Thursday, January 13, 2011

Skip the Editorializing, Please (bo-ring!)

from the Evergreen Cemetery in sunny Gainesville, Florida

I've always preferred gravestones without that sort of editorial comment (don't speak ill of the dead, and all that).

Seriously, these were of course just two people with a last name that, in English-speaking lands, unfortunately lends itself to levity.  Still, as other examples show, gravestones—seemingly a most dignified and sober topic—can be a source of humor, intended or otherwise.

Historianizer (aka Sean Fagin) regularly provides us with interesting epitaphs, such as the following:
Stranger! Approach this spot with gravity!
John Brown is filling his last cavity.
—Epitaph Of A Dentist

Played five aces. Now playing the harp.
—Anonymous headstone in Dodge City, Kansas

Here lies Lester Moore.
Four slugs from a 44.
No Les. No more.
—Epitaph in Tombstone, Arizona

He has gone to the only place where his own works are excelled.
—Gravestone of a fireworks manufacturer

Returned — Unopened.
—Grave stone inscription of a spinster postmistress from North Carolina
Of course, cemetery and gravestone preservation is no laughing matter.  The sites and stones are an important cultural resource for historical, scientific, and genealogical information.

A Grave Matter offers a notable selection of images, inscriptions, and analysis. Meanwhile, at Symbolic Past, Marian Pierre-Louis, who writes regularly about genealogy, history, and cemeteries (among other things), reminds us this week of the toll that our New England winters take on historic gravestones (1, 2).  As chance would have it, over at ArchivesInfo, Melissa Mannon takes up a similar theme today.  Her post on Boston's historic Copp's Hill Burying Ground recounts the evolution of her interest in cemeteries and gravestones and details the threats to this particular site, last resting place of Cotton and Increase Mather, Prince Hall ("the 'father' of black freemasonry"), and Robert Newman, who hung the lamps in the North Church on the occasion of Paul Revere's famous ride.

Visitors to this blog will be familiar with our ongoing efforts to preserve Amherst's 1730 West Cemetery, which, just over a decade ago, was on the Commonwealth's list of most endangered historic resources. (And that reminds me that I owe you an update on our recent and continuing efforts.  All in good time.)

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