Thursday, December 31, 2015

Warrenton, North Carolina

A is for Abbott: What does Abbott mean? In one word: priest. But, it derives from the Aramaic (and Hebrew) word for 'father' (abba). The root is recognizable from the name Abraham, which means 'father of multitudes.' The family name on this headstone is deeply rooted in world culture, just as the first and middle names are deeply rooted in American culture. The suffix 'Jr.' puts the use of 'George Washington' into perspective. In the decades following the Civil War, names chosen from the pantheon of patriotism were common. His father would have been born during that time period. Sulphur Springs Baptist Church Cemetery. [2013]

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Decatur, Illinois

B is for Brady:  "Husband Dad Pawpaw." Let's focus on the last term of endearment. Half of all grandfathers still go by "grandpa" according to a survey by babycenter.com. "Pawpaw" did not make the top-ten list, but "papaw" came in at number 7. The survey also found that 1 in 5 grandfathers went by more contemporary and creative names. Let's see when "pepe" and "popper" start appearing on headstones. Macon County Memorial Park. [2015]

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Cincinnati, Ohio

C is for Cafferata:  There is one stand-out grave in St. Joseph's. It sets the emotional tone for the entire cemetery. Somebody is in mourning. It does not seem as if she is contemplating the joy of everlasting life, but rather the emotional loss that is felt on earth. Here's someone of Italian heritage whose family knows how to incorporate Mediterranean emotions and the flowing lines of classic Greek and Roman sculpture into a memorial. St. Joseph New Cemetery. [2013]

Monday, December 28, 2015

Decatur, Georgia

D is for Deadwyler:  The cemetery here is a flourishing business today, but it began as a graveyard for slaves prior to the Civil War; then it became popular with freedmen and their descendants. In fact, before the 1940s, it was marked as the “South’s most beautiful cemetery for colored people.”  The largest concentration of Deadwylers in the country is in Georgia. Washington Memorial Gardens. [2014]

Friday, December 25, 2015

Jamesport, Missouri

E is for Eads: The Eads family must have spent many merry Christmases together: giving gifts and trading smiles, loving home and feeling loved, growing up and growing old. [2008]

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Delmar, Delaware

F is for Figgs:  Look closely at the names and dates of birth: two figs from the same tree, born at the same time, lived life in the same place, buried under the same headstone. Married? Read the love letter penned by one beloved wife: "Beyond the sorrow and tears, beneath the canopy of heavens light, our spirits shall join together in the forever of eternal life." St. Stephens Cemetery. [2013]

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Grand Forks, North Dakota

G is for Gunderson:  In 1923, Donald moved onto the list of the top ten boys' names. It stayed there until World War II. Hazel has never been on the list of the top ten girls' names, but in 1928, it ranked 59th. Rusty is currently the 25th most popular dog name for males. As for Gunderson: fits perfectly the Scandinavian ethnic islands of the Upper Midwest. Memorial Park. [2012]

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Chattanooga, Tennessee

H is for House:  They were both born in 1911, but they became a single house only in 1953. By that time they were in their their forties. Was there a starter house in their future? Did they build a whole neighborhood? Does the House of House live on? Silverdale Cemetery. [2013]

Monday, December 21, 2015

Branford, Connecticut

I is for Ifkovic:  Do you know what an "earworm" is? It's a tune that gets stuck in your head and keeps on going like the Energizer Bunny. (Worms, bunnies, mixed metaphors?) Earworms have found multiple niches in cemetery ecosystems. One niche is marked by headstones with lighthouses on them: "Brightly beams our Father's mercy from his lighthouse evermore, but to us he gives the keeping of the lights along the shore." That's the Phillip Bliss Earworm. St. Agnes Cemetery. [2009]

Friday, December 18, 2015

Maryland LIne, Maryland

J is for Jones:  Jones is the fifth most common family name in the United States. Over the past century, Richard was the seventh most common name given to boys. Jones derives from "son of John," and Richard derives from "brave ruler." This Richard may not have been a brave ruler, but it looks like he was a brave firefighter! Methodist Protestant Cemetery. [2013]

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Haleiwa, Hawaii

K is for Kahoiwai:  He was born in the Kingdom of Hawaii during the reign of Kamehameha III. He died in the U.S. Territory of Hawaii during the reign of Dole Pineapple. His grandparents must have been among the first to be Christianized, probably during the great wave of missionary activity that swept Oahu in the 1820s. Clearly his parents were devout believers: he carries the name of Jesus' father. But the middle name was chosen to maintain the link to traditional Hawaiian culture. He must have been proud of both names since they are both on his tombstone. [2011]

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Lancaster, Minnestoa

L is for Larter:  A bell: it seems like a natural fit for graveyards. Bells are used in life to mark and memorialize beginnings and endings. But, they are rare in cemeteries, even though their purpose is memorialization. Maybe bell ringing contradicts the quietness that is supposed to set the tone for grieving. The best thing about this bell is that it can be rung, perhaps at night while someone is explaining how the term "graveyard shift" came into use. Riverview Memorial Gardens. [2012]

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Serbin Texas

M is for Miertschin:  Texas Hill Country was a magnet for European ethnic groups fleeing the tumult of Europe in the mid-1800s. Among them were the Sorbs, or Wends. Their settlement of Sorbin (place of the Sorbs, or Serbs) became the mother colony of Sorbian culture in America, and St. Paul's Lutheran Church became the mother church. Even as they took on American ways, their unique culture and family names gave them an identity to which they continue to cling tenaciously. The Miertschin family was in the first (actually, only!) wave of Wendish settlers to the Texas frontier. St. Paul's Lutheran Church Cemetery. [2009]

Monday, December 14, 2015

Ault, Colorado

N is for Nelson:  "For there are these three things that endure: Faith, Hope and Love, but the greatest of these is Love." These are the words of Jesus translated from the language he spoke, Aramaic. If one word describes Christianity, it is Love. But, today another verse is being cited as the central tenet of the Jesus Movement in the modern world, a verse about his confrontation with the money changers: "And he made for himself a whip from rope and cast all of them out of The Temple; and the sheep, the lambs, and money exchangers, and he poured out their money and overturned their tables." Ault Cemetery. {2013]

Friday, December 11, 2015

Cheyenne, Wyoming

O is for Ornelas:  Jesus is not a common name in the English-speaking world but it is common among Spanish-speakers. Of course, it is pronounced differently, and more like the original Greek. Around the world the name Jesus spread, from the eastern Mediterranean, to Greece, then Rome, onto Spain and then the Americas. But the cultural boundary between Hispanic and English culture acted as a barrier to diffusion. Instead, Anglophones adopted the Hebrew name for Christ: Joshua, from Yeshu. As for Ornelas, it means "place of eagles." Mount Olivet Cemetery. [2013]

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Blanding, Utah

P is for Palmer:  Both they and their ancestors traveled widely. How can you conclude that from a headstone? First, by looking at the name, Palmer. It comes from the French for "palm bearer," and signified one who had made the pilgrimage to the Holy Land and returned with a palm frond in hand. Second, by looking at the silhouetted edifice, a Mormon Temple. Young people in the LDS Church go on missionary assignments abroad, returning home enriched in spirit with a song in their hearts. What song was in the hearts of this couple? Blanding City Cemetery. [2013]

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Lewisburg, West Virginia

Q is for Quenon:  Not only did they have a name starting with Q, they had one of the rarest Q names. He and his wife must have had to spell it whenever they met someone new. Do you like having to repeatedly spell out your name for others? Je pense que non. Rosewood Cemetery. [2015]

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Batesville, Indiana

R is for Riley:  What did the "life of Riley" mean to this couple? Living high on the hog, obviously. But in their case the hog was a Harley. Their motto, now given voice by black granite, will stand forever and will be the envy of many like-minded and free-spirited visitors: "We Lived. We Loved. We Rode." St. Louis Catholic Cemetery. [2013]

Monday, December 7, 2015

Caddo Valley, Arkansas

S is for Spradlin:  The Caddo Valley is cut by the Caddo River. Like most rivers in Arkansas, it has been impounded to form a reservoir, DeGray Lake, located only a few miles from the town of Caddo Valley. In fact, the reservoir has become the raison d'ĂȘtre for a state park. Must be good fishin' in that lake. Must be good fishin' in all of Arkansas, which calls itself the Natural State. Caddo Valley Baptist Church Cemetery. [2012]

Friday, December 4, 2015

Herman, Nebraska

T is for Tyson:  You can't approach a tombstone like this without doing the word-association game. "I say 'Tyson'; you say...."  If you have one of those names, patrinyms that have entered the language of popular culture, you know that people aren't thinking of you when they say your name: They're thinking of filling their stomachs with stir-fry or their heads with visions of glory. Herman Cemetery. [2007]

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Littlestown, Pennsylvania

U is for Updyke:  Farmers they were. Prosperous farmers. Look at the size of the house, and (more importantly) the barn. It's a typical Pennsylvania bank barn; that's obvious from the lane that leads out back. It goes to the backside of the barn so you can enter on the second floor. Hay up top, animals down below. And, there is something else that is so Pennsylvanian about this tableau: the house and the barn are right on the main road. Why was that and how does it contrast with other regions like the American south? Mt. Carmel Cemetery. [2014]

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

New York, New York

V is for Vachon:   For over two hundred years, the body of this Revolutionary War solder has lain in the churchyard of St. Paul's Chapel in Lower Manhattan. What makes his grave interesting is the mixture of languages on his headstone.  French and English are both there: His last name is clearly French (from vache, meaning cow) but his first name is clearly anglicized from François. Here's proof that New York was already one of the world's commercial hubs, whose fortunes are always built on diverse cultural geographies. In fact, Mr. Vachon's French language may have served him well in the corridors of commerce along the waterfront. In some small way, his life contributed to the triumph of New York over Philadelphia as the nation's largest city. St. Paul's Churchyard. [2014]

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Worcester, Massachusetts

W is for Wasgatt:  Do you have a name that's not so common?  If you do, it might be even easier to formulate a family narrative. With only a little research, it's easy to see a colonial migration of Wasgatts from Lancashire in England to Massachusetts.  Even today, their largest numbers are in the Bay State and its down-east daughter, Maine. How do the shamrock and maple leaf fit the narrative? Roots in Ireland (not England?) and Canada would be one hypothesis. Notre Dame Cemetery. [2013]

Monday, November 30, 2015

Knapp, Wisconsin

X is for Xiong:  He was head of his village in Laos when he was 28. He left his village (probably the one on his headstone) when he was 58; the year was 1975. The Hmong had been loyal to the Americans in the Vietnam War and were rewarded with an airlift (see it?) and resettlement in the United States. They came as refugees and became loyal American citizens. Now, to refugees, the United States is on the verge of saying 'no'. Forest Hill Cemetery. [2012]

Friday, November 27, 2015

Alexandria, Kentucky

Y is for Yana:  Cemetery landscapes are laden with symbols inherited from the ancient Greeks, to whom Americans trace their roots as a democracy. The urn is one of those symbols. It was used to contain the ashes of the dead. Problem: The Greeks were pagans. The concept of "ashes to ashes and dust to dust," however, has deep Biblical roots (Gen 3:19 and 18:27; Job 30:19). It's a reminder of the mortality of the body and, by contrast, the everlasting life of the soul. Alexandria Cemetery. [2013]

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Montgomery, Alabama

Z is for Zelen:  Here lies one of God's chosen people. No, not because she is Jewish, but because she is among the world's Zs. There is something special about having a family name that starts with the last letter of the alphabet, so special that only God could be responsible for bestowing the honor. Whatever your last name is, it's part of your identity, something that makes you unique. And, that's something to be thankful for. Greenwood Cemetery. [2013]

Friday, November 20, 2015

Leesburg, Virginia

Full-Color Dual Patriotism:   Recognize the flag (and the loyalties) on this one? If not, you're sure to recognize the language: it says "Rest in Peace." In the entire world, only a million people could translate it for you. Does the bio-blurb mean that Distance Learning in the United States has Estonian roots? Union Cemetery. [2014]


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Camden, Delaware

Full-Color Dual Patriotism:  Let's write the script for this one:  He went off to World War II, found himself stationed in Britain, met a girl barely old enough to get married, brought her back to the states, and lived happily ever after. Sixty-three years of wedlock: an inspiration to us all. Did you pick up on the symbolism of the rose? Sharon Hills Odd Fellows Cemetery. [2015]


Monday, November 16, 2015

Laramie, Wyoming

Full-Color Dual Patriotism:  Here's a departed thirty-something with one foot in the United States, one foot in Canada, and a final resting place in Wyoming. Perhaps dual allegiance ought to be encouraged rather than seen as a threat to American patriotism. Not that Canada is a threat, but think of how many foreign flags might be interpreted in just that way if they appeared in a context like this. Green Hill Cemetery. [2013]


Friday, November 13, 2015

Blanding, Utah

Full-Color Patriotism:  Ever see a blue sky? Ever see a red, white, and blue sky?  He did: in his heart. And, now it's on his headstone. Would you expect to find such accentuated patriotism where someone of Native American heritage (judging from the name) is buried? Blanding City Cemetery. [2013]

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Miami, Florida

Full-Color Patriotism:  The name is not only Hispanic, it's Cuban. But the headstone features not a Cuban flag, but the Stars and Stripes. Somebody wanted all future generations to know where his loyalties lay. He was born in 1953; he could have been brought by his mother to American shores after the Cuban Revolution. When he grew up, he fought for his adopted country, so today we honor him and all veterans. It's Veterans Day. Woodlawn Park Cemetery. [2014]

Monday, November 9, 2015

Laramie, Wyoming

Full-Color Patriotism:  Neither he nor the flag is at rest. He's running and the flag is fluttering. These pictorial elements contradict the usual message of cemetery landscapes, which often shout:  "Rest in Peace." Green Hill Cemetery. [2013]

Friday, November 6, 2015

Moab, Utah

Eternal Rest:   "A chapter completed, a page turned, a life well-lived, a rest well-earned." It seems perfectly tailored to both the end of life and America's mystical reverence for work. Grand Valley Cemetery. [2013]


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Lakeland, Florida

Eternal Rest:  "I have done my work and now I am resting with Jesus" is the message on this headstone. In the old Germanic language, rest was used as a measure of distance, like a mile, after which one rested. That seems to be the sense communicated here. Lakeview Cemetery. [2014]


Monday, November 2, 2015

Amelia, Ohio

Eternal Rest:  "Rest in Peace" may be the most frequent short epitaph on cemetery landscapes, but the theme of rest allows itself to be interpreted in other ways, too.  Here is someone who is "At Rest" and honored today, for today is All Souls' Day, a time to remember the faithful departed. The use of At Rest to refer to the dead originated in the 14th century. Former IOOF Cemetery. [2014]

Friday, October 30, 2015

Holyoke, Massachusetts

Rest in Peace:  Ersatz cemeteries appear all over in the days leading up to Halloween. Front yards like this one are prime locations. We can have such fun with the dead, can't we?  [2013]

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Claremont, California

Rest in Peace:  'Rest in Peace' became so much a part of the cemetery's linguistic landscape that you didn't even need to spell it out. R.I.P. was known to everyone. The long poem on this headstone is another part of the linguistic landscape, common everywhere but with more recent roots. It begins: "If tears could build a stairway...." Oak Park Cemetery. [2015]

Monday, October 26, 2015

Rockport, Arkansas

Rest in Peace:  "Rest in Peace" is probably the most well-known short epitaph found on cemetery memorials.  It has Biblical roots and a long history, but it soared in popularity in the 1700s and remains in the mix of prayers uttered for the soul. What's worth more than a knowing glance on this headstone, though, is the name. Rockport Cemetery. [2012]

Friday, October 23, 2015

Big Coppit Key, Florida

Focus on Southern Keys Cemetery:  Some quirkiness is evident here. The images may be caricatures of pet cats (perhaps from the same litter!), but they may also be caricatures of their mistress. Want to guess that the southern Keys are a proudly quirky place? [2014]


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Big Coppit Key, Florida

Focus on Southern Keys Cemetery:  In the Florida Keys, everything is seaside, and palms are everywhere. Perhaps no other tree connotes peace and contentment as much as the palm, of whatever variety. What does an earthly paradise look like? Tropical islands, crowned in palm fronds, in a sea of blue. That may be our image of the eternal paradise as well. [2014]

Monday, October 19, 2015

Big Coppit Key, Florida

Focus on Southern Keys Cemetery: Some memorials capture the spirit of place almost perfectly. Would you guess 'Florida' if you found an alligator like this on guard at ground level? This type of marker is called a ledger. It's a slab of granite that covers the entire body. Chief advantage: lots of room for memorializing words and pictures. [2014]


Friday, October 16, 2015

Thomasville, Pennsylvania

Equophilia:  Do you feel like staring? Do you feel like the horse on the headstone is eager to share? Rhea Badhwar's poem "Horses" captures these inclinations perfectly. Now, find the cherub on the crescent moon and create a dreamtime colloquy between the two. Speech balloons provided. Equophilia? Love of horses. Paradise Evangelical Lutheran Church Cemetery. [2014]

     "When a horse is seen, many words come to mind,
Strong, agile, magnificent, refined.
When a horse is seen there's an urge to stare,
There's a thrill that the horse is eager to share."