We begin our cemetery information with a small lecture on headstone/tombstone architecture. After you’ve walked through as many cemeteries as I have, you can tell the era in which a person died by the architectural design of their stone.
Picture 1: This one, for instance is pretty new. I did not take a picture of the front of the stone because that is not what is important. Notice the engraving on the top side of the stone (here’s a closeup at Pic 2). Notice the depth of the design and the sharpness of the design. This is because of the modern techniques of sandblasting used to make this stone’s design. You won’t see that on stones prior to 1990.
Picture 5: This stone is late 1700s – those stones are thinner (remember no big machinery to haul it out of the ground and then to the cemetery in one piece). The writing would have been done BY HAND on this one by a master stonecarver. I find that amazing.
Picture 6: Tombstones are now even polished to a smooth finish. I love the way that reflections show up in polished granite, whether it be pink, black or regular. This picture is a great example of the old way next to the new way. Notice the rose on top of the stone. I love this stone every time I see it – the rose is made from metal. Isn’t it gorgeous?
Picture 7: This is a highly stylized white marble monument. It’s relatively new – know how I can tell? First, the grains of the marble are showing, instead of being polished down. This is a modern design. Marble is harder to get now and very expensive, so it’s not used as often as it was in the 1800s.
Picture 8: Marble, because it is a “softer” stone, is also easier to carve into beautiful iconic symbols. Like this one. We’ll go over iconography on a later blog, but notice the broken pillar and the funeral wreath on this stone. These are wonderful examples of iconography from the Victorian era.
Picture 9: I personally have a fondness for unusual stones used in headstones. Look at this pink unpolished granite stone. You can definitely tell it came from the clay-infused granite of North Georgia. Elberton, Georgia is considered the granite (read, tombstone) capital of the world. I order and travel directly to Elberton and haul my own stones back when I order them.
Pictures 9 and 10 are actually headstones side by side in the cemetery. These are the stones of a son, daughter in law, father and mother. The father was a Civil War General (iconography lesson in future post). Notice the differences in architecture. You can tell the difference in eras between the three burials and tell that the son didn’t have as much money as Daddy did. The stone for the son is much less ornate than his parent’s.
I could go on and on, but this first lesson is great for now. I welcome your constructive feedback.
My first blog in this reinvention has got to be about cemetery visitation. For me, a walk through an old cemetery is relaxing. And it’s a great place to learn for anyone of any age. What can be taught at a cemetery?
History – what illnesses were rampant at that time? If there are five graves in the same time frame, some illness or event must have occurred. To what historical events were the deceased probably a witness?
Respect – watch where you walk, don’t trample the graves, set upright any flags that may have fallen over.
Geology, Architecture and Period Design– This is my FAVORITE part of cemetery work.
For your next cemetery visit, please observe these rules:
- It’s considered disrespectful to walk over a grave. Try to step around if possible. And do I even have to mention that climbing on a tombstone is wrong?
- NEVER, NEVER, NEVER “rub” a tombstone. That will destroy the stone, especially old ones that are not as thick and are not engraved as deeply as newer stones are. I will share with you how to read a tombstone that is hard to read.
- Be careful. Tombstones, especially old ones, can fall over easy. They are heavy enough to break bones and have killed people. For the same reason, watch where you walk and do not run in a cemetery. If you fall; you will get hurt.
- If you see that a flag has fallen over, set it upright. If you see trash, pick it up. If a stone has been vandalized or needs attention, let the cemetery staff know about it.
- Feel free to walk around. Historically, cemeteries were the nation’s first parks. They were constructed with long, winding driveways and benches for sitting. They were made for visits.
I’m sure I can add more rules, but I want people to enjoy my column and maybe take a trip or two to their local cemetery.
My favorite local cemeteries are Elmwood in Columbia; Quaker Cemetery in Camden; Old Presbyterian in Camden, my family graveyards on Fort Jackson; and the Methodist cemetery in downtown Ridgeway. I love it when people suggest a cemetery to me, especially if it is off the beaten path. In my blog, I’ll try to introduce you to some of those as well. There will be a little history, a lot of humor, and nothing too morbid (at least not to me).
I’ll close today’s lesson with two great ways to read an “unreadable” tombstone:
- Grind up chalk in a blender and with your hand (hand, I tell you!), rub it onto the stone. The words will jump out at you.
- Use cheap flour. Place it in your hand and RUB it GENTLY onto the stone. During of my boy’s school projects, it suddenly occurred to me that flour plus water (i.e. rain), equal GLUE. Although this type of glue is very water soluble (it will come off) – It will take several rains to wash this mixture off. Take a brush and water with you. Brush off all excess when you are done and then give it a good rinse before you leave. The next rain storm will take care of the rest.
- Take aluminum foil, tear off a sheet and hold it onto the stone. With your finger or the eraser tip of a pencil, lightly press into the stone until the words pop out. This takes time, patience and foil is kind of expensive. But the results are cool looking.
My next blogs will contain photos and I’ll begin teaching. Our subjects:
- What materials, finishes and designs make a “good” tombstone? Why should I have a stone?
- How are tombstones made?
- How are the words put on a stone?
- How to care for a headstone without damaging it.
- Why do headstones tilt? How do you fix it?
- How were people buried in different historical time frames?
- Symbols and headstones.
- Tours of Elmwood, Quaker and other historical cemeteries. Feel free to suggest something local you think I’d like to see.