Actual shell fragments left on gravestones in pioneer cemeteries represent the journey through death and rebirth. Shells that are not part of the gravestone were left there to signify that the deceased had not been forgotten.
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In localities near the sea, entire graves were covered with shells because this product was cheap and readily available.
Although not a common symbol the shell most often used is a scallop shell which represents the baptism of Christ. Many baptismal fonts are often built in the form of a scallop shell.
It is also a traditional symbol of the Crusades.
This large scallop shell was designed by the deceased, Ransom Cook, some years before his death.
The art form of a child cradled in a scallop shell was popular in North America during the 19th century. Sears, Roebuck and Company had a contract with a Vermont marble producer to sell the shell headstone by mail order.
The conch shell was revered by many cultures as a symbol of reincarnation and wisdom. In Buddhism, the shell’s call can awaken one from ignorance, in Chinese Buddhism it signifies a prosperous journey; and in Islam the shell represents hearing the divine word. People in the Bakongo area of Africa believe that the shell encloses the soul (Pagans also held this same belief regarding the shell as a source of life.)
The term Gypsy is no longer used by the aforesaid people who prefer to be known as Roma. More of a nickname, several countries claim their own ‘Queen’ .
On January 31, 1915, Kelly Mitchell, Queen of the Gypsy Nation, died at age 47 while giving birth to her 14th child. Although she died in Coatapa, Alabama, she is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery, Meridian, Mississippi, USA. Approximately 20,000 Romanies travelled to pay their last respects. The headstone is constantly swathed with beads and trinkets put there to beseech the Queen to provide answers to their problems. Her husband Emil Mitchell, King of the Gypsies, is also buried in the cemetery.
When Ruby Pearl Marshall died in 2016, hundreds of mourners travelled to Wales to pay their respects to the 78 year old who had 52 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The funeral was held at St Tydfil’s Old Parish Church in Merthyr with burial at Glyntaff Cemetery in Pontypridd, Wales. The Romanis followed a century old tradition which allows each family member to choose a keepsake from the deceased’s belongings. The caravan with contents was then burned.
Ellen McDonagh from Levenshulme, Manchester, England, survived the tragic loss of two husbands. She raised six kids on her own, and at the time of her passing in 2017 she had 40 grandchildren. She was known across England and Ireland as Queen of the Gypsies. Members of the traveller community in Ireland and the UK travelled to Manchester to pay their respects to Ellen.
Carmen Amaya who was born in 1918 in the slums of Barcelona, Spain became the greatest Flamenco dancer of her generation. She was also known as the Queen of the Gypsies. She died in 1963 of kidney failure and was originally buried in her hometown of Bagur. Her body was later transferred to the family tomb of her husband, Juan Antonio Aguero, in the cemetery of Ciriego, Santander, Spain. The grave is not marked with her name as the family wished to prevent it from becoming an attraction for gypsies.
A monument of Carmen posed in traditional Flamenco dress is located at the Jardins de Joan Brossa in Montjuïc, Barcelona.
Following the two World Wars, discussion and agreement by Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom (member countries of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) on the burial of the dead created a standardized format encompassing burial sites, layout and size of the gravestones, and the legend on headstones.
Commonwealth countries built burial sites close to combat zones to preserve the link with the battlefield, whereas the United States and France created huge regional cemeteries intended to make a significant impression on people’s minds.
The graves were arranged in straight rows and designed to be perpetual and permanent. The material used in the headstones varied due to the requirement of a weather resistant substance or occurrence of earthquakes.
The standard used ensured that every grave was marked with a headstone, originally 76 centimetres (30”) tall, 38 cm (15”) wide, and 7.6cm (3.0”) thick, with upper case lettering designed by MacDonald Gill.
Each stone contained the national emblem or regimental badge, rank, name, unit, date of death and age of each casualty. In the case of burials of Victoria Cross or George Cross recipients, the regimental badge was supplemented by the Victoria Cross or George Cross emblem.
An appropriate religious symbol was included; most often a cross denoting Christianity, and sometimes a personal dedication chosen by relatives.
Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind. J. F. Kennedy
Far away in a distant land, Suddenly struck by death’s strong hand A loving son, strong and brave, Lies buried in a soldier’s grave.
No one knows the silent heartache, Only those can tell Who have lost their loved ones Without saying one farewell. We pictured him safely returning, We longed to clasp his hand, But God has postponed the meeting, Till we meet in a better land.
No one knows the silent heartache,
only those that have lost can tell
Of the grief that’s borne in silence
For the one we loved so well.
And when he gets to Heaven, To Saint Peter he will tell: ‘Just another soldier reporting, Sir. I’ve served my time in Hell.’ Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland
Do not ask us if we miss him, There is such a vacant place; Can we e’er forget that footstep, And that dear familiar face.
No loved one stood beside him to bid a last farewell, No word of comfort could he leave to those he loved so well. We little thought his time so short in this world to remain, Nor that from when his home he went he would never return again.
He marched away so bravely, His young head proudly held; His footsteps never faltered, His courage never failed, There on the field of battle, He calmly took his place, He fought for King and Country, And the honour of his race.
…And decades later, the men and women who served are still remembered and accorded the same burial.
Vaults were created to prevent grave robbers from gaining access to freshly buried bodies, and were originally made of wood. Coffins, the universal symbol of death and mortality, are most often placed underground with a gravestone as a marker. Nowadays, the vault is manufactured in metal and is inserted into the ground to prevent the earth and coffin from collapsing. Collapse of the coffin causes the ground to sink and makes maintenance of the cemetery grounds difficult.
Man that is born of a woman is of few days
A sarcophagus is an elaborate coffin which can be created in any medium; wood, stone or metal. It is often only large enough to house one body, often someone of importance, and contains no window or door. It can also be considered a monument as it has a carving or inscription.
Ye mourning friends as you pass by
This monument survey
Learn ‘ere your solemn hour draws nigh
To choose that better way. 1813
A crypt is an underground stone chamber beneath a church, or in the wall of a religious building. Following entombment, the crypt is sealed, and a granite or marble front is attached.
Bath Abbey, England
Bath Abbey, England
In the silent tomb we leave them Till the resurrection morn When our Saviour will receive them And restore their lovely form
A tomb is very similar to a sepulcher in that it is typically underground. It can vary greatly in size and often holds the containers of multiple bodies. A sepulcher is a small room or monument, cut in rock or built of stone, in which a dead person is laid or buried. This term is also used to describe a structure with recesses in the wall to receive ashes of the dead.
Greyfriar’s Cemetery, Edinburgh, Scotland
Lasswade Cemetery, Lasswade, Scotland
Here in the silent tomb beneath this miry sod
Lies one who bore the Cross and trusted in his God;
Farewell, dear wife and friends, and my dear little son,
My work is finished and the prize is won. 1827
An above ground, large, free-standing structure is known as a mausoleum. It may be the resting place of an individual or a family group. It is often ornate with a small stained glass or open metalwork window. It stands as a monument and the more elaborate structures may have an interior chapel.
Faith Mortal! Seize the transient hour Improve each moment as it flies Life’s a short summer, Man a flower Dies Alas! How soon he dies. – 1831
A cairn or tumulus is a mound of earth and stones raised over a grave.
The busy world is hushed The fever of life over and our work done.
An ossuary is a container or room into which the bones of multiple dead people are placed. The catacombs are a renowned example.
Thy peaceful days shall keep my bones Till that sweet day I walk from my long sleep and leave My bed of clay. Sweet truth to me I shall rise and with these eyes My Saviour see.
Cast iron grave markers and decorations were popular during the Victorian era often with a blank surface for personal dedication. However, the cast iron surface proved difficult to engrave. A solution to this problem was to utilize a stone or marble panel inserted into an ornamental cast iron framework.
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.
Ebenezer Beesley succeeded George Careless as the Conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.