Broken dove


Another symbol frequently used to mark a child’s grave was the dead dove. And in this case, a small stump of a tree was also used to emphasize a life cut short.

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Children’s memorials


Possibly the saddest headstones to see are the ones for children. Before vaccines, life could be pretty darn difficult for children. If it wasn’t measles, scarlet fever or polio, it was typhoid or diphtheria.

Often, lambs were used to signify a young life cut short.

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Yep, you’re gonna die

Deaths Head_Cooperstown

Continuing on from Friday’s grim, Puritanical vein, here’s another, frequently seen carving on 18th century headstones. Death’s heads symbolize the shortness of life while the wings symbolize the soul ascending into the afterlife. This headstone memorializing Mrs. Sarah Cott is located in the old Christ Church graveyard in Cooperstown, NY.

It’s the same cemetery where James Fenimore Cooper and his family are buried.

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The Book of Life #3 (and then some)

Book of Life

Now these people have some serious symbol carvings going on. Not only are there three books of life (open, signifying the life’s deeds open for judgment), but there are drapes partially covering two of the books. The draping signifies mourning.

Take a closer look at the center of the stones. The one of the left and the right show gates opening. Those are the gates of heaven opening to receive the departed soul. The one in the middle shows Christ carrying the cross to Golgotha. I haven’t seen this depicted anywhere else, and am not sure if there’s any additional meaning (a long life’s struggle?) or whether it should just be taken literally.

On the left stone, there’s an anchor. Anchors can either mean a Mason or strength in faith. Since Masons don’t allow women, I’d assume the meaning was the latter.

On the right stone, a dove is depicted, signifying the Holy Spirit.  There are also tiny, 5-pointed stars located above the beginning arching pillars. These represent the Star of Bethlehem.

The stones on the left and right are located in Fall City Cemetery, Fall City, WA. The stone in the middle is located in Crown Hill Cemetery in Seattle, WA.


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The Book of Life #2

The book of life

Spanning a rough 2.5 feet long by at least 1 foot tall, this has got to be the largest book of life example I’ve every come across. The base is considerably larger, perhaps almost 4 feet.

book of life closeup

It’s so realistically carved, one’s almost tempted to try to flip the pages. This headstone’s located in the San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio and if you go looking for it, you won’t miss it.

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The book of life #1

Books of Life

Lots of times in older cemeteries, visitors will see books carved onto the stones. Sometimes they’re open (signifying a life’s deeds open for review and judgment) or closed (signifying a life ended, no more deeds or accomplishments to be recorded).  If the book is a Bible, then the person commemorated was most likely a minister/clergyman or a particularly religious person.



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The coffin and the eye


Many thanks to Susan Heiland, an avid contributor to Find-A-Grave, for providing this very interesting photo from one her rambles in the Fly Creek, NY cemetery.

What makes Abiah Sprague’s stone so unique is the coffin (symbolizing mortality and death) with a little sprig of something growing out of it. By golly, those Puritans didn’t mince graphics when it came to describing the shuffling off of our mortal coils.

Then there’s the eye in a sunburst, which is a Masonic symbol. Since women are not allowed to be Masons, it’s a bit of a mystery as to why it’s on her stone.

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