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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - Cemetery Art

Tombstone Tuesday – To participate in Tombstone Tuesday simply create a post which includes an image of a gravestone of one or more ancestors and it may also include a brief description of the image or the ancestor. This is an ongoing series at GeneaBloggers.

A friend of mine did a presentation one day at our local DAR chapter meeting on cemetery art. It sparked my interest and I thought I would delve into it more deeply.

Headstones, also called tombstones or gravestones, are memorial stones set at the head of a grave. Originally a headstone was the stone lid of a stone coffin, or the coffin itself, and a grave stone was the stone slab that was laid over a grave. Now, all three terms are used for grave markers placed at the head of a grave. At one time they also used a smaller foot stone inscribed with the initials of the deceased. You don't see these very often any more and some footstones were later removed. Sometimes families bought (or buy) a group of plots. They will put one large family memorial stone some where in the plots and smaller grave markers were placed for each individual.

There were many who couldn't afford tombstones. Their graves are unmarked. At the time of burial they may have been marked by family members with a rock, often a common field stone. Sometimes they made a wooden marker which wouldn't last long. My own great grandfather William Eli Huneycutt made a crude slate marker for one of his children that passed away as a toddler. He tried to etch the inscription himself. Later he was financially able to replace it with a purchased gravestone. I have his original slate marker now. When a grave is unmarked, the immediate family would know where the grave was but it's been forgotten now. This is so sad. Often you can tell where a grave is by the indentation in the earth but who knows who is buried there. Some churches kept records but many didn't or the records were lost in fires or by neglect.

Other times there was some big event and there weren't enough resources available for the volume of dead. For instance during a cholera strike, a flood, a fire, Spanish Flu pandemic, war, etc. Too many dead, too few materials and labor left to take care of it. Sometimes whole families were gone. They could have even been buried in mass graves because bodies had to be processed quickly before they decomposed and brought disease. I know at some Civil War battlefields, the dead were buried on sight, in situ. But later, they were dug up and transferred to a cemetery, whether one nearby where the battle occurred or returned home. You can imagine how bodies became lost in such chaotic times and before the advent of DNA, computers, fingerprints, etc.

Head stones are made from a variety of materials: marble, granite, iron, bronze, field stone, sand stone, even cement. Fieldstone is stone collected from the surface of fields where it occurs naturally. It's often used on the land it was collected from as stone fences, stone houses, etc. Sandstone is durable, yet soft enough to carve easily. Some sand stone markers are so well preserved that individual chisel marks are discernible, while others have delaminated and crumbled to dust. Delamination occurs when moisture gets between the layers of the sandstone. As it freezes and expands the layers flake off. Marble looks nice and was more expensive but the mild acid in rainwater can slowly dissolve marble and limestone over time, which can make inscriptions unreadable. Granite is a hard stone and requires skill to carve by hand. Until the early 18th century granite could only be carved by hand tools with generally poor results. A key breakthrough was the invention of steam-powered cutting and dressing tools by Alexander MacDonald of Aberdeen, inspired by seeing ancient Egyptian granite carvings. In 1832 the first polished tombstone of Aberdeen granite to be erected in an English cemetery was installed at Kensal Green cemetery. Granite memorials became a major status symbol in Victorian Britain and that transferred to America later. Iron grave markers and decorations were popular during the Victorian era in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, often being produced by specialist foundries or the local blacksmith. Cast iron headstones have lasted for generations while wrought ironwork often only survives in a rusted or eroded state.

Let's look at some marked and unmarked graves from a line in my own family. The Millers. Anderson Miller and his wife Cynthia Hickam Miller had 9 children. My great grandmother was the baby of the family, Noda Vesta Miller. Noda married my great grandfather, John Edward Lamb. They had 6 girls. Noda was pregnant with the last girl when the Spanish Flu pandemic hit. First they lost little 14 yrs old Sueda. Then Noda gave birth to another baby girl but Noda died 4 days later on 1/26/1919. Ed named the baby after her mother but little Noda only lived a few months. All 3 are buried at the old Antioch Cemetery near Hot Springs, Madison County, NC which is in the western NC mountains. Sueda and her mother, Noda, have headstones. The family story was that the baby was buried with her mother but the baby died several months later. I don't think they would have dug up Noda to place the baby in the coffin. But she may be buried next to her mother in an unmarked grave. Here is an old photo of someone in the family took showing the headstones.

You can see the road was unpaved and the cemetery was on a steep hill (not the usual hilltop)and wasn't being cared for. It looks like whoever took the photo had brought a scythe and cleared it for the photo.
My mother took us back there in the Spring of 1994. I got these photos while we were there. This was at the beginning of my own genealogy journey. This is looking from the road up to the graves. As you can see, the graveyard was not being kept up.

From the hill looking down, Dad cleared Noda and Sueda's graves. Noda's is the first one. My niece, Jenny, is crouched next to Sueda's headstone.

Here is 3 generations at my great grandmother's grave. I'm the one in the yellow tshirt

My husband, Dad and I went back up there in November, 2009. The road is paved! The cemetery is being kept up now! I was 19 years into my genealogy journey so I took more precautions. I saved the original photos but I also made a set with labeling on it that gives the GPS coordinates, directions and who is buried there. I also tagged and captioned the photos using software. The first photo is from the top of the cemetery looking down towards the road.

This one is looking up from the road side.

If you look carefully you can see some indentations which indicate unmarked graves.
I know that Noda's mother, Cynthia, who died in 1929, was buried here because it says that on her death certificate. I don't have a death certificate for her father because he died in 1907 before they kept death certificates. This means I don't know where he was buried but I think I could safely assume he's buried here with his daughter, granddaughters and wife. I have to wonder if these unmarked graves above and below Noda and Sueda are her parents but who knows which ones are which?

It's hard to see but Noda's arched tombstone has a flying dove with an olive branch in it's beak in a circle in the arch. In Christianity a flying dove represents the Holy Spirit. (John 1:32) When shown with an olive sprig it means Hope or Promise because Noah sent out a dove after the Flood and when it came back with an olive twig he knew the waters had receded. A flying dove also represents resurrection as in your spirit released and flying to Heaven. Arches symbolize the passage to heaven. Triumphant entry, a victory over death.

Sueda's tombstone was an inferior stone compared to her mother's. It's inscription only and it's already so degraded that it's barely readable.

Here is another one I took of one of Stan's great great grandfathers graves. It has the pathway to Heaven, the open gates to Heaven, the dove flying into Heaven.

Let's look at other cemetery art. The phrase "Memento Mori" is a Latin phrase commonly translated as "Be mindful of death." It can also mean "Remember that you are mortal," "Remember you will die," or "Remember your death." It seems to be a term used for cemetery art. A person who is proficient in cemetery art is called a taphophile.

This photo was taken by me at Savannah's Colonial Cemetery.

I took this photo in the Colonial Cemetery, Savannah, GA. The hourglass symbolized time had run out. The flowers on this tombstone are forget-me-nots. Remember the arches symbolize the passage to heaven, triumphant entry through Heaven's gates. In the 1700s the PA German gravestone carvers made the whole stone the archway, with the columns on the sides the stone and the arch, with it's keystone, being the top of the stone. In the 1800s, the archway was usually confined to the top half of the stone, and often contained another symbol like Noda's flying dove with olive sprig in beak. This slate stone has the arch with side columns indicating the passage to Heavan.

The winged skull motifs are very common on Puritan tombs, because the Puritans disliked visual representations of religious themes like crosses, angels and saints. As late as the 19th century, some people had a taste for the macabre. The winged skull death's head dating to around the 17th and 18th centuries was still popular and, of course, symbolized death, the inevitability of death. The wings can imply that time flies or the flight of the soul, the ascension to Heaven. Sometimes it's accompanied with crossed bones. Crossed to represent the cross of Christ or just the presence of death, mortality. Many times the engraving is a crude skull with grin and eye sockets but sometimes it's more detail. A full skeleton represents the decay of death.

I took this photo at Colonial Cemetery, Savannah, GA.

I took this one at the Colonial Cemetery, Savannah, GA. It has the arch and a winged cherub's head. Winged soul gravestones have a cherub face on them. Cherubs in general are said to represent innocence, divine wisdom, or, occasionally, the death of a child. These winged soul images, and occasional ascending angels, are meant to represent the hope of resurrection.Of course, the wings represent the spirit (or soul) signified the flight to Heaven. Sometimes it's accompanied with a crown which represented our eternal life in Heaven and the rewards we shall recieve.
2 Timothy 4:8 KJV Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

James 1:12 KJV Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.

1 Peter 5:4 KJV And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

I took this one at the Colonial Cemetery, Savannah, GA. This gravestone has an arch with shoulders. It's engraved with an urn with a flaming finial on top. The urn represents the body which contains the spirit of the person. Our bodies are merely vessels. Urns were used by Greeks to hold the ashes of a person and Egyptians used urns to hold the vital organs of a dead loved one so the urn became the symbol of the body. The flaming finial indicates that the spirit of man is eternal or undying remembrance (like the eternal flame at President John F. Kennedy's tomb). There is a weeping willow draping over the urn which symbolizes grief, sorrow, lament, tears, mourning.

I took this one at the Colonial Cemetery, Savannah, GA. The shape of the top of this headstone is called a typanum. This one has an urn which indicates the body as the vessel of the soul. This one also has a weeping willow to indicate mourning and grief. The wilted flowers were often used on the headstones of women and children to represent fragility or premature death.

Here is another one with a wilting flower, or broken bud, which indicated the fragility of this infant's life. A premature death. I took this one in a cemetery lost to the woods. It's in one of Stan's lines.

I took this one at the Colonial Cemetery, Savannah, GA. This typanum headstone has another urn and weeping willow. It also has a tree trunk which indicates an adult's life cut off in it's prime.

I took this one at the Colonial Cemetery, Savannah, GA. An urn with flaming finial. The drapery on the urn shows deep mourning (much like they used to put black bunting on porches, windows and doors to a home in mourning).

I took this one at the Colonial Cemetery, Savannah, GA. The broken column is meant to show a pillar of the family, or head of the family, has died. It is sometimes draped to indicate mourning. It can also mean a life was broken short.

I took this one at the Colonial Cemetery, Savannah, GA. If you pay attention to the circle, it's actually a coiled snake. This is an ancient symbol of everlasting life. Most of the time the snake has swallowed it's tail and that is called an oroboro

Here is one I took in one of my lines. If you look carefully you can see a hand with a finger pointing up to Heaven.

Another one that I took.

Other hand symbols are clasped hands which indicate the handshake of farewell or goodbye. The praying hands for the prayer for eternal life and pious devotion. Hands giving a blessing to those left behind. A hand pointing down is the Hand of God descending from Heaven. A writing hand as in writing names in the Lamb's Book of Life. One hand coming down and another hand going up is the reaching of the person for God's embrace.

This one shows fern fronds that symbolizes humility and sincerity or palm fronds which indicates victory over death.

Here is one I took that has the palm frond and a sprig of ivy. The palm frond is victory over death and the sprig of ivy means friendship and immortality.

I took this one at the Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, SC. The palm tree symbolized martyrdom and victory over life.

I took this one at the Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, SC. This one not only has a palm tree but what looks like a fallen palm underneath. A broken palm tree is symbolic of the destruction or death of the Jewish nationalism. There are shields and arrows around the palm. Arrows usually symbolize mortality and martyrdom. the shields could be a family crest or coat of arms. On this one particular one the same vignette is on the shields too. Otherwise I'm not sure.

I took these at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, SC. The cross of Christ surrounded by lilies. The lilies represent purity and virginity. It could be a symbol of their youth, virtue. In some cases it speaks of the Virgin Mary. In rarer cases it may indicate the deceased death was in fighting to preserve her virginity.

I took this at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, SC. A triumphal arch of flowers welcoming the deceased to Heaven with a dove on top. A hand pointing down holding the chains of life in one finger is the Hand of God. The broken link means the bonds to earth have been broken.

I took this at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, SC. The anchor was often used on sailor's graves. But for symbolism it represented steadfastness, hope.

I took this at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, SC. This one has a rope border and Lilies of the Valley. Rope represents eternity, binding and connection. The Lilies of the Valley indicates purity, innocence, virginity. They tend to represent renewal and resurrection, as they are among the first flowers to bloom in the spring. After the death of winter, spring comes with the advent of the first flowers. It's an awakening.

I took this at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, SC. This cross is covered with Passion Flowers. The Passion Flower symbolizes Christ's passion. Five petals and five sepals are the 10 apostles (leaving out Judas the betrayer & Peter because he denied knowing Jesus). The purple carolla Bosio reportedly had 72 filaments, the number of thorns in Jesus's crown. The three pistil stigmas are nails. The five stamens are the number of wounds. The white petals symbolize Jesus' purity. The leaf represents the spear that placed the wound in Jesus's side. The dark spots under the leaves are the 33 pieces of silver paid to Judas. When the flowers are spent after a single day (the time Jesus spent on the cross), the petals do not drop from the vine but re-close over the ovary, and this symbolizes the Hidden Wisdom that constitutes the Mysteries of the Cross, and is like Jesus enclosed in the tomb. The clinging tendrils are the cords of Jesus's bondage or the lashes of the whip used to torture Jesus. The fruit of the Passion Flower represents the humanity on earth, the ones He came to save.

I took this at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, SC. The full blown rose indicates perfection and that the deceased died in the prime of life. It also symbolizes beauty and unfailing love. A rosebud indicated the death of a child. A partially opened rose indicated the death of a teenager. A broken rose means a life cut short.

This one has a lot of symbolism to it. The angel of death has a scythe which indicates the harvest of death. The body is cut down but the soul is reaped. The toppling column indicates the ending of life. The book indicates the Bible and the olive branch symbolizes peace. she also holds burning torch which indicates the immortality of her spirit.

There is so much more in cemetery art but I will leave you here. You can do Google searches for more.

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