One of the earliest gravestones I have seen can be found in the Copps Hill Burying Ground in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. It’s interesting to note that in order to keep within the design boundaries of this elaborate gravestone, the text has been scrunched together.
In the surname WALTERS, the letters L, T, E have been overlapped using the downward stroke of L to create T and E. The same process has been used in the word THIS where the downward stroke of T is shared by the letter H.
The inscription on the gravestone uses Old English text and translates as: Here Lies Buried The Body Of Captain Sampson Walters Aged 53 Years Departed This Life August The 13th 1693
Above the winged effigy is the Latin phrase ‘Hodie Mihi Cras Tibi Sic Transit Gloria Mundi’ which translates as My Turn Today, Yours Tomorrow. And Thus Passes Away The Glory Of The World.
On a side note, this phrase is used in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander historical novel series when Claire visits the tombstone of Lady Sarah Fraser at Beauly Priory.
There was a time in the latter part of the last century when facilities for those suffering from mental health issues were known as Hospitals for the Insane, State Colonies for the Feeble-Minded, Lunatic Asylums or Mental Institutions, and the regard for the patients was equally insensitive even in death. Many family members did not claim the bodies of their deceased relatives and they were buried in unmarked graves or graves identified with only a number.
Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot and Epileptic Asylum opened in 1842. Over population and a decrease in staff sadly led to mistreatment of patients. People died at an alarming rate and it is believed that 25,000 people are buried in the hospital grounds possibly in a mass grave. The Central State Hospital in Milledgeville as it became known closed in 2010. Cedar Lane Cemetery contains numbered iron markers of patients who died at the hospital. The historic marker at the cemetery states the following: In 1997 a cemetery restoration began here triggered a movement to memorialize patients buried at state psychiatric hospitals nationwide. After discovering nearby neglected cemeteries interred some 25,000 people, members of the Georgia Consumer Council pledged to restore the burial grounds and build a memorial. A grassroots campaign raised funds to erect the adjacent gate and display 2000. numbered iron markers displaced from graves over the years. A life-size bronze angel was placed 175 yards south of here to serve as a perpetual guardian.
Letchworth Village in Rockland County, Rockland County New York, opened in 1911 as a residential facility for the mentally and/or physically disabled. It closed in 1996 after years of reported abuse and a lack of funding. Graves are marked with rusting metal T-shapes embossed with a number.
The Somerset and Bath Lunatic Asylum Cemetery in Wells, Somerset opened in 1874 and closed in 1991. The cemetery contains 2900 anonymous graves identified by numbered iron discs. A wooden sculpture by artist Peter Bolton lies on the ground beside the markers representing the anguish of mental health.
Image source: TripAdvisor
As recent as 2011, there was no road, no sign and no headstones for the 5776 patients buried at the Willard Asylum for the Insane. New York State operated 26 of these facilities.
Vermont Asylum for the Insane was founded in Brattleboro in 1834 to care for the mentally ill. Initially deceased patients were buried in the Village Burying Ground (to later become Prospect Hill Cemetery), then the Asylum Burying Ground and finally in the Brattleboro Retreat Cemetery known as Fairview. None of the graves have identification.
“The eye of him that hath seen me shall come no more. Why hast thou set in me a mark against thee so that I am a burden to myself? and why dost thee not pardon my transgression and take away mine iniquity? for now shall I sleep in the dust and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be.” Sarah Culy
Between 1871 and 1953, there were 3200 patients buried at the Western State Hospital in Lakewood, Oregon. They were represented by numbered stones which sank beneath the surface of the ground. A granite stone has been erected over a mass grave to mark their lives and deaths.
The Longview Asylum opened in 1860 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The hospital cemetery contains the bodies of patients who were unclaimed or died indigent. Grave markers consist of small square cement blocks bearing a number.
Spencer State Asylum Roane County, West Virginia, opened in 1893 closing almost 100 years later in 1989. Approximately 850 patients are buried on the hospital grounds.
The Mississippi Lunatic Asylum was established in Jackson in 1848 and asylum patients were buried on the grounds. The cemetery which has been consecrated also contains the ashes of many anatomical donors and is the repository for the ashes of infants who died at UMC and whose families wished them to be buried there. A Ceremony of Remembrance honors them in a fall service.
“By their extraordinary gifts these dead have taught the living how to touch, through them, we touch the body of the world”. John Stone M.D.
This monument was dedicated on april 16, 1996 as a memorial to all those who have donated their bodies to the University of Mississippi Medical Center since 1955 for professional education and research.
Public attitude has since changed 180 degrees with regards to mental health. Markers and/or memorial walls have been erected to recognize those who died and were buried with no ceremony. A new national memorial dedicated to the unnamed graves of the mentally ill broke ground at Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. in 2009.
You would think that having lived 89 years you would have learned the value of what really matters in life. Apparently not the case for Bernard P. Hopkins whose grave is accompanied by a marker inscribed; Legacy Of BPH: Liar . Thief . Cheat . Selfish . Unsharing . Unloving . Unkind . Disloyal . Dishonorable . Unfaithful
Not surprisingly, there are no flowers at this grave located in Morton Cemetery, Richmond, Texas.
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.)
This unusual grave marker in the form of a rock symbolizes Christ (“He is my rock…” Psalm 92:15).
The two symbols carved into the rock signify that the deceased was a member of two fraternities.
The Masonic compass and set square are a symbol used to represent the Order of Freemasons who view God as the architect and builder of the universe hence the use of these tools.
The three linked rings which signify the chains that bind the Fraternity are synonymous with the International Order of Oddfellows Fraternity (IOOF).
The rock rests upon a stone base. A slate marker is engraved with two lines which share the same sentiments related in a poem by Robert Richardson.
Sleep Light Dear Heart Sleep Light Good Night Good Night
The poem entitled Annette was published in 1893. The last lines of the poem by Robert Richardson reads
Warm summer sun, shine friendly here Warm western wind, blow kindly here; Green sod above, rest light, rest light, Good-night, Annette! Sweetheart, good-night!
Mark Twain also echoed these sentiments when he paraphrased the poem on the grave of his daughter, Olivia Susan Clemens. Warm summer sun, shine kindly here; Warm southern wind, blow softly here; Green sod above, lie light, lie light – Good night, dear heart, good night, good night.
The statue situated at the grave of William Ackerman Black is a replica of a sculpture, entitled Winter, created by Emile Wolff in 1847.
The statue is a male child with downcast expression draped with a lion skin cloak (the Nemean lion was a vicious monster in Greek mythology that lived at Nemea and was eventually killed by Hercules).
He is resting on a shepherd’s staff , and in his left hand is a golden apple of the Hesperides which granted immortality when eaten.
The statue was reportedly a favorite of Black’s which he kept on his fireplace mantle (seems a little large to be placed on a mantle?). He left instructions for it to be placed on his grave after his death.
The term ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was initiated when President Bill Clinton signed a law regarding the service of homosexuals in the military, which directed military personnel to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue, don’t harass.’
Leonard P. Matlovich was an Air Force sergeant who served three tours of duty in Vietnam and was gravely wounded. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and two Air Force Commendation medals for gallantry under fire and exemplary service. Yet, despite his service, he was discharged from the U.S. Air Force after confessing his sexuality to his commanding officer. His struggle to receive an honourable discharge, rather than the general discharge advocated by the Air Force, triggered a national movement regarding gay rights especially in the military.
Knowing that he had AIDS at a time when it was a death sentence, he designed his own headstone with the idea that it would stand as a memorial for all gay veterans.
His design of a black reflective surface replicating the Vietnam War Memorial incorporated two triangles referencing the pink triangle which was a symbol sewn on the clothes of homosexuals in Nazi concentration camps. The left triangle pointing downward is a symbol of defeat. It is highlighted with the legend, ‘Never Again.’ The upward pointing triangle on the right is a symbol of victory with the phrase, ‘Never Forget.’ Although the dates of his birth and death are inscribed on the headstone, his name (Matlovich) is only inscribed at the foot of the memorial.
As an activist for Gay Rights, his words are inscribed on his headstone: ‘When I Was In The Military They Gave Me A Medal For Killing Two Men And A Discharge For Loving One.’ Although eligible to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery he chose to be interred in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC. “I believe we must be the same activists in our deaths that we were in our lives,” Leonard Matlovich. A gay veteran’s memorial service is held at his grave every Veteran’s Day.
Members of American Veterans for Equal Rights have purchased adjoining plots with the intention of creating an LGBT veterans memorial.
This marker for Marine Corps veteran and activist Tom Swann is located near Matlovich’s grave. Swann won a lawsuit against the Navy for discrimination against him as a civilian employee after they learned he was gay. He also led the creation of a memorial for LGBT veterans in Desert Memorial Park near Palm Springs. Never Give Up Hope Or Give In To Discrimination.
Michael William Hildebrand’s stone does not state that he is gay. However, the use of the pink triangle and the proximity to Matlovich’s grave suggests such. An inscription reads, “It Was Said Of Him That He Had The Gift To Give Love To Those Who Felt Unloved.”