Saturday, October 19, 2013

'Memento Mori' & 'Fugit Hora'

This beaten and battered headstone exemplifies the stark, straightforward relationship that early Americans had with death. Children often did not live past early childhood, disease was not understood or easily prevented, and life was shorter and much more dangerous than it is now. The world was often bleak and hard, and God's judgement was used to explain the tragic randomness of death. With life being so unpredictable, our forebearers were closer to and more realistic about death and dying. 

The death's head on the stone is flanked by a pair of angel wings, which is graduated from the more viscerally morbid skull flanked by crossbones. The wings show the promise of heaven amid the brutality of life and death. To the right of the skull and wings is an hourglass, symbolic of our limited amount of time on earth, and the words 'Fugit Hora'. This saying is Latin for 'The hour flies' or 'Time flies'. It asks passersby to think about the brevity of life and how to make it count. When looking at the left side of the headstone, the phrase 'Memento mori' can be seen. At one time, this phrase was highly common on headstones, and it translates to 'Remember that you will die'. It asks the living to always remember that your time is limited, and to live life as best you can, but always be prepared to die. Say what needs to be said, do what needs to be done, and always live with this reminder in the back of your head. The crossbones accompanied by this saying drives this reminder home.

As American religious, funereal, medical, philosophical, and personal views evolved, the focus on bodily mortality disappeared, and the focus on the importance of the life lived and memories left behind became the prominent mode of mourning. We can learn from our forebearers, though: We all will die, and we should live while we are alive. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

George Jacobs: Victim of the Salem Witch Hysteria

The hanging victims of the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria suffered in death as they did in life. As if hanging was not a punishment enough, the families of the executed were not allowed to recover the bodies of their loved ones. The "witches" were not allowed a Christian burial, so their bodies were thrown in a mass grave with little fanfare. It is rumored that families risked severe punishment so they could recover the bodies of their loved ones and give them a proper burial. 

One of the accused "witches" was named George Jacobs, Sr. He was an elderly man when he was accused, nearly crippled but armed with a fiery tongue. He was hanged on August 19th, 1692. It is rumored that the relatives of George Jacobs, Sr. went, in the black of some night, to the hanging grave and brought his body home to be buried on the family farm. 

Fast forward hundreds of years, and the Jacobs farm has been sold and the story of George Jacobs' reburial has passed into legend. As unassuming farmer uncovered a body in the area where Jacobs was always rumored to have been buried. The bones are assumed to be his, although there is really no way to tell.

The body was moved to the Rebecca Nurse Homestead cemetery. Rebecca Nurse was a fellow victim of the Witchcraft Hysteria who was executed on the same day as Jacobs, and is also rumored to be buried on her family farm. A new headstone was carved for Jacobs in 1992 to mark his new and hopefully final resting place.

The body in this grave may not belong to George Jacobs. I would almost have to say that it probably does not. This is a matter of small importance, though, in the eyes of those who suffered and those who empathize with the victims today. The victims of the Hysteria were unfairly murdered in the throes of religious zealotry, and their families were not even given the simple peace of being able to bury their beloved remains. The fact that one of the victims was able to be given at least a headstone and a voice to scream across the ages is more than was able to be done for the rest of the victims. The voice of George Jacobs, Sr. still stands in the face of the injustice that took place:

"Well! Burn me or hang me. I will stand in the truth of Christ"

Further Reading:

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Ceely Rose Tragedy

In 1896, a case of love misunderstood in the seemingly misnamed Pleasant Valley area of Ohio led to the tragic murder of 3 innocent people. A young woman named Ceely Rose was the catalyst and culprit for these murders. By today's standards, she was severely learning disabled and could not do many tasks on her own. While she matured physically, she remained mentally immature. Nearly everyone made fun of her.

With the onset of physical maturity, she naturally fell in love with a local farmer named Guy Berry, who was one of the few people who treated her with any degree of respect. However, she did not understand that he was just being kind to her, and did not love her or want to marry her. Ceely began telling everyone that would listen that she and Guy were soon to be married! Guy did not want to hurt Ceely's feelings, so he told her that they could not be married because Ceely's family did not approve of him. This revelation sent Ceely into a rage that would prove to be deadly.

Accounts differ, but Ceely either soaked fly paper in water and poured it over cottage cheese, or she laced coffee with rat poison. Either way, she killer her father (David Rose), mother (Rebecca Rose), and brother (Walter Rose). Mr. Rose succumbed almost immediately, on June 30th. Walter lingered for a few weeks and later died on July 4th. Apparently, Mrs. Rose figured out what Ceely had done, and tried to protect her from authorities, but Ceely gave her another dose of arsenic and she died on July 19th. 

Ceely eventually confessed to a neighbor, after being heartbroken when Guy Berry left town to avoid blame and scrutiny. She spent the rest of her life in a mental institution, and died at the age of 83. Ceely is buried on the grounds of the Lima State Mental Hospital (or so I have heard). 

The Rose Home can be found on the grounds of Malabar Farm State Park, and the Rose family was laid to rest in a small cemetery just up the road, called Pleasant Valley Cemetery. 

The Rose Family Home at Malabar Farm:

Ceely, shortly after her arrest:

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Quit Harping On Me

What is a harp indicative of when it is located on a gravestone? Sometimes, it is a nod to the Irish heritage of the deceased. The harp has become associated with Ireland because of the prominence of harp use among musicians and poets in the Celtic and Gaelic cultures. Harps are also a symbol of praise to God, in the Christian tradition. The angels and saints are often portrayed playing a harp for God, since they are the most holy and able to sing Gods praises. On a gravestone, a harp may suggest that a person was very active in the church. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Butler Spring and Colonel Crawford

MAY 30TH 1782

APRIL 4, 1810"


So reads an easily overlooked stone monument on the side of SR 83. I drive past it everyday when I travel to work, and finally decided to pull over to see what it was. 

To the right of the stone is a small, babbling spring. It's hard to believe that the settlement of this area all sprang from a small pool of water on the side of the highway. It's also one of the last areas that Colonel William Crawford visited before his violent death. 

Just a few days later, Crawford was taken hostage by Native Americans. The Gnadenhutten Massacre was fresh in their minds. Roughly 100 innocent Native Americans were brutally murdered during this incident, and although Crawford was not responsible for the atrocities, he would pay for the massacre with his life. Crawford was tortured and burned at the stake. Both the Gnadenhutten Massacre and the burning of Colonel Crawford are terrible events in Ohio history which teach us the importance of tolerance.

Helpful links:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


'He giveth His beloved sleep' -Psalm 127


'Not lost but gone before'


'Forever resting with the Lord.
Peace to his dust.'

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Not Today, Little Dove

Innocence and peace has no better harbinger than the dove. 

In the Bible, the dove was sent from Noah's ark to search for a sign of land during the great flood.

The dove returned to the ark with an olive branch in its mouth, symbolizing God's peace with mankind. 

Doves in the graveyard may symbolize many things, including the passing of a beloved child. "Little Ella" here is no exception.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Calmoutier and its French, Iron Crosses

Calmoutier (Pronounced Cal-mooch) was home to one of the first Catholic churches in Ohio. Although the original church is long gone, St. Genevieve's Church continues to be the Northernmost location of the Columbus diocese. 

This cemetery/church has a fascinating history! Calmoutier was settled by French immigrants who named the area after their homeland. Many of the early grave markers are in French, including these iron crosses. This small French, Catholic community is seemingly misplaced in the middle of "Amish Country", which makes its existence all the more interesting. 

Iron crosses of this type came the height of their popularity during the Victorian Era. I've noticed that Catholic cemeteries often have large concentrations of this type of marker, for whatever reason. 

This video provides some great information about the cemetery, as well as a tour of the cemetery grounds:

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Doctor's Headstone

Personalized headstones are the best! This one made me smile. It can be sure that this man must have loved being a member of the medical community.

The "R" on the front of his headstone could stand for the first letter of his last name, but it has been stylized as the Rx abbreviation for medical prescriptions. 

On top of the headstone rests a copy of the United States Pharmacopoeia, which is essentially a book that explains ingredients and how to mix compounds to make drugs.  

I wonder if he was a pharmacist, based on the trappings on his headstone...

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The 19th Century Woman

What words would you use today to describe an accomplished woman...

College Educated?
Career Minded?
Multitasking Mother?
Loving Partner?

More words could be used to describe the accomplished 21st century woman, but I think we would all agree that she is her own person and able to take care of herself. These traits were not the norm for a woman of the Victorian Era (1830s-early 1900s).

Here is a model of the female exemplary from the 1850s:






(On a side note, this picture below is of the front of Mary Eliza's tombstone. Looking at her likeness, I think that she looks very formidable, considering that she died in her 30s. This likeness reflects the glowing review of her character, in my opinion. Her clothing is chaste and modest, she is surrounded by delicate flowers and branches, capturing her delicate approach to her femininity... but I digress)

The summary of Mary Eliza's character perfectly captures the qualities that were expected of the ideal woman in the Victorian Era:


Woman were generally expected to be submissive to their husbands, content in the private sphere (taking care of children, running a household, being active in their church, etc), pure and nonsexual (even rejecting sexuality after marriage unless it was for creating children), and dependent upon her husband or older male family member because women were not (or many thought, not capable of) adept at making appropriate decisions on her own. 

It is not to say that Mary Eliza was not a good woman; on the contrary, she sounds like a wonderful woman who would have been respected by many. Her memory stands, however, as an example of how the feminine ideal has changed in the past 150 years. 

Would we write this epitaph for own own mothers, sisters, female friends, even ourselves, in the year 2013? 

Monday, April 1, 2013


Our time spent on Earth is finite, and the hourglass reminds us of this. The passage of time never stops, and we're all approaching our own mortal end. Friendly little symbol, isn't he?

There is a duality to the hourglass, though. It can be looked at from the glass half empty v. glass half full standpoint. The first explanation is one that is pessimistic and reminiscent of the glass being half empty outlook on life. Some see the hourglass as being representative of everlasting life because the hourglass can be flipped over again and again. The sand making it's journey from one end of the hourglass to the other repeatedly speaks to the belief that we live on after death. The ivy on the stone, a reminder of the longevity of the soul, supports this optimistic outlook. 

For some reason, this stone also makes me think of The Tower card in the Rider-Waite Tarot deck. Anyone else see the similarity?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Michael D. Harter

During the 52nd and 53rd Congresses, a gentleman named Michael D. Harter served as a Democrat in the House of Representatives. These meetings of Congress saw the women of Colorado be granted the right to vote, the first protest march to Washington (Coxey's Army), and the passage of the Geary Act. This act required all legal Chinese residents to carry proof of citizenship and also allowed for Chinese people to be unlawfully detained in the event of an arrest. This law reminds me of the treatment that many Hispanic Americans face, illegal or not. It is unfortunate that we have not learned anything from this historical event.

Unfortunately, Michael D. Harter's story is one that is cut short by the tragedy of suicide. 

We can't know what was going on in his head, but this article details some of the circumstances regarding Mr. Harter's death:

Saturday, March 9, 2013


This symbol looked like a dollar sign at first glance. Its origins are Christian rather than monetary, however, and it is sometimes referred to as a Christogram. Some say the words stand for Iesus Hominum Salvator (which means "Jesus, Savior of Men). It could also stand for an abbreviation of the term In Hoc Signo Vinces, or "In This Sign You Will Conquer". According to legend, the first Christian emperor, Constantine I, saw this motto in a dream or vision, accompanied with the sign of the cross, just before he was to fight an epic battle. The most simple and likely of explanations is that the first three letters of Jesus' name in Greek are IHS, and this is a symbol of devotion to him.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Giants of Seville

I love discovering weird and wonderful stories! The Giants of Seville were Martin and Anna Bates, former side show circus performers turned small town farmers. Mr. Bates fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Yankee soldiers told frightful stories of an incredibly tall, strong man who fought ferociously. Mrs. Bates was by all accounts a gracious, gentle woman. The couple's London marriage was the talk of the town, and even Queen Victoria sent gifts and congratulations! The couple had a son who weighed over 20 pounds when he was born, and only lived for a few hours. His post mortem photo can be seen here:

Both of them had to have custom caskets built for them because of their stature. The statue that graces their monument in Mound Hill Cemetery is supposedly a likeness of Anna that Mr. Bates had custom sculpted in Europe. 

More information:

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Tender Epitaph

The personal information on this stone was almost impossible to read. The details I was able to discern were sobering. This woman died just a little over a month after her 20th birthday, and she was someone's wife. I can only imagine how she died... in child birth, due to an all too common and now curable illness, or perhaps a as a result of a terrible accident. Whoever it was that buried her and chose her gravestone decided to place this epitaph on it:

"Rest here blest saint till Christ shall come
With all the saints to Call thee home"

It's a very touching tribute to someone who died young and was surely missed. Would she be surprised that someone was writing about her on some newfangled thing called the Internet almost 200 years after her death?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Poppies, poppies will put them to sleep...

Poppies are one of the many different types of flowers that can be found etched onto a gravestone. Eternal, peaceful, restful sleep is symbolized by this flower. 

One can't help but wonder if L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the directors and producers of the film The Wizard of Oz knew of the symbolism of poppies. As the Wicked Witch of the West conjures a spell to make Dorothy and her comrades fall into a never ending sleep, her spell takes the form of a field of poppies. It certainly is an interesting coincidence!

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Most Interesting German Inscription

This beautiful stone was the only one of its kind in the small Mennonite church yard I visited. There were many old stones, but none of them were in the German (or perhaps Pennsylvania Dutch... could be the case, since it is a Mennonite cemetery) language like this one was. 

I wonder who this woman was, whether or not she spoke English, or if Germany was her homeland. I can't seem to find any information about her, so I will be left wondering. I welcome any feedback from anyone who knows more!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What's in a book?

A book on a tombstone is usually representative of the Bible, especially in rural, conservative areas. The deceased may have been a member of the clergy, or just a very religious person. 

A hand pointing to the Bible indicates something deeper. This hand is pointing out the word of God, and the path to salvation it holds. A stone with this symbol on it is also showing that the deceased was a believer and is now enjoying their eternal life. It encourages observers to read and believe while they still have time. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Amish Cemeteries

"Be in the world, but not of it"

This statement essentially explains why the Amish live such plain and simple lives. Time on this earth is brief compared to the eternity that a person's soul will have in the kingdom of God. For this reason, the Amish live without attachment to material objects and modern technology. Amish cemeteries reflect their core beliefs with trademark humility. 

Typically, one will see Amish cemeteries in the middle of a plot of functional farmland that is surrounded by a white fence. Death is in the midst of life in this respect. I have seen an Amish man plowing his field in spring, alongside his family's cemetery, and it's a reminder of the circle of life, for sure. It's also utilitarian, as the Amish do not see a reason to set aside specific land for cemeteries when their ancestors have been buried on their family farms for hundreds of years. Each stone will be roughly the same size, without any adornment other than a name, date of birth, and date of death.

Some Amish cemeteries even go so far as to use wooden markers. This way, they rot and deteriorate over time, reminding followers that nothing in this world is permanent or lasting. Every church district has different traditions, according to their level of strictness, etc. 

When an Amish person dies, they will typically have a funeral at home. Then, a buggy will take the deceased, in their plain, pine coffin, to their final resting place. The graveside service will emphasize the glory of God, rather than the life of the deceased. After the funeral, graveside visitation isn't as common as it is with other Americans. The Amish believe that the person is gone, with God. Visiting their grave would show earthly attachment, and a lack of faith that the deceased is with God. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

102nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Alfred Painter enlisted with them in August of 1862, and was discharged on disability in January of 1863. I can't help but assume that his injuries played some role in his premature death, although I do not know for sure. On the same day this young man died, we also lost President Abraham Lincoln. Quite a coincidence! 

Many members of the 102nd OVI perished in the disastrous explosion of the SS Sultana (which occurred after this young man had been discharged). It is considered the greatest maritime disaster in U.S. history, the Titanic of the Mississippi River, if you will. This link provides a great deal of information on the disaster:

The artwork on the back of the gravestone is intriguing. It looks as though it is a dove or eagle with an American flag in its beak. Depending on which sort of bird this is, the carving can be interpreted quite differently. The eagle is an obvious symbol of our liberty and power as a country, while the dove is a bringer of peace and calm. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Zinc (White Bronze) Gravestones

Zinc gravestones are quite interesting. They are characterized by their bluish color and state of impeccable preservation. I was amazed when I saw this stone in person because it is so flawless and over 140 years old! All zinc gravestones came from the same company in Connecticut, and were made from about 1870 to 1912 (when the company stopped producing them). Each stone was created individually for the person who ordered it, with a variety of personalizations available. 

It is touching to think that this stone was designed by the loved ones of this deceased person. The sheaf of wheat shows that the individual lived a long and full life. Wheat can also be symbolic of God because wheat nourishes and sustains so many people. Daisies are plentiful and can grow just about anywhere, so they often stand for the love of the Virgin Mary. This gentleman must have been loved and missed by his family, as the quote on his gravestone would suggest.