Friday, February 26, 2021


If you’ve spent much time in a cemetery, you know that not all grave markers are the same. Today, we'll take a look at six types of stone you will find in a graveyard.


Types of Headstones

1)  Fieldstone (1600s – Present)

Fieldstones were the earliest types of grave markers used from 1600s to the present. Besides being plentiful, these rocks could be carved, chiseled or painted with a name, dates and other information. The main problem was that over the decades, the stones get moved so many might not be where they were originally placed. You will still find fieldstones in cemeteries. They became popular again during the Great Depression when families could not afford markers.


2)  Slate (1600s – 1900s)

Slate was very popular, mainly in the eastern U.S. during the 18th to the 20th centuries. One of the reasons is because the stone is easy to carve. Slate can withstand freezing and thawing fairly well, which is why we can still read them. And acid rain appears to have a minimal effect. But due to the stone’s porousness, it is subject to delamination, which means it separates into sheets and falls away.


3)  Sandstone (1650s – late 1800s)

Sandstone was another stone that carvers used from the 1650s to the late 1800s. It was easy to decorate and was available around the country. The stone's color may range from red to light tan to brown to grey. The problem with this stone includes spalling and flaking. This is where pieces chip off the stone making the surface uneven, hard to read and encourages  the growth of lichen.


4)  Limestone (mid-1700s – 1930s)

Limestone was favored in the Midwest from the mid-1700s to the Great Depression because of its availability and ease of carving. This stone is made up of calcite and calcium carbonate. These small particles are composed of fossils held together by a lime cement.

Although visually appealing, this soft stone is severely affected by weathering, which causes pitting and that slowly wears the details of the stone away. This also causes the letters to dissolve over time. Tree stones were usually crafted from limestone and were a very popular marker in the Midwest.


5)  Marble (1780s – 1930s)

Marble has been used for centuries due to its strength and beautiful appearance. In the U.S. marble gravestones were popular from the 1780s through the 1930s. The stone is usually white with blue or grey veins running through it but can also be black with white veins. When you rub your hand over marble, it feels like sandpaper.

But marble began to fall out of favor when weathering made it difficult to read. Acid rain has become the main enemy of this stone causing the surface to become grainy and the lettering on the stone to slowly fade away.


6)  Granite (mid-1800s – present)

Granite is the most durable of gravestones, and currently, the most popular. With use mainly from the mid-1800s to the present, these gravestones can be red or grey in color. The red stones contain a small amount of oxidized iron. Granite that ranges from bright red to pink in color usually come from Missouri, and the darker red stones are from Wisconsin. Grey stones are quarried mainly in New Hampshire. Granite lettering is resistant to deterioration, and the stone does not erode. Modern techniques make it easy to carve, and lasers allow etching of personal images to tell your life’s story.


And then there's the marker that isn't really a stone but still prevalent in cemeteries across the country: 

Bonus - White Bronze (Zinc) (1880s – 1920s)

“Tombstone Tourists” will be familiar with another type of gravestone made of white bronze or zinc. Although not white, and not made of bronze, these memorials are usually very detailed, always different, and found in very good to excellent condition. White bronze monuments are easy to spot once you start looking for their telltale bluish-grey color.

White bronze monuments offered a less expensive alternative for a custom designed and detailed grave marker.  But there were those who looked down on the white bronze marker as being a cheap imitation of a solid granite stone.  Some cemeteries even banned them, many times due to the urging of local granite and marble monument companies. This is part of the reason they had such a short life, only from the 1880s to the 1920s. 

These monuments weathered well but they did have one flaw – creep. This occurs when the weight of the top of the monument bears down onto the base and it begins to bow or bulge – very slowly, over the years.  The only way to rectify this is to place a stainless-steel armature inside the base of this hollow marker to help support the upper weight.


Regardless of what type of stone you decide on, be sure to put a little of your story on the marker with carvings, images or symbols. Leave something for the coming generations to consider and enjoy when they wander the cemeteries.

~ Joy




Monday, February 1, 2021

A Grave Interest Celebrates 10 Years

It's amazing how quickly the time passes.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of A Grave Interest. 

I started the blog in 2011 because of my love for cemeteries. And because my husband and I had recently closed our winery after ten years. I thought it would give me something fun to do. Brian thought it would keep me busy for a few months …

Needless to say, after a decade of wandering and researching and writing, I’m more hooked on cemeteries than ever!

Thanks to all of you for reading the posts, telling me your stories, cluing me in on some great cemeteries, sharing photos, and inviting me to your genealogy conferences, libraries and societies. I love giving presentations about cemetery research, sharing interesting photos, and telling the occasional story about spooky cemetery occurrences.


I’ve got some major changes in the works for the next year including offering webinars, although I really miss getting to meet and talk with all of you. (Hoping we can attend meetings and conferences later in the year.)  There will also be a new A Grave Interest podcast, a new updated webpage and some in-the-field videos. Plus, more of the blog, so stay tuned, keep wandering cemeteries and keep reading.

And thanks for making this such a blast to do!

~ Joy

Friday, January 29, 2021

The Tradition of the Riderless Horse


It has been said that Genghis Khan, one of the most famous conquerors in history, was the first to honor fallen warriors by having the rider’s horse led to the burial site. The bond between the soldier and his horse was expected to last the length of the animal’s life. If a warrior died before the horse, the animal was sacrificed with the belief that the master was waiting for his steed at “the gate in the sky.”


Known as a "caparisoned horse" these riderless horses have been used in funeral rites for centuries. The “Cap Horse” is led by the “Cap Walker” to the cemetery. The riderless horse is used mainly in Presidential, Secretary of Defense, and military funerals for those with the rank of Colonel or above.


What the horse carries on his back during the funeral depends on his color. A black horse carries a saddle blanket, saddle and bridle. Any other color horse carries a folded hood and cape along with the saddle, blanket and bridle.


The boots of the deceased are placed backwards in the stir-ups to symbolize the rider’s one final look back before continuing on in death.


Several presidents have chosen to be honored in this way. According to White House history, George Washington’s personal secretary, Tobias Lear noted that Washington’s “horse, with his saddle, holsters and pistols (was) led by two grooms, Cyrus and Wilson” in his funeral procession. Zackery Taylor, twelfth president of the United States, had his horse, Old Whitey, lead his funeral procession.



Old Bob

Abraham Lincoln was the first president honored with a cap horse in a state funeral. Lincoln’s horse, Old Bob, followed his master’s casket from the White House to the Capitol Rotunda where Lincoln was to lay in state. When his casket was carried to Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois, again Old Bob followed behind. Both times Lincoln’s boots had been placed backwards in the horse’s stir ups.


Black Jack

The most famous riderless horse was a Morgan-American Quarter horse named Black Jack for General John J. Pershing. Born on January 19, 1947, Black Jack was one of the last horses issued to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps. He arrived in Fort Myer, Virginia in late 1952 standing fifteen hands high and weighting 1,050 pounds.



Over the next two decades, Black Jack took part in the funerals for Presidents Herbert Hoover, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson along with 5-star General Douglas MacArthur. He also accompanied more than one-thousand soldiers and retired military to their graves, mostly in ceremonies in Arlington Cemetery.


Black Jack had many fans who went to visit, sent him holiday cards and requested locks of his hair.

Black Jack died on February 6, 1976 after serving 29 years in the military. He was cremated and his remains buried at Fort Myer on Summerall Field. Black Jack is one of only two horses to have been buried with full military honors. (The other was Comanche, a survivor of the battle of Little Big Horn in 1876.)


Sergeant York

This standard bred gelding was once known as “Allaboard Jules” during his racing days. Sgt. York was accepted into the military in 1997 and renamed in honor of WWI soldier Alvin C. York.

It was Sergeant York that served as Cap Horse for the 40th president, walking behind the caisson bearing President Ronald Reagan’s casket in 2004.


You can lean more at The Caisson Stables, which includes a small museum at Fort Myer in Virginia. There visitors can see the horses that work at Arlington Cemetery and learn more about the unique tradition of the riderless horse. Included is a tour of the stables and tack room, and afterwards you can pay your respects at the grave of Black Jack.

~ Joy

Friday, January 15, 2021

The Role of the Pallbearer


Pallbearers have carried the coffin at funerals for centuries. The term “pallbearer” is derived from the heavy white cloth (the pall) that at one time covered all caskets. The pall may be ornate or very plain. It is part of the religious ceremony in Roman Catholic and Lutheran funeral services representing death and rebirth of the spirit.


For a military funeral, the American flag is used as the pall. It is placed on the casket as soon as it enters the church and removed just before being lowered into the ground.

As the funeral ceremony became more simplified, the term “pallbearer” came to describe someone who carries the casket to its burial location.


Today, pallbearers are selected by the family to oversee the casket at the funeral. It is an honor to be asked and indicates that you were regarded highly by the deceased, and their family for they are trusting you to carry their loved one to the final resting place.

Pallbearers may be close relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, business associates and church members. And yes, women can act as pallbearers. Where it was once frowned upon to select a woman due to concerns about her emotions “getting the better of her,” today women are asked and accept these duties.

There are usually six to eight people who act as pallbearers depending on the size and weight of the casket, which is dictated by the number of handles on each side. (For a child’s casket, there may only be four handles.) A typical casket can weight from 200 to 400 pounds.


Each pallbearer should have ability to assist in lifting and carrying the casket over uneven ground in the cemetery. Some funeral homes provide a bier with wheels that pallbearers assist in rolling.


An honorary pallbearer is someone who cannot physically lift the casket; a distinguished colleague in the deceased’s professional field, or a special family member or close friend. The honorary pallbearer may lead or follow the casket.

A pallbearer should dress in conservative and respectful attire, and will be given white gloves to wear during the procession. However, the family may request pallbearers wear their loved one’s favorite color or something that has been designated as a tribute to the deceased.  Pallbearers should be able to keep emotions in check during this time.


Pallbearers should expect to arrive a few minutes early and stay a few minutes after the

Funeral so the director can explain what you will need to know and how to fulfill your

duties before the ceremony begins. Remember, it is an honor to be selected. If you are not sure you can keep your emotions under control, let the family know. They will appreciate your candidness.


~ Joy