Friday, August 16, 2013

The Stone Markers of the Cemetery

Stonecutter in Stone
Stonecutting, or stonemasonry, has existed for thousands of years. From cathedrals and cities to monuments and gravestones, carvers have worked to shape something of beauty from the stone around them.


Taj Mahal
Some of the most famous stonemasonry includes the Egyptian Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, the Easter Island statues, and Stonehenge.

In the US, Vermont is known for its granite quarries and the work of its carvers can be seen in cemeteries throughout the state.
Rock of Ages Quarry

Such examples exist in Barre, Vermont, known as the “Granite Capital of the World,” and home to Rock of Ages Quarry, the largest deep hole granite quarry in the world.

Hope Cemetery Granite Stone
Granite Bi-Plane
Hope Cemetery in Barre is filled with over 10,000 tombstones and memorials, most carved from local Barre Grey granite. 

19th Century Stone Carvers
Stone Masons
By the close of the 19th Century, skilled sculptures from around the world were coming to the US to become a part of the growing stonemasonry industry.

Although gravestones can be crafted from just about any material, there are three types of natural rock that can be carved and used for markers - igneous rock, metamorphic rock, and sedimentary rock.

Granite is an igneous intrusive rock consisting of mica, quartz and feldspar, usually ranging from pink to grey in color. It is a hard stone and one of the most difficult to carve requiring skill to sculpt by hand.

Alexander MacDonald
Kensal Green Cemetery
Alexander MacDonald of Aberdeen, Scotland carved the first polished granite tombstone using his invention of steam-powered cutting and dressing tools.  The stone was erected at Kensal Green Cemetery near London, England in 1833.

Queen Victoria & Prince Albert
Royal Mausoleum
During the next 50 years, MacDonald perfected his carving techniques on granite. The most prestigious granite monument was the Royal Mausoleum in England, located on the grounds of Frogmore, where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are buried. MacDonald’s techniques were later discarded when better machinery became available in the 1880s.

Metamorphic Rocks

Metamorphic rocks make up a large part of the earth’s surface and include marble, slate and quartzite. Gravestones are usually fashioned from marble and slate.

Marble is a recrystallized form of limestone and 
Carrera Quary
Block of Marble
is easy to carve. Marble can range in color from blue/black to white depending on what part of the world it comes from. Italy is known for its Carrera marble- a white or bluish gray color. Sweden produces a green marble, while Tuscan marble can range from red to yellow with violet in it. Pure white marble can be found in Greece and near Marble, Colorado in the US.

Marble Soldier
Older Marble
Marble monuments and gravestones became popular during the early part of the 19th Century. Unfortunately, acid rain can cause damage to the stones over time, making the inscriptions difficult to read.

Slate is the finest grained metamorphic rock. Although very strong, it has a tendency to split. Slate is usually gray in color, but can also be purple, green or a combination of the two.

Slate Gravestone
Slate was commonly used for monuments and gravestones, and when carved carefully a slate marker can have very sharp details.

Slate Quarry
Slate quarries could be found in the US in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont and New York, sometimes referred to as Slate Valley.

St Peter's Cathedral

Sedimentary Quarry
Sedimentary stone can be limestone or sandstone. Most of the world’s most famous buildings have been built with these rocks including St Peter’s Cathedral, and the Roman Arena in Italy, the cliff dwellings in Colorado, and practically the entire town of Hot Springs, South Dakota.

Limestone comes from all over the world, but Lawrence County Indiana is known as having the highest quality quarried limestone in the US.

National Cathedral
Indiana limestone was also used for bridges, statues, memorials and buildings, most notably the Empire State Building, the National Cathedral, Biltmore Estates and the United States Holocaust Museum.

Older Limestone Marker
Older Limestone Grave Marker
During the 19th and 20th centuries, limestone monuments, mausoleums and gravestones were very popular, but after the discovery of the effect of acid rain on the stone, limestone is not used nearly as much.

Limestone Marker for a Carver
WW I Soldier in Limestone
For some excellent examples of limestone grave markers a visit to Green Hill Cemetery in Bedford Indiana is in order. Hundreds of carvings, statues, sculptures and engravings exist in minute detail, thanks to limestone’s ability to weather well

Federal Reserve Bank in Sandstone

Sandstone Quarry
Sandstone can also be found worldwide, usually around bodies of water or desert areas with sand. Composed of sand-sized minerals and rock grains, it has been used to build palaces and buildings; Ohio sandstone was used in the construction of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Sandstone Grave Marker
Sandstone is resistive to the elements but easy to carve making it a favorite of carvers for gravestones during the 17th to 19th Centuries.

Lettered Fieldstone
Fieldstone with Initials and Date
Fieldstone is just that, stone found in a nearby field or woods that is used to mark a grave. These were some of our earliest grave markers. In later times, those who could not afford to purchase a gravestone used fieldstone. Many times the deceased’s name and date of death was carved into the rock, but due to the elements and time, most inscriptions are difficult to red, if they remain at all.

Stone markers are just another reason wandering through a cemetery can be such an adventure, and a delight. Especially when you hope to "leave no stone unturned."

~ Joy


  1. Janet Kolar,http://www.mineralspringshauntedtours.comAugust 31, 2013 at 9:32 PM

    My Tour Company, Mineral Springs Haunted Tours offers a number of unique tours.Our "Mineral Springs "Ghosts and Gravestones" Tour starts with a "Memorial" honoring all who died at Mineral Springs. Then cars line up behind one of my hearses and the procession goes to the Alton Cemetery. The tour guide takes people to 32 gravesights, and tombstone art is one of the features. After returning to Mineral Springs for a Repast, a tour to a very active haunted area ensues. The tour endss with a Tarot Card reading for each guest.
    Your blog about cemetery art and types of stone is very informative. I too, as well as my Research team love cemeteries. I certainly enjoyed reading your information.

    1. Thanks, Janet. Can't wait to take the Mineral Springs Haunted Tour. It will be one of AGI's featured Haunted tours for October!

  2. You can find a lot of beautiful artwork in cemeteries. I have seen a lot of great stuff and i truly appreciate every single piece of it. This is a great feature of different stones and carvings. These are really interesting stuff. No wonder you love wandering around cemetries.

    1. Thanks, Gracie! I'm always amazed at how many people don't realize what amazing art you can find in a cemetery, if you just take the time and look.

  3. very nice information you have share.I have read many post related to cemeteries but this post is really very nice.