Friday, March 28, 2014

Humor in the Cemetery

Tuesday is April 1st - April Fools’ Day.  A day celebrated around the world with jokes, hoaxes and pranks.  Also known as All Fools’ Day, the tradition is believed to have begun in France in the 1500’s.   

Although wit is not something you expect to find in a cemetery, our ancestors did have a sense of humor about life … and death. Epitaphs - those tributes and verses engraved on tombstones, can provide a bit more insight into the deceased’s character, all the while offering it with a wink and a nod.  With that in mind, here's a look at a bit of  ‘grave humor’.

In Hillside Cemetery at Eastport, Maine, Lorenzo Sabine was buried in 1877.  On his stone is one simple word,             Transplanted

Boot Hill Cemetery
Tombstone, Arizona started in 1879 as a mining boomtown that grew up quick and grew up mean.  It briefly became part of the ‘Wild West,” where cattle ranchers, cowboys and carpet baggers all held sway with a gun. It was during 1881 that Marshall Wyatt Earp and his brothers fought the cowboys at what became known as the shootout at O.K. Corral.  In the infamous Boot Hill Cemetery in Tombstone, almost 300 of these former citizens are buried and remembered with some interesting epitaphs.

Here lies Butch.
We planted him raw.
He was quick on the trigger
But slow on the draw.

Wells Fargo Agent, Lester Moore was also buried in Boot Hill with the following epitaph:

Here Lies
Lester Moore
Four slugs from a 44
No Les
No more

England is also the home of many cheeky inscriptions –

On the stone of Anna Wallace in a cemetery in Ribbesford, England is this supposed inscription:

The children of Israel wanted bread
And the Lord sent them manna
Old clerk Wallace wanted a wife
And the Devil sent him Anna

From a London cemetery comes this,

Owen Moore
Gone away
Owin’ more
Than he could pay

Even the barristers appear to have had a sense of humor.

Sir John Strange
Here lies an honest lawyer
And that is Strange

Rebecca Freeland was buried in an Edwalton, England cemetery in 1741 with this rejoinder – 

She drank good ale
Good punch and wine
And lived to the age of 99

Some cleaver epitaphs may be a bit too clever.  When I researched to locate these, I found that the cemetery locations continued to change from one state to another, from one mention to another.  But, regardless of existence, they are humorous.

Here lies the body
Of Jonathan Blake
Stepped on the gas
Instead of the brake

Here lies the body of our Anna
Done to death by a banana.
It wasn’t the fruit that laid her low
But the skin of the thing that made her go.

This inscription has been reported in a cemetery in Hartscombe, England and also in New Jersey.  Same name, different days of death – in England on June 22, in New Jersey on June 30 but no year of death is given.

On June __,
Jonathan Fiddle
Went out of tune.

In Elkhart, Indiana the stone for S.B. McCracken, a teacher reads –

School is out.
Teacher has gone home.

The famous also have some epitaphs that produce chuckles –
Mel Blanc, the man behind hundreds of character voices for Warner Brothers Studios, went out with the tagline of every Warner Brother’s cartoon ...

That’s All Folks

American singer, actor and 50’s Rat Pack member, Frank Sinatra closed out with a line from one of his songs,

The best is yet to come

Television host and media mogul, Merv Griffin ended his life segment with –

I will not be right back
After this message.

For Spike Milligan, an Irish comedian, writer and actor,

"Duirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite"

English translation:  “I told you I was ill.”

 It is also rumored that a similar epitaph exists in an unnamed cemetery in Georgia for a B.P. Roberts with the words -

I told you I was sick.

The sudden passing of John Belushi left us with a smile –

I may be gone but
Rock and Roll lives on.

Then there are the anonymous epitaphs:

Again, from England – 
This spot is the sweetest I’ve seen in my life,
For it rises my flowers and covers my wife.

Beneath this silent stone is laid
A noisy antiquated maid
Who from her cradle talked to death
And ne’er before was out of breath.

This epitaph is seen in nineteenth century cemeteries throughout the U.S.

Behold and see as you pass by
For as you are, so once was I 

As I am now, so will you be
Prepare unto death and follow me

But someone supposedly felt a reply was needed to this plea and carved, somewhere - 

To follow you, I’ll not consent
For I don’t know which way you went.

And to close out with my favorite:

Here lies an Atheist.
All dressed up and no place to go.

Have a Happy April First, and remember in those immortal Main Ingredient song lyrics…

“Everybody plays the fool, sometimes……”

~ Joy

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Dying Art: Stone Carvers of the Cemetery

Cave Petroglyphs
Art has always been a part of our society; a part of what makes us human, and stone carvers are the oldest artists in the world. Their petroglyphs and carvings can be found on cave walls and stones around the globe.

Venus of Berekhat Ram
What is thought to be the oldest carved stone is known as the Venus of Berekhat Ram. Shaped like a female figure, this prehistoric stone is at least 230,000 years old and may have been carved by Homo erectus.

Early stone carvings were made using a harder stone to “carve” on a softer stone. The Ancient Greeks developed a technique where granules of carborundum (Silicon carbide - SiC) were formed into an abrasive file, which could then be used to scrape forms or designs on stone.

Indiana Limestone Quarry
Chisel Carving Tools
With the development of iron, carving tools were created and tempered so that stone could be shaped and cut without damaging the tools or destroying the stone. Gravestones could be crafted from granite, limestone, marble, slate, even metal.

The halcyon days of gravestone carving in the U.S. began during the 19th century and continued into the 1920s. It was during this period that gravestone sculptors chiseled, rasped and carved with such proficiency that “cemetery stone carver” became a well-respected profession in America.  Carving grave markers gave these men a way to express their artistic talents, and earn a living. Many monument and gravestone sculptors were proud of their designs, and signed their works. 

The size of the mausoleums, grave sculpture, or stone mattered in the cemetery because it indicated a person’s wealth and status in that community. But well carved cemetery markers were not just for the rich – some of the most poignant examples were carved by local craftsmen as can be seen in the abundance of tree stones, statues and monuments carved around the country.

Indiana Stone Carvers
Stone carvers arrived in the U.S. and gravitated to certain areas of the country where quarries and work were plentiful – mainly in New England – in Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Numerous stone carvers from Ireland, Scotland, France, Germany and Italy made their way to the U.S. during the 1800s, intent to settle here and carve stories in stone.

Limestone Quarry
Another destination for stone carvers was in Lawrence County, Indiana, and the town of Bedford, located in the heart of limestone country; the “Limestone Capital of the World.”

A Favorite Hat
A Stone Carver's Table on the Day He Died
The work of numerous stone carvers can be seen at Green Hill Cemetery in Bedford.  Hundreds of carvings, statues, sculptures and engravings exist in minute detail, thanks to the limestone’s ability to weather well.

Many of those stone carvers are now buried here near the Stone Cutters Monument, erected by the Bedford Stone Cutters Association in 1894.

Bedford Stone Carvers Monument
The monument shows a late 19th century stonecutter, holding a mallet in his hand.  Clasped hands are shown on the front of the monument, beneath it’s gabled roof.  The other three sides bear the carved images of a hand with a mallet, a sexton and square, and a grouping of stonecutting tools.

Water Jet
Oxy-acetylene Torch
Today, “carving” on gravestones is done using water erosion and diamond saw cutting techniques, lasers, oxy-acetylene torches or jet heat torches.

Karin Sprague Stone Carvers
John Stevens Shop
Unfortunately, the art of stone carving by hand is vanishing from American cemeteries. Only a handful of stone carvers remain, most located in New England. Among them are The John Stevens Shop, Karin Sprague Stone Carvers, Custom Memorials (Michael Fannin, Stone Carver), Words Too Big To Read (Allison Blake Schofield, Stone Carver), and Anderson Memorials (Jeff Anderson, Stone Carver)

Although a monument or marker cut with laser and die does a satisfactory job, a hand-carved stone has a more intimate feel, and offers a very personal way to remember a loved one. Hand carved stones give us a way to bridge the past and future - as stone carvers cut and shape each individual grave marker, one small chip at a time …

~ Joy

Friday, March 14, 2014

March is Women's History Month - Even in the Cemetery

March is Women’s History Month, a time to explore how women are remembered - in the cemetery.

Celebrating Women's Day
On March 8, 1911 the first International Women’s Day was celebrated in the U.S.  The Women’s Suffrage Movement was beginning, not only in this country but also throughout Europe.  Women had decided to band together to demand equal and fair treatment, including the right to vote.

Unfortunately, what those women fought so hard for was put by the wayside when our country tumbled headfirst into the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  Then war broke out in 1941. Women stepped up and came into their own, taking jobs that had only been held by men, prior to the war. It took WWII to finally place women on a more fair footing with men, only to have it taken away in the 1950’s, as women were relegated back to domestic life, to raise the children and tend the home fires.

The upheaval of the 1960s and the women’s movement of the 1970s finally brought about the lasting changes that many of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers had started fighting for in the early 1900’s.

National Women's History Project
It was 1981 when the U.S. Congress proclaimed the week of March 8 (an acknowledgement to the original International Women’s Day celebration of 1911) as National Women’s History Week.  In 1987 Congress declared the month of March to be Women’s History Month with the purpose of honoring women and remembering their sacrifices and contributions to the world we live in.

Although times have changed, they still remain the same. You will find the women of the cemetery usually bear one of these descriptive names on their stones to describe their station in life; daughter, sister, aunt, wife, mother, grandmother, widow.  On older stones, the term consort or relict was used to describe the woman’s marital status.

From the 17th through 19th centuries, consort was usually used on the graves of women, although a man could also be a consort.  The word consort was normally used in this manner: "Nancy consort of John Clark." Consort meant that Nancy was John’s spouse and died before her husband did.  There is no other information listed. The fact that she was married to John is all that’s left as a reminder of her life and identity.

Mary LaPlant faired better in regard to information about her life. Mary was the consort, or spouse, of Lambert Barrots.  Both her birth and death dates were listed along with ‘LaPlant’, which was probably, her birth name possibly used as a middle name.

Relict was another term from the 17th and 18th centuries that meant the woman was the surviving spouse of the marriage and had not remarried.  Relict was used much as our term widow is used today to describe a woman whose spouse has died before her.

Most of the other relationship terms used to describe a woman remain the same.  They can give us more insight into the lives of our female ancestors, and yet, it seems, never quite enough ...

Daughter describes any female descendent or offspring.

Charlotte Snyder was a daughter.  Unfortunately we do not know whose daughter, nor do we know the exact dates of her birth or death.

‘Mary dau. (daughter) of L.J. & M.E. Miles’ had a more detailed stone. Mary’s death date and age were listed, along with the symbol of a rosebud, used to indicate the lose of a young life.

Sister is a female who has both parents in common with another offspring.  Sister is not as prevalent on gravestones as other relationship terms.

Two sisters will share this marker.  Each has her married name on the stone. Unfortunately, for genealogy purposes, we do not know what their birth name was.

Aunt describes a female who is the sister or sister-in-law of your parent.

With this stone designation of Aunt, we may assume that Hannah never married.  Her birth and death dates were listed, along with her middle name.

Wife is the female partner in a marriage.

Catharine – wife of Samuel Thorn with a date of death listed, although covered up by years of soil buildup.  Samuel had a willow tree placed on the stone, a symbol of mourning.

Anna B. was the wife of John G. Frisz.  Anna’s birth and death years were listed and her stone was very substantial and ornate.

Then there are the stones that hint of plans gone awry – This couple’s stone showed Edward’s birth and death years, but for Ella, only the year of her birth. Did she move away, remarry or did someone just forget to have the date of her passing engraved on the stone?

Mother – a female, who has given birth to a child, adopted a child or raised a child.  The female parent.

Charlotte T. Engle’s stone showed her birth and death dates along with the simple inscription ‘Mother.’

Myrtle’s stone indicated that she was someone’s mother and the year of her birth and death.

There are also the poignant stones, such as ‘Hattie Clark and Daughter.’  No dates, no name for the child, no idea what tragedy occurred ...

Grandmother – The mother of your mother or father.
Grandmother is another designation, which is seldom found on gravestones.

Naomi Graves Bray was honored with the term ‘Grandmother’ placed on her stone, along with her birth and death years and a religious symbol.

Other designations, or lack of, that can create a dilemma about who these women were:

This stone tells us only that Elizabeth was buried here, along with her birth and death years.  No last name, no relationship designation.

Here, a bit more detail, Flora's last name - Clement.  A birth year was given, but no death year.

This stone is intriguing.  The large marble marker was used for the grave of Jesse Cravens' wife who died in 1885.  A four-line epitaph was engraved at the bottom.  But I find the semicolon a mystery.  Was it used to indicate an omitted or unknown letter?  If so, then Jesse Cravens had nothing to do with this stone, as he should have known the spelling of his wife’s name.  So who had this stone erected? And why use a semicolon instead of a question mark if the letter or letters were unknown?  Does any one have any ideas?

This stone tells of someone much beloved: someone who was considered "Darling".

It seems only fitting to close out with a stone that seems to sum up Women’s History Month.

“James Henry – Husband of Beatrice Steel”

Ah, Beatrice - Touché!