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


  1. Here is one from a village churchyard near me
    In Memory of Geo Knapp Died Dec 11 1818 ahe 68 years.
    Dear Wife and Children as you pass by as you am now so once was I.As I am now so must thou be, therefore be prepred to follow me.

    1. Interesting to note that this one is on stones on both sides of the Atlantic. I do love the follow up to this one, though - "To follow you I won't consent, For I don't know which way you went!"

  2. I have just found your blog and wanted to say thank you for all the information. I share your interest and love Victorian gravestones and all the symbols.

    1. Thanks for reading Steel City Anna!

    2. I believe that the wife of Billy Graham has on her stone something like... "End of construction zone. Thank You for your patience."

    3. Indeed it does. She saw the words on a highway sign and told friends that was what she wanted her epitaph to be.