Musical Themes

The graves of musicians almost always display symbols of music such as musical instruments, or notes of a song which may represent a favourite hymn or a song written by the deceased.

Historically, a lyre or harp was representative of heavenly music. When displayed with a broken string it symbolized the end of life.

This gravestone in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, marks the burial place for Professor George Edward Percy Careless, a pioneer of 1864. He led the Salt Lake Theatre orchestra and was appointed Tabernacle choir leader.

HARP utah

Ebenezer Beesley succeeded George Careless as the Conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

HARP beesely

A harp also indicates Irish heritage as in this example of an elaborately decorated Celtic cross in the graveyard at Bonamargy Friary in Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, Ireland.
HARP ireland

Cindy Walker was an American songwriter responsible for a large number of popular and enduring songs recorded by many different artists. She was also a country music singer and dancer. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997. This attractive memorial is located in Mexia City Cemetery, Texas, USA.
GUITAR abcnews_cindy_walker

As an American musician and singer-songwriter Charles Hardin Holley, known as Buddy Holly, was influential in the rock and roll scene. In 1959, at the age of 22 when his career was taking off, he was tragically killed in a plane crash. He is buried in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas. The flat gravestone is engraved with a depiction of his Fender Stratocaster.
GUITAR paste

Johnny Ramone was the third member of the punk rock sensations, The Ramones, to pass away. He is memorialized with a bronze statue. The 50 year old Johnny (aka John Cummings) joined dead Ramones Joey and Dee Dee on September 15, 2004 after succumbing to prostate cancer. The $100,000 statue depicts the beloved NYC mophead with his Mosrite guitar in hand. It was sculpted by artist Wayne Toth. The memorial is located in Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, USA.
CA_Los Angeles_Johnny Ramone

The almost illegible gravestone located in Brompton Cemetery, London, England, is marked with musical notes. I searched for a long time trying to match the few visible words to a verse or lyric, but without any luck.

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Colonel Sanford C. Faulkner was a businessman and politician in Arkansas, USA. As a tribute to his life and his talent as a fiddle player (he composed the tune “The Arkansas Traveler”, which was the State song of Arkansas from 1949 to 1963), a marker was placed at his grave in 1954 by the Pulaski County Historical Society. The gravestone is inscribed; Known to his friends as Sandy known to fame as the Composer of the Arkansas Traveler.

This example of a standard CWGC (Commonwealth War Graves Commission) gravestone honours Second Lieutenant Hugh Gordon Langton, a talented violinist who died in 1917 while serving with the 4th Batallion London Regiment Royal Fusiliers. This is the only CWGC gravestone to be inscribed with a musical staff. It is believed to echo notes from an old American song called After The Ball. It is located in Poelcapelle British Cemetery, West Flanders, Belgium.

BARS findagrave

William Henry Thornton was a classical pianist who played music for the troops in World War One. He died during the influenza pandemic of 1918. The lid of the unusual piano memorial was originally engraved with his name, Harry Thornton. An inscription on the side is attributed to Puccini’s opera, Madame Butterfly; “Sweet thou art sleeping; cradled on my heart; safe in god’s keeping; while I must weep apart.” It is located in Highgate Cemetery, London, England.

PIANO flickr 1962
Status 1962. Source:
PIANO cordgrass

Frederic Chopin was born in Poland to a French immigrant father. A Polish composer and virtuoso pianist he lived most of his life in Paris until he died from Tuberculosis in 1849. His grave which is located in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France, contains his body. However, in accordance with his wishes, his heart was interred at Holy Cross Church, Warsaw, Poland.
France_Paris_Pere lachaise_Chopin

findagrave chopin

And in a fitting conclusion, we see a gravestone displaying the words from a song by the British rock band, Queen; ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST.

Anne Frank

The Frank family were Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Although Anne was born in Germany, the family moved to Holland in the 1930s when the Nazis came to power. During the German occupation they were forced to hide in concealed rooms aided by trusted employees of Otto Frank (Anne’s father). During this time Anne documented the daily struggles of life during the German occupation.

In 1944 when Anne was only 15 years old, the family was betrayed and transported to the concentration camps in Poland where they were transferred from Auschwitz (the killing camp) to Bergen-Belsen (the work camp). In 1945 a typhus epidemic spread throughout the camp killing 17,000 prisoners including Anne and her sister Margot.

The diary which was a voice for her feelings and beliefs was discovered in the attic by one of the helpers and published in 1947 entitled, The Diary of Anne Frank. She prophetically stated in the diary, ‘I want to go on living even after my death!’


‘After May 1940, the good times were few and far between; first there was the war, then the capitulation and then the arrival of the Germans, which is when the trouble started for the Jews.’

‘I’ve reached the point where I hardly care whether I live or die,” she wrote on February 3, 1944. “The world will keep on turning without me, and I can’t do anything to change events anyway.’ 

Several monuments have been erected to commemorate Anne Frank.

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Obelisks and Columns

Historically obelisks and columns were used to commemorate the departed; however, the cost has almost eradicated this form of memorial. They stand in cemeteries as markers of the dead and graveyard art history. Obelisks and columns have three distinct sections: the base, the shaft (centre), and the capital (top).

An obelisk is defined as a thin, tapering monument with four sides that end in a pyramid shaped capital.


Obelisks are also created with a rounded capital known as a truncated obelisk, and a cross shaped capital known as a vaulted obelisk.

Dearest we love you no tongue can tell
How much we loved you and how well
God loved you too and He thought best
To take you home with Him to rest. – 1887

Columns originally signified a man or woman of noble birth. A column has a rounded shaft with a smooth surface usually surmounted by an urn capital, but if the top is flat it signifies that a person’s life was cut short.

A column with a fluted shaft is referred to as a Greek column.


A square column, or rectangular in shape, is capped with an urn capital.

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A monument with two columns often supporting an arch is common on Masonic graves.


A broken column denotes the grave of a child or young person whose life was cut short. It represents sorrow and grief. It may occasionally be girded with flowers.

A column that is draped denotes an early death and a life cut short.


A pilaster column is a square or rectangular shaft with a flat top or capped with an urn. It often flanks a central block with four inscription faces. In architecture, a pilaster is a solely ornamental column form that does not support a structure.

Joy after sorrow
Calm after blast
Rest after weariness
Sweet rest at last. 

Shepherd’s Crook

The Shepherd’s Staff or Crook represents God’s Spirit. It is a symbol of guidance, support and strength. In the context of gravestones, it represents the opening of the Heavens.

It is also an occupational sign representing a calling of spiritual leadership.

Three symbols on the gravestone of Reverend Robert Kirk; a thistle  representing Highland heritage. a shepherd’s crook, to represent his calling; and a dagger.

Shepherds crooks are also found on the graves of the members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (a fraternal organization).

A Cross with a Crook is the symbol of the Order of the White Shrine of Jerusalem. It is often accompanied by the phrase, In Hoc Signo Spes Mea: In This Sign Is My Hope. Members are comprised of Master Masons and women who are related to a Master Mason through birth, marriage, or legal adoption.


In architecture, a gargoyle is a carved stone sculpture designed with a spout to direct water from the masonry of a building. They were commonly used in Medieval times, particularly on churches and other tall buildings where erosion of the mortar between stones could cause the collapse of a building.

Gargoyles, often hideous representations of dragons or griffins, were mostly mythical beasts used as a protection against evil. The word Gargoyle is derived from a French word meaning throat or pipe, and also from the root word Gar (to swallow) which represents the sound of gurgling water.

Grotesques as the name suggests are also hideous sculptures but with no practical application other than a decorative role to ward off evil spirits, and as an encouragement to attend church to avoid demons in Hell. The most common grotesque is a Chimera (a creature created from the parts of other animals). Grotesques with wings were believed to fly at night, chasing evil spirits while inhabitants of the town slept.

In opposition to the original intention, the ‘grotesque’ appearance of these sculptures led people to believe that the sculptures themselves were evil.

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