Category Archives: Memorials


The Covid-19 pandemic seems an appropriate time to talk about plague pits, an informal term used to refer to mass graves in which victims of the Black Death were buried. The disease was called the Black Death because several hours after death, the corpses turned black.

The Black Death traveled from Asia to Europe, leaving devastation in its wake during the years 1346-1353. Some estimates suggest that it wiped out over half of Europe’s population. It was caused by a strain of the bacterium Yersinia Pestis that was spread by fleas on infected rodents. The bodies of victims were buried in mass graves.

Yersinia Pestis also referred to as the Bubonic Plague, wiped out a great deal of 17th-century Britain and was one of the deadliest and most infamous outbreaks that the city of London had ever seen. By the time the plague ended about 100,000 people had died, and mass graves known as ‘plague pits’ were created to dispose the bodies which were hastily buried without coffins, care or ceremony.


Although the rural location of Bunhill Fields, only a short distance north of London, became the final resting place for 120,000 plague victims there is no memorial to recognize them. The last burial in Bunhill Fields took place in January 1854 and it was later designated as a public park and underwent some remodelling in the late 1860s. One of London’s many overcrowded cemeteries, Bunhill Fields was re-landscaped as a public space in the 1860s.

Between June and September 1645 seventy villagers in East Coker, including Archdeacon Helyar and the Vicar, died of plague. They were buried in a communal grave just outside the churchyard in East Coker. In 2003 a gravestone was erected in their memory.

Edinburgh was devastated by the disease when half of the population died during the outbreak which hit Scotland between 1645 and 1649. The percentage of deaths in the port of Leith was even higher perhaps due to the steady influx of ships from all over Europe.


The Devilla Forest in Culross, Fife is the burial place for three children Robert, Agnes and Jeanne Bald, who succumbed to the plague on the same day – 14th September 1645. Flowers can sometimes be seen on the children’s grave.

Yellow Fever, carried and transmitted by mosquitoes, experienced a population boom in Philadelphia during the particularly hot and humid summer weather of 1793. It wasn’t until winter arrived and the mosquitoes died out that the epidemic finally stopped. By then, more than 5,000 people had died.

A monument erected in 1858 to honor the doctors, nurses and druggists who went to Virginia in 1855 to combat a raging yellow fever epidemic died of the disease themselves.

Erected by the Philadelphia Contributors, in memory of the Doctors, Druggists and Nurses of this City, who volunteered to aid the suffers by Yellow Fever, at Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia, and died in the discharge of their duties—Martyrs in the cause of humanity.


It raged through Warren, Grafton County, New Hampshire in 1815, and well over 50 people (10% of the population) perished in just a few weeks time. In total 180 victims of the deadly plague were buried in unmarked graves in the Warren Village Cemetery. Donations made by the Town and the Historical Society facilitated the erection of a memorial stone in remembrance.

Afraid of Storms

Florence Irene Ford died in 1871 at the age of 10, from yellow fever. Her grave is located in Natchez City Cemetery, Natchez, Adams County, Mississippi, USA.

When storms terrified little Florence she always ran to her mother for comfort. Her mother, Ellen, had a small window fitted at the head of her daughter’s coffin, and a narrow stairway built six-feet down to the level of the window. Ellen had hinged metal trapdoors installed at the top of the stairs so she could shut them during storms, protecting her from the wind and rain as she sat by her daughter’s coffin, reading or singing to her until the storm passed.

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Creative Commons License, Natalie Maynor. Source:

The epitaph on the gravestone reads: Sacred / To The Memory Of / Florence Irene/ Daughter Of / Washington & Ellen H / Ford / Born Sept 3rd, 1861 / Died Oct 30th 1871 / As Bright And Affectionate A Daughter / As Ever God With His Image Blest. Behind the gravestone the metal trapdoors can still be opened today.


A concrete wall was built at the bottom of the stairway in the mid-1950s to cover the glass window, thus preventing any potential acts of vandalism.

Cold Beer

In a corner of the graveyard belonging to the Winchester Cathedral in England is a copy of a copy of a gravestone in memory of Thomas Thetcher.


The original gravestone from 1764 which was restored in 1781 was later destroyed. A replacement was created and installed by the North Hants Militia in 1802. Hampshire County Council designated it as a Hampshire Treasure of unique cultural meaning, and in 1966 it was moved for safekeeping to the Royal Hampshire Regimental Museum at Serle’s House in Winchester.

Medical professionals have proposed that Thetcher’s death was the result of “deglutition syncope”: a loss of consciousness during or immediately after swallowing which causes heart arrhythmia. This rare syndrome can occur when a particularly cold liquid is consumed on an extremely hot day.

In Memory Of
Thomas Thetcher
A Grenadier In The North Reg.
Of Hants Militia, Who Died Of A
Violent Fever Contracted By Drinking
Small Beer When Hot The 12 May
1764 Aged 26 Years.

In Grateful Remembrance Of Whose Universal
Good Will Towards His Comrades, This Stone
Is Placed Here At Their Expence, As A Small
Testimony Of Their Regard And Concern.

Here Sleeps In Peace A Hampshire Grenadier,
Who Caught His Death By Drinking Cold Small Beer,
Soldiers Be Wise From His Untimely Fall
And When Ye’re Hot Drink Strong Or None At All.

This Memorial Being Decay’d Was Restor’d
By The Officers Of The Garrison A.D. 1781.

An Honest Soldier Never Is Forgot
Whether He Die By Musket Or By Pot.

The Stone Was Replaced By The North Hants
Militia When Disembodied At Winchester,
On 26 April 1802, In Consequence Of
The Original Stone Being Destroyed.

And Again Replaced By
The Royal Hampshire Regiment 1966.


Fenian Poet

‘Fenian’ was a fraternal organisation dedicated to the establishment of an independent Irish Republic in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Christened John Keegan Casey, this Irish poet who adopted ‘Leo’ as a penname, was loved by his people for his inspirational poetry. Born at the height of the 19th century famine he lived through the starvation and poverty suffered by millions of Irish peasants. The British, who feared the motivational power and inspirational words of his poems which inspired rebellion and patriotism, arrested him and locked him in a prison cell of mental and physical torture. When he was eventually released he was a broken young man and died soon afterward from his ill-treatment (1846 to 1870).


The memorial stone is in Glesnevin Cemetery, County Dublin, Ireland. It was created by monumental builder and sculptor Thomas Dennany and is in the form of a Celtic cross. Within the center is an Agnus Dei (a Christian symbol depicting a lamb standing on the ground, holding by the right forefoot a banner flying on a wooden cross). It represents the risen Christ triumphant over death. Engraved around the circle is the legend, Jesus Mercy Joseph Pray. The pillar of the cross is detailed with a diamond pattern containing a Botonee cross and shamrocks.


The cross is mounted on a base representative of shale rock upon which a dog is resting accompanied by a harp, sunrays and a scroll listing some of his songs including: The Rising Of The Moon / Our Pledge/ The Final Cast / The Convict Lay / A Cretan Song.

On the right side is a sculpture of a ruined tower and windows in the style of Gothic architecture.


In Memory Of John Keegan Casey / Leo / Patriot Poet Novelist / Member Of The Irish Republican Brotherhood / Author Of The Rising Of The Moon / And Many Soul Stirring National Ballads And Songs / Born 22nd August 1846. Died St. Patrick’s Day 1870 / From His Youth His Life Was Devoted To The Cause Of Irish Freedom / His Last Words Were A Prayer Of Intercession For His Country’s Liberty / And His Soul’s Salvation.

This Cross Is Erected By The Monuments Committee Of The Young Ireland Society / As An Humble Tribute Of Love And To Commemorate His Principles. / His Noblest Monument Is His Works In Which His Spirit Must Ever Live / May He Rest In Peace.

The Flaming Tomb

Josie Arlington (1864-1914) became a prostitute as a teenager, and her great beauty made her wealthy enough to open a bordello in the notorious red light district of Storyville in New Orleans, Louisiana.

As her health deteriorated sometime around 1910, Josie Arlington purchased a cemetery plot at Metairie Cemetery which was an impressive and fashionable graveyard containing giant mausoleums and monuments. This news enraged the city’s elite of which many were regular customers of the bordello. On May 11, 1911, Josie, who had accumulated a lot of money, signed a contract with sculptor Albert Weiblen to create a magnificent final resting place. The tomb features a red granite stone with two flaming stone urns. On the threshold stands a bronze female figure carrying flowers with arm outstretched to open the door.

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Josie died on 14 February 1914 and was buried at Metairie Cemetery and her family soon began fighting over her money and property. The tomb was eventually sold to Jose Antonio Morales, a New Orleans attorney. Cemetery officials had Josie Arlington’s remains removed to a remote, undisclosed location in the cemetery, and the name at the top of the tomb was changed to J. A. Morales. The name of his wife and four children are also engraved on the tomb.

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The site has become a curiosity and a tourist attraction. With reports of the stone urns bursting into flames, dancing lights and an eerie red glow, it soon became known as the Flaming Tomb. Rumours continue to flourish with claims that the statue bangs on the door to be let in and leaves its post at the door to walk amongst the other graves. It is thought to symbolize a virginal girl being turned away from the Arlington door, following Arlington’s claim in life that no woman’s innocence was taken on the grounds of her establishment.

Izar Newsstand

Okay, hands up how many of you thought this post was about a newspaper stand? Not so. In architectural terms a newsstand is a small structure that protects an item placed there, or in this case, the framing of a niche created in a wall.

This memorial located in the Cimitero Monumentale, Milan, Italy, overlooks the main avenue of the Cemetery and is known as the Edicola Izar. It was commissioned by Emilia Macchi to honour her deceased husband Federico and her sons Marco and Giovanni Battista who died at ages twenty-one and twenty-two. The bronze composition known as Faith was constructed in 1904 by sculptor Felice Bialetti. When Emilia passed in 1924 she was also placed in the newsstand.


The scene shows two emaciated bodies wrapped in shrouds, embracing in death, as they reach out to hold the hand of their mother Emilia. Portraits of Federico, Marco and Giovanni are set into a low arch.


The Angel of Death Victorious

Located in Lakeview Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio, is the grave of Francis Haserot whose family were among the elite and wealthy of Cleveland during the early twentieth century. Their fortune was earned in the food industry and so highly successful that the company continues to distribute high-quality canned foods across Ohio and Michigan.

wikimedia ccl Ian MacQueen
Creative Commons License, Ian MacQueen. Source:

Seated on a marble dais the statue, commonly known as the Haserot Angel, is also referred to as the Weeping Angel although its technical name is The Angel of Death Victorious. The sculpture was created in bronze by Herman Matzen in 1923 for the Haserot family. Herman Matzen was an American sculptor and educator, born in Denmark (July 15, 1861 – April 22, 1938).


The life-size statue is seated with raised wings. Her hands rest on an inverted torch with flame extinguished. Inverted torches are the more common version of this symbol of death and a life extinguished. It represents mourning.


With solemn face and blackened eye sockets she appears to be weeping black tears. This eerie effect is caused by a process called patination. Bronze sculptures acquire a green patina formed by the metal’s reaction with carbon dioxides and sulfur dioxides. Although this patina is the equivalent to rust on iron, copper in the bronze reacts with different colors. (Bronze is an alloy consisting primarily of copper).


Literary Epitaphs

Note that in each of these memorial photographs a token (stones, coins, pennies, a rose and a sunflower) has been left on the grave symbolizing that someone had visited and remembered.

The words on Sylvia Plath’s grave were selected by her poet husband, Ted Hughes, from one of the four great classic novels of Chinese literature, Monkey: Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en.

The complete quotation reads: “Even in the midst of fierce flames the Golden Lotus may be planted, the five elements compounded and transposed, and put to new use. When that is done, be which you please, Buddha or Immortal.”


John Keats was only 25 years old when he died in Rome on February 23rd, 1821 with his friend Joseph Severn by his side. He is buried at the Cemitero Acattolico, Rome.

Keats expressed the wish that on his gravestone no name or date should be written, only the inscription ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water’. Above it was to be carved a Greek lyre with four of its eight strings broken ‘to show his Classical Genius cut off by death before its maturity’ as Severn later interpreted it.

This grave contains all that was mortal, of a young English poet, who, on his death bed, in the bitterness of his heart, at the malicious power of his enemies, desired these words to be engraven on his tomb stone.
Here Lies One Whose Name Was Writ In Water
Feb 24th 1821


Robert Frost died in 1963 when he was 88 years old and is buried in Bennington, Vermont. In 1941 he wrote a poem with eight verses titled The Lesson For Today. The last line of the poem has become one of his most famous and is recorded for eternity on his gravestone. I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.

robert frost

William Blake 1757-1827, a renowned poet, was also the grandfather of J. R. R. Tolkien. Blake died in obscurity in 1827 and was buried in an unmarked common grave in Bunhill Fields cemetery in London, England. The Blake Society raised donations from around the world to purchase a new memorial to mark his burial place.
Here lies William Blake, 1757-1827, Poet Artist Prophet
I give you the end of a golden string
Only wind it into a ball
It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate
Built in Jerusalem’s hall

The following headstones are hand carved memorials artfully created by stonecarver, lettercutter and designer, Teucer Wilson.

The winter is past flowers appear on the earth and the singing of birds is come
This is an adaptation of the Song of Solomon 2:12. “The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”

We shall find you in the grey summer garden amid the rain-wet roses; stir of wings; stir of wings and the morning hills behind you. This is an adaptation of the poem Idyll by Siegfried Sassoon.

This hand carved slate gravestone is located in Kensall Green Cemetery, London. Felix was only a baby when he died, and the symbolism on this stone reflects this. The quotation is from William Shakespeare’s song Fear No More The Heat O’ The Sun.
Golden lads and girls all must as chimney-sweepers come to dust

Rosalia’s Mummy

The Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo, Sicily, holds 8000 mummified bodies. One of the last corpses to be admitted to the Catacombs is the mummy of Rosalia Lombardo who is believed to have died from a bronchial infection/pneumonia. Born on 13 December 1918 she died on 6 December 1920 shortly before her second birthday. Her father is believed to be Mario Lombardo although there are no official documents to confirm this. According to legend Mario was so distraught that he contracted an embalmer named Alfredo Salafia to preserve Rosalia for eternity. The cadaver was injected with a fluid to kill bacteria and fungi, desiccate the body without over-drying, and give the body rigidity.

There are no known photographs of Rosalia when she was alive. Earlier photos of the mummification show a very lifelike Rosalia. However, her skin tone has become discoloured with each passing decade most likely due to the damaging effects from light sources which has also changed her hair colour to blonde (she was born a brunette).


This tiny sleeping beauty whose hair is adorned with a yellow ribbon rests beneath a faded silk blanket in a glass coffin. The casket which has been hermetically sealed within a glass enclosure filled with nitrogen gas to prevent decay is seated on a marble pedestal in a small chapel. On her chest is a faded talisman showing a cherub holding a lamb which represents purity and innocence.


Over the years, speculation was made that the mummy of Rosalia Lombardo had decayed and had been replaced with a wax reproduction. Rosalia’s coffin was x-rayed for a documentary by the History Channel in the 2000s. It revealed a skeletal structure and internal organs that were still intact. Her brain had shrunk 50% due to the mummification process.

No one had ever looked beneath the blanket that covers Rosalia’s body since she was sealed inside her coffin. When National Geographic performed an MRI to produce the first 3D images of Rosalia’s mummified body in 2009 it showed her arms resting at her sides. The MRI also confirmed that all her organs were intact.


Borsi Torchbearer

The Porte Sante cemetery is a monumental cemetery in Florence located within the fortified bastion of the basilica of San Miniato al Monte. This interesting cemetery, from which it is possible to enjoy an extraordinary view of Florence, houses some illustrious tombs including the Borsi memorial to numerous family members.

The memorial to Averardo Borsi and his daughter Laura is adorned with the statue of a naked prone man holding a flaming torch in his right hand with his left fist clenched.


The torch is symbolic of the darkness of death and the light in the world to come. A winged cherub looks down on the grave located in the section reserved for non-Catholics in the cemetery. The family were not religious, and as Averardi and Laura died without the sacrament they were denied a Christian burial.

flickr_Michael Hamburg2

Averardo was married to Verdiana Fabbri known as Diana. They had three children; Laura born on 31 December 1886, Giosue born on 10 June 1888 and Gino born on 10 December 1891.

Averardo died on 10 December 1910 due chiefly to grief over a family tragedy which involved the honour of his daughter. In 1908, Laura had given birth to a son named Dino following a relationship with Gabriele Maria D’Annunzio (known as Gabriellino), an Italian actor, director and screenwriter. Laura, who was a brilliant and promising actress, died on 18 July 1912 due to complications from what was most likely food poisoning after eating raw oysters. Her infant son, who was never recognized by his father, died in March 1913.

flickr_Michael Hamburg

Giosue Borsi was born on 10 June 1888. He was a journalist for his father’s newspaper and a famed poet. As an Italian Lieutenant in WW1 known for his valor, he was killed in action on 10 Nov 1915. On the centenary of his birth to recognize his life and his sacrifice, a plaque was placed in the memorial chapel of Piazza di Montenero, Livorno, Italy.

Gino served as a Corporal with the 2nd Artillery Regiment. In 1916 he married Chiti Lilia (1893 – 1973) with whom he had three daughters: Giulia born in 1920; Lauretta who was born in 1921 died in Florence on October 26, 1927 after an excruciating illness; and Laura born in 1928 – it was the tradition at the time that if the first child died, a second child was given the same name in order to perpetuate the name within the family. Gino died in Florence in 1976.

Epitaphs on the memorial record the lives of

Averardo Borsi 1858-1910 and his wife Diana 1865-1942

Laura Borsi1886-1912 and her son Dino Borsi 1908-1913

Gino 1891-1976 and his wife Lilia 1893-1973, and his daughter Lauretta Borsi 1921-1927

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