be mowed over by modern machines. This marker dates to the end of the 20th Century and contains no motifs and only a simple inscription.
19 August: Praying Hands in Sunlight
This week's stone combines the praying hands motif with the rays of the sun. The streaming sun can be associated with the heavens or with a sunrise or sunset. In this case, the rays appear to be heaven sent (from above) and bathe clasped hands in the sunlight. Note the nice decorative cuffs on the sleeves and how the artist used an optical illusion to provide the hands with "arms". If you look closer they are floating hands, sans arms.
4 August: Masonic Symbols
This week's motif combines two elements: that of Freemasonry and of American decorative arts. The latter refers to the carved drapery, including tassles, that figuratively drape the marble obelisk. The other motif is used by Masonic societies that portray three elements to symbolize the ethics of their group: the letter "G" for "God" or "geometry" (the natural order of things); a carpenter's t-square (for measuring right angles and, via a metaphor, behaving justly); and the compass (used by architects to draw circles and create boundaries, leaving everything in its rightful place). View the accompanying blog post about local masonic groups.
28 July: Employment Affiliation
This motif was found in the center of a granite gravestone in the Oakwood Cemetery. It reads "Charlottesville Fire Company" and lists a number "1" in the bottom-center (presumably the company's number). If you look closely you will see a ladder in the middle of the design. The surrounding motifs are stylized flowers and leaves. The deceased died in 1941 at age 62. His inscription reads simply "at rest."
21 July: Double Burial under one Stone
Unfortunately this stone is highly eroded and the names and dates are hard to read. But the form tells us something, even without words. The curved marker illustrates a double burial, in this case, two children (Margaret and Anne, who died in the 1870s). Although hard to appreciate from the photo, this is a small stone, which also symbolizes the identity of the deceased children.
15 July: Floral Motifs
Floral motifs have been common since the early 19th Century. They symbolize rebirth (for perennial flowers), life, and certain flowers are associated with mourning (such as lilies). Here we see two daisies on a gravestone dated 1923. The African American woman buried under this stone, Letitia, was born in 1852 (most likely into slavery). Roses and lilies are more common choices, perhaps Daisy's were her favorite flower or held a special significance for her or her family.
7 July: Head and Footstone Morphologies
Throughout much of the 19th Century headstones were commonly paired with footstones, marking the area of the grave. In an old graveyard it can be hard to read the names on the stones, making it difficult to determine associated head and footstones. A useful trick is using the shape and size of the stone as a guide. Footstones usually share some of the same design elements but are half the size of the headstone (as seen in the photo).
30 June: Euphemisms for Death
This gravestone illustrates an interesting motif (a day lily, a raised shield, and stylized architectural elements) and an interesting inscription. Notice the euphemism for death and how the 26-year old woman's identity is defined in relation to the men in her life. The stone reads: "Mary Willoughby, daughter of H.T.H Je.S. Duke, wife of Dr. Charles Slaughter. God Gave Her Oct. 3, 1857. He Called Her July 12, 1883." The stone lies in the Maplewood Cemetery.
16 June: Optimism
One of my favorite symbols, a finger pointing to heaven, indicating the journey of the soul after death. This hand is particularly ornate, wth a lace cuff, manicured nails, and surrounded by a laurel wreath pattern of foliage. The classic 19th century inscription reads, "In Memory of..." The stone is marble.
2 June: Memorializing new-borns
I've illustrated hand-carved stones in earlier posts. This stone is hand-carved, hand-inscribed (as opposed to a machine-cut or standardized script) and its prose differs slightly from the norm. Although difficult to read, the inscription begins "Children of An** & ****." There is no date and no visible list of names for the children. Most likely they died at birth or in infancy before they were given formal names. It's impossible to date the stone precisely, but it may be 100 years old or more.
26 May: Memorial Day Observances
Veterans are eligible for a government sponsored headstone. The standard, upright version is made of marble, 42 inches long, 13 inches wide and 4 inches thick, weighing about 230 pounds. These markers typically contain a religious symbol at the top of the stone. Most recently, the armed forces has approved the use of new symbols (such as Wicca, Christian Science, and Sikh). For a list of acceptable icons, click here. Other available morphologies are flat markers (made of bronze, marble, or granite) or a bronze niche (for a cremation). This post is in honor of those who have served and died for their country.
19 May: Poetry in Stone
Occasionally stones contain poetry. In this case, a stone found in the Maplewood Cemetery contains an excerpt from Romeo and Juliet. "Night’s candles are burnt out and rose cheeked dawn stands tiptoe on the misty mountain top." This is slightly modified from the complete verse: It was the lark, the herald of the morn, No nightingale: look, love, what envious streaks; Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east: Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops. I must be gone and live, or stay and die.
28 April: Motifs on Slave Gravestones
The gravestones erected by enslaved individuals are often locally available fieldstones, occasionally hand-carved. The example shown here is from an Albemarle County Plantation which contains a slave cemetery with a couple dozens burials. Two of the stones contain crosses, designed by taking advantage of a natural vein in the stone, intersected by a carved portion. In addition, the stone itself is shaped into a curved headstone. So although this stone, like many others of its kind, lacks an inscription, it illustrates artistic choices and deliberately selected mortuary motifs.
15 April: Gravestone Desecration
Hopefully this weekly update of gravestones has demonstrated the historic importance of these artifacts as stone genealogies and more. But this heritage and biographic information is lost when vandals destroy the material culture of cemeteries. This photo was taken earlier this week in the Maplewood Cemetery. Destruction has also occurred in the Daughters of Zion Cemetery (north of Oakwood). Please read the accompanying blog post this week to find out how you can help protect these valuable resources.
7 April: Ornamental Flower Vases
Sometimes elements of gravestone design serve functional as well as symbolic purposes. Here, a modern-day granite stone includes two flower vases. They are reminiscent of 19th Century two- and three-dimensional urns that symbolized the memory of the deceased. Today, urns are less common, but flower vases of all shapes and sizes are very popular. The motif combines a Valentine heart with a rose, accompanied by the inscription "In God's Care."
31 March: Here Lies...
This gravestone was erected by the "Virginia Conservation Commission" in 1948, decades after the deceased's death. While not very common, in this case an historic committee decided to sponsor a gravestone. The marker commemorates Shelton F. Leake, Sr. (1812-1884), a former lieutenant-governor of Virginia (1852-56). Leake was also a member of Congress and a criminal lawyer. It is not clear why the stone was erected, perhaps the original one was damaged or in poor condition. The stone lies in the Maplewood Cemetery.
24 March: Rock offerings at graves
In some cases, traditional markers (like the metal funeral home marker depicted here) are supplemented by one or two rocks. For example, in some Jewish traditions a pebble is placed on the grave (for possible explanations for this tradition, click here). Here in central Virginia, this practice is also found among some African American graves, such as the grave shown here. If anyone has a family tradition that explains this practice, please send an email to "lynn--locohistory.org" (replacing the -- with @).
10 March: Funeral Records
This week's entry focuses on records associated with gravestones: an on-line funeral home website. In the 1990s the J.F. Bell Funeral Home and the Charlottesville African-American Genealogy Group collaborated to compile death certificate records. The late Julian Burke and other members labored to collect the information and enter it into a computer spreadsheet. Mr John F. Bell owned the Funeral Home in 1917. It continues today as the oldest family run funeral home in Central Virginia and the area's oldest existing business owned by people of color. To search records from this funeral home, please visit the recently redesigned searchable site (click here).
3 March: Identifying Footstones
This week's photo reminds us of the distinction between headstones and footstones. A stone that lacks any data other than initials is, most likely, a footstone. A second clue is the small size of this stone, relative to the headstone. So here we see a footstone for an individual with the initials "M.M.B." It's useful to differentiate footstones from headstones so you don't overcount the number of individuals within a cemetery (i.e., double count one burial twice, based on the number of stones). This stone is a somewhat unusual material, pink granite and lies in the Maplewood Cemetery.
February 25th: Recognizing Uninscribed Gravestones
Most of the gravestones discussed here have inscriptions. But it is just as important, and culturally significant, to recognize uninscribed stones, such as this week's gravestone. This stone lies within a small family cemetery in Amherst County. While it is impossible to date precisely, it probably dates to the late 19th or early 20th Century. This style was once very common among poor families (or for children who died in infancy). Families with unmarked graves may want to map and label these memorials on paper so that future generations will know who is buried where.
February 4th: Preserving the Past for the Future
Studying the motifs on gravestones conveys information about family relationships, biographies, accomplishments, and ideas about death and religion. But none of this is possible if the stone does not survive. The marble gravestone has been broken off along its base and now lies facing towards the elements (a guaranteed way to erode inscriptions). The stone reads "At Rest," but those words will soon fade and eventually the entire text will become illegible. Unfortunately it requires some background in grave maintenance to conduct repairs that don't damage the stone further. For more information on conserving these valuable artifacts, visit the Chicora Foundation's informative website.
January 21st: Earliest Stone within a Cemetery
In addition to studying gravestones as artifacts, it is useful to analyze them to document historic events. This stone is the earliest dated memorial within the Daughters of Zion Cemetery (an African-American Cemetery located just north of Oakwood). This cemetery was founded by a woman's charitable group. The early historic documentation is spotty, but this stone, dated 1873, proves that the cemtery was in use by that date. Although difficult to read, the stone commemorates several Buckner children who all died young.
January 14th: kinship patterns in stone
Sometimes the morphology and placement of the stones is just as telling as the iconography. In this example, a husband and wife lie buried adjacent to each other. Even though they died a decade and a half apart, their stones share many similarities (raw material, shape, style, size, etc.). Many married couples purchase two stones upon the first death, to ensure continuity. Other couples share a stone to achieve identical commemorations. In this simple example, the couple includes their birth and death dates (no age) and simply list that they "died in New Orleans" (leaving a mystery as to how and why their remains were returned to Charlottesville for burial).
December 31st: Iron Fences
While this section focuses on gravestones, the same symbols can be found on other cemetery features. In this example, a wrought iron fence, we see two of the common gravestone icons: angels and urns. The urn is a euphemism for the deceased, not a literal suggestion that cremated remains are inside (cremations did not become popular until decades later). The complete image contains symmetrical angels, one on either side of the urn, to assist the deceased on its flight to heaven.
December 17th: Old Style Dates on Gravestones
Which famous C-ville resident died on the 4th of July, 1826 ? Hint: the inscription reads: Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia. If you look at his birth date it reads "April 2, 1743 O.S." The acronym stands for "Old Style" and refers to the Julian Calendar. Britian (and its American colony) adopted the Gregorian (or New Style) calendar on Sept. 2, 1752. A day followed by Sept 14 in order to correct for the difference between the two systems. Since Jefferson's life spanned the two systems, his birth date was listed in the O.S., and his death in the N.S.
December 10th: Regeneration
Most gravestone symbols have a literal and figurative meaning. Here, the symbol of the vertical and horizontal line is meant to be read litereally as a cross (itself a symbol) and figuratively as a symbol of rebirth. Similarly, the ivy is a plant commonly found growing in cemeteries, but figuratively it represents life and regeneration with each season. Taken together, these two symbols suggest a rebirth for the deceased.
November 26th: The one that got away...
As mentioned in an earlier post, new technologies have opened up a wide range of designs. This week's grave features a fish (a trout ?), conveniently jumping out of the water and posing, sans hook. Symbols of hobbies or passions are becoming increasingly popular on gravestones.
November 19th: Rings
Gravestones provide information about much more than death. One example of this breadth is the twentieth century practice of inscribing a couple's wedding date. In this stone, the marriage is symbolized by two rings and the stone includes both the date and the location of the wedding. 'Til Death do us Part, literally and figuratively.
November 5th: Rest in Peace
After seven months of posting gravestone symbols I realized I had not yet mentioned a favorite cliché: Rest in Peace or, more commonly, RIP. As it turns out, this inscription is only popular during certain time periods (mostly the last 100 years). Here is an artful RIP, inscribed on a scroll, bordered by ivy leaves (often a metaphor for longevity or immortality).
October 29th: the innocence of childhood
In response to the forces of industrialism and changes in domestic patterns, nineteenth-century Americans placed a renewed and romanticized emphasis on the purity and detachedness of childhood. In gravestones this stage of life is commemorated with symbols of innocence, such as this grave that contains a carved dove for a child who died before his first birthday.
October 22nd: Socio-cultural identities
Technological developments often impact material culture. In the case of gravestones, the ability to carve granite with lazers and transfer images from photographs and drawings has exponentially increased the variability of gravestone symbols. This mortuary image pertains to the life of the deceased, not his death. Given the choice of symbolism, one would assume that James was a farmer. The interesting question is whether he chose the symbol for himself, or whether a surviving family member made the selection.
October 15th: Cats and Dogs, Living together for eternity
This image is a compiled photograph from two sides of a headstone, shared by a wife and husband. The dog's head was carved on the wife's side, on the left, while the cat's head accompanied the husband's inscription. The stone also contained a heart, commemorating their marriage in the 1930s (decorated with roses and a dove). The names were inscribed within two-dimensional open books, lying on either side of the heart. It's good to see that a cat and dog person can live together for so many decades.
October 8: Hands
Hands are a common motif, shown pointing, shaking, or praying (as seen here). In this case, a male set of hands (perhaps wearing clergy robes, given the cuffs), prays while holding a rose. The rose is often a symbol of love or affection. The two motifs combined suggest that flowers are brought as an offering to the grave, in memory of "Mother."
October 1: an eternal tree of life
This stone contains layers of metaphors: a tree of life, shaped like a cross (and "carried" by the larger trunk), and kinship references ("father & mother" carved into the trunk of tree). The tree is a symbol of life, but it is unusual to see a figurative wooden cross (literally made out of stone) attached to a larger tree stump (itself a possible symbol of a life cut off before its natural end). Notice the additional "cut branch" on the left-hand side of the stone. The inscription is outside of the photograph, below the image.
September 24th: Virtual Footstones
During certain periods, footstones are placed roughly six feet away from a headstone (to mark the end of the coffin). In this 20th Century example (c. 1920s/1940s), the marker commemorates a husband and wife. In lieu of separate footstones, the granite stone has the initials of the couple inscribed on either side (highlighted in orange on the photograph). This tells us that J.O.A. (the husband) is buried on the left, while A.L.S. (the wife) is on the right.
September 17th: Eternal Flame
This stone is unusual for several reasons: it's made out of metal, it commemorates mothers and sons, and it has an upside-down flame carved in bas-relief. Usually a flame is associated with eternal life, e.g., the ever burning flame at the tomb of the unknown soldier in the Arlington National Cemetery. Here the fire is upside down, symbolizing the end of a life.
September 3rd: At Rest on Labor Day
In honor of today's holiday I picked a popular inscription: At Rest. While a common euphemism for death (s/he is resting or sleeping), "rest in peace" is only popular in the 20th Century. Moreover, the oft cited "R.I.P" in cartoons is rarely carved on gravestones. Similar sentiments are seen in numerous variations: Resting in the Lord, Asleep in Jesus, Eternal Rest. In contrast to many of the other stones in this series, this one lies horizontal and flush with the ground (another style popular in the 20th Century as lawn mowers gain in popularity).
August 27th: uninscribed fieldstone
In contrast to the earlier posts here, this gravestone does not contain any writing or symbol. Instead, it is an uninscribed fieldstone. The raw material is locally available and the stone was probably roughly carved by hand ( along the top edge). The stone marks the burial of an individual who died in the 19th Century. None of the graves in this small, rural cemetery are inscribed, making it difficult to ascertain which families were buried here.
Some images are particularly poignant. This 1957 gravestone (located in the Riverview Cemetery) memorializes the death of an infant. Although no age is given, the endearment reads "our baby." The 3-dimensional motif is a pair of baby shoes, clearly symbolizing the deceased. The stone is carved from marble and is small in size, another indication that it marks the grave of a young child.
Here I've combined an old and new style in 1 photograph. In the upper left hand corner is a finger, pointing to heaven, carved in marble. This was a popular motif in the 19th Century, symbolizing the ascent of the deceased to heaven. The larger, granite stone is modern (c. 1990s), and shows the same motif, but with a little more detail. Interestingly, all of the hands are drawn as men's hands. A caption below the motif read "Precious Lord Take My Hand."
Sometimes a gravestone provides biographical information. This remarkable woman had 19 children before dying in 1997 at the age of 95. The gravestone also contains several classic motifs: praying hands, a kneeling angel, and a cross. The stone itself is carved out of granite (a popular raw material for gravestones in the 20th and 21st centuries). This gravestone lies within an historic African-American cemetery that has been in use for more than 150 years.
28 May: Veteran's Stone
In honor of Memorial Day - 28 May 2007 - Veterans are often buried under distinct gravestones. The US government provides standard marble headstones for veterans of the US armed forces. The classic design is a white marble stone, inscribed with the name, rank, and birth/death of the veteran (often with the name of the war that s/he served in).The example shown here includes a Christian cross at the top of the stone. More recently, the US government has ok'ed the use of symbols from other faiths, including Wicca.
The "shaking hands" motif is similar to a symbol discussed earlier, the pointing hand. In this case, the shaking hands can be interpreted as the deceased meeting their maker. Interestingly, the two hands are always depicted as men's hands, even if the grave commemorates the death of a woman. This gravestone lies in a family cemetery west of C-ville, marking the grave of a 23-year-old boy who died in 1924.
This gravestone is unusual for several reasons: it's made from iron, it features a 3-D image, and the inscription is a twist on a very common one. A very popular inscription is "gone but not forgotten." This stone reads "gone but still loved and remembered." The stone commemorates the death of a young girl and can be found in the Maplewood Cemetery. The bird, most likely a dove, symbolizes the soul of the deceased, ascending to heaven.
Sometimes the "motif" becomes the "morphology" (or physical form) of the stone. The gravestone above is a perfect example, where the cross motif has become the shape of the stone itself. Placed above a two-tiered platform, the cross symbolizes the Christian beliefs of the deceased and provides a subtle parallel to the death of Jesus on a cross.
This week's gravestone illustrates an interesting morphology, rather than a motif. In the image above you can see two "table" gravestones. They lie horizontal, rather than vertical, and are built out of bricks. These are usually associated with wealthier graves and are not very common. The graves date to 1969 and 1999. This photo was taken in the Glendower Episcopal Church.
The data that is included on gravestones changes over time (literally). In the early 19th Century it was popular to include highly descriptive inscriptions concerning the time and place of death. In this 1804 gravestone, the deceased is listed as having "departed this life the 19th Decr, 1804, at 4 O clock P.M. aged eight months. Sometimes stones are even more precise, providing minutes and seconds.
This gravestone combines two popular 19th/20th Century motifs: the crown and the cross. The cross is a symbol of the Christian faith and illustrates a hope for resurrection and salvation. The crown is a symbol of glory after death and/or triumph over death. The design of the cross is fairly standard, but the crowns vary from British-inspired regalia to the almost jester-like design of the crown seen in this photo.
One of my all time favorite motifs, the finger pointing down. As discussed 2 weeks ago, the upward pointing finger is an optimistic reference to the deceased ascending the heaven. This one.....is either more pessimistic or, more likely, a symbolic reference to the location of the deceased's place of eternal rest. The stone can be found in the UVA Cemetery in the confederate section and marks the grave of Leonard, the son of "Hore & Hannah." The stone is hard to read, Hore may be for Horace. It actually looks like Hope, but I doubt a mid-19th Century commemorates two mothers.
This gravestone is located in the Maplewood cemetery. The carving is of a 3-dimensional tree trunk, symbolizing an interrupted life (i.e., just the trunk, not the complete tree). Sometimes the number of broken branches correlates with the number of deceased family members buried at the site. But this trunk has more broken limbs than burials.
Often cut tree trunks or broken columns indicate a life that was cut short.
This is one of my favorite gravestone icons: the finger pointing to heaven. One assumes that it represents an ascent to heaven. Which leads one to wonder whether anyone is ever buried under a finger pointing down.
This grave may be hard to read on the screen, but its epitaph is very poignant. The gravestone lies within a small family plot on a nearby plantation. Its morphology is a simple curved marble stone, with the deceased's name, birth and death dates: 1861 to 1880. The inscription is typical of late Victorian melodrama, coupled with a family poet. The inscription reads: "Our treasure is in heaven / the gift in the strong hand/ of the great Giver.....Our hearts grow very lonely/ When we think of him as dead/ Absent from our home forever/ Sleeping in his silent bed/ We know that he is happy/ dwelling where the angels dwell/ and our crushed hearts murmer softly: / Jesus doeth all things well."
The Lamb is a classic symbol of innocence and youth. They are usually reserved for a child's grave. The stone above is a rare exception. The deceased was 61 years old. In this case, rather than innocence, the lamb may refer to a Christian belief in purity and a metaphor for the "lamb of God."
March 5th: Masonic Societies
Some motifs highlight a person's hobbies or social affiliations. The motif above is the classic Masonic symbol, indicating membership in the Freemasonry Society. This all-male group is veiled in secrecy, using esoteric symbols to communicate their belief in a Supreme Being. The image above is one of their iconic symbols, the compass, surveyor's t-square, and the letter "G" which is often interpreted as an acronym for "God" or "Geometry."
February 26th: Footstones
This week's gravestone doesn't have a fancy motif, instead it's just letters. But I include it so that you can recognize footstones as opposed to headstones or family memorials. In the photo at the right, the large memorial topped by an urn is the family marker. The footstone lies about 6 feet away, and is a much smaller, curved stone. The complete name of the deceased can be found on the memorial, while the footstone only contains the initials, "R.S" and the abbreviation for "junior." Large family markers, surrounded by smaller footstones are popular in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
February 19th: Victorian Portraiture
Similar in spirit to the last two posts, this 19th Century gravestone (in Oakwood) illustrates a highly sentimentalized attitude towards death and loss. Although somewhat eroded, the stone includes a bust of a young boy, surrounded by a laurel wreath. The laurel wreath was worn by ancient Romans after victory in battle. Here it is probably meant metaphorically, as a testament to victory over death or immortality.
February 12th: Mourning Family
I promise, I will have images other than mourners, but I couldn't resist a second stone with the same theme: the importance of mourning the deceased. Here, a wife holds a handkerchief to her head, while weeping at the pedestal of her husband's grave (decorated with an urn). Her two children stand behind her, holding hands. A weeping willow stands in the background and the inscription reads "scared to the memory of." The stone is in the Maplewood cemetery.
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