Many spooky stories and scary movies use a graveyard for their backdrop. But cemeteries are fixtures of the American landscape, providing glimpses of our past. They reveal history about how we lived – and died. In today’s blog, we’re going to take a look at five interesting facts about American graveyards.
The epitaphs mean something.
An epitaph is a short text inscription on a tombstone or memorial honoring a deceased loved one. In some cases, a person chooses their epitaph during their funeral planning. Others are chosen by those responsible for planning the burial after a loved one dies.
Historical epitaphs often administered warnings about the certainty of death. Some even gave hints of the person who may have caused the death.
As attitudes toward death changed, epitaphs changed to convey hope, grief, or even humor: “I Told You I Was Sick.”
It’s not uncommon to see someone’s associations noted at their gravesite.
As an example, if you see the word “WOW” on a gravestone, you have found the burial place of a former Woodmen of the World member. WOW is an American Fraternal Insurance Company that was said to have given widows $100 and a free tombstone if they put the company logo on the stone.
Other fraternal organizations may include:
- Daughters of the American Revolution
- Eastern Star
- Knights of Columbus
- Masonic Lodge
- Royal Neighbors
- Sons of the American Revolution
Other carvings on gravestones also carry meaning.
It’s not just the epitaphs and their associations!
Other gravestone carvings can carry meaning:
- A winged hourglass indicates that time flies.
- An hourglass on its side symbolizes time stopping for the dead.
- A broken tree or flower symbolizes a life cut short.
- Hands locked in a prayerful position can signify devotion.
- A carving of a hand pointing down can indicate a sudden death.
- A handshake engraving can reflect the clasped hands of a couple reuniting in death.
- Children’s gravestones often have carvings of lambs.
- Detailed carved figurines of family dogs perch atop the graves of their human friends.
The stone itself can reveal family wealth or military affiliation.
American gravestones are typically granite, marble, limestone, sandstone, slate, quartzite, schist, wood, and even petrified wood, in some cases.
Throughout history, wealthy families often opted for headstones of marble or granite. More impoverished families generally selected less expensive headstone materials. These included sandstone, lime, or even wood.
On the other hand, military gravestones are typically uniform in design and made of marble, bronze, or granite.
Many cemeteries in the U.S. lay out the plots so gravestones face East.
An east-west orientation for gravestones is the most common throughout the world.
Early American settlers wanted their feet pointing east and their heads toward the west. In this orientation, they were ready to rise and face the sun of a new day when they were reborn.
When the Rural Cemetery Movement became popular in the 1830s, graveyard layouts included winding roads, hilly terrain, and stones facing different directions.
What was your favorite of our facts about American graveyards?
Personally, we like to look at the gravestone carvings for their meanings. But we’d love to hear from you! What did you think of our facts about American graveyards.
We take pride in helping cemeteries, churches, communities, and families preserve their memorials’ structural integrity and beauty. Contact Monument Solutions for preservation assistance today.