Wednesday, October 15, 2014

ARTICLE: Nineteenth Century Cemetery Symbolism (by Nancy A. Ross-Stallings)


Nineteenth Century Cemetery Symbolism
By Nancy A. Ross-Stallings, August 7, 2014


Figure 1. 
English, 17th Century Death’s
Head Headstone.

During the late eighteenth century, in Great Britain and the United States, a movement swept across these countries that extended into the early twentieth century. This was called the Beautification of Death Movement, and it was an alteration in the way death was regarded, in a religious and social way. During Colonial Times, death was feared, mortality rates were high, and the symbolism that is found on surviving headstones of the time period includes skulls, crossed bones, “death heads (stylized skulls with wings on either side of the skull)”, and skeletons. Most of the stones used at the time as grave markers were dark – brown, black and charcoal grey (Figure 1). Graveyards (or burying grounds as they were commonly called) were grim, crowded, and in Europe, many graves were re-used a number of times.

However, in France, England and in the new United States, growing numbers of cemeteries were developed which were a departure from the old fashioned, crowded and depressing burying grounds.  The first of these planned cemeteries in the United States was Mount Auburn Cemetery, established in Watertown, Massachusetts, in 1831. The cemetery was distinctive in that it was not a family burying ground, and it was not a church graveyard. The cemetery was established on an old farm, and was referred to as a “cemetery” which is taken from a Greek word meaning “a sleeping place.” The name and layout of this cemetery departed from the harsh appearance of a “graveyard.”The cemetery was 174 acres in size, and was also renowned as an arboretum. The Massachusetts Horticultural Society helped with the landscaping in the cemetery. One of the founders of the cemetery was Dr. Jacob Bigelow, an M.D. who was concerned about the threat of disease in old church burying grounds. The design of Mount Auburn was inspired by Per’e Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, and Abney Park in London. Mount Auburn was seen as the beginning of the American parks and gardens movement. By the late 1840s, similar cemeteries began dotting the landscapes in such cities as Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Syracuse, and Baltimore.

The principal characteristics of these cemeteries are that they were laid out as what we would consider today as a park, with curved roads, landscaping, possibly a pond, and a wide variety of unique trees, shrubs, flowers and plantings. Some have non-denominational chapels, beautiful gates, benches, gazebos, and statuary. The headstones are generally made of light colored marble, limestone, and other white or pale stones. By the beginnings of the nineteenth century, stone masonry was coming into its own as a developed trade, with specialists who could carve intricate headstones, and the advent of trains enabled the delivery of headstone blanks and completed headstones to more remote areas. Marble headstones and blanks were imported from Europe, but also marble quarries in the United States were developed, and headstone blanks also were produced domestically.

Concurrently, the Victorian Period experienced a resurgence in the “’Language of Flowers” with dictionaries published. Nosegays and other floral arrangements were traded among couples as well as friends and relatives, with specific meanings attributed to flowers, fruits, and other foliage. Coupled with this was the further development of symbols, predominately from Classical, Medieval and Renaissance literature, as well as Biblical sources that were incorporated into popular culture, including the Beautification of Death Movement. These included angels, certain animals, objects such as chains, anchors, clocks, hourglasses, obelisks, harps, gates, trees, books, lamps, and an abundance of other items. Human elements such as hands, the heart, a pointed finger, and the eye were also used (Figures 2, 3, 4). Also incorporated were symbols associated with a person’s life, such as memberships in the Masons, the Woodsmen of the World, International Order of Oddfellows, Eastern Star, and religious groups. Some of these associations were abbreviated with commonly recognized letters. In cemeteries with Catholic interments, headstones often had letters associated with religious phrases such as “Manus Dei (the hand of God)” or “Hic Sepultis, or H.S. (here lies buried)”. For Jewish interments, Hebrew words were often placed on the headstone.

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Figure 2
Broken chain, symbolizing the end of earthly existence.

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Figure 3
Life or time, with top showing the future, and below the inscription showing the past.

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Figure 4
The obelisk, symbolizing regeneration, eternal life, with drapery symbolizing the act of mourning.

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This period was also famous for the development of elaborate, sentimental epitaphs; this word comes from Greek, and means “a funeral oration.” Epitaphs became so popular that books were published with suggested epitaphs for loved ones’ gravestones. One example from an 1873 book “Hill’s Manual” states:

“This lovely bud, so young, so fair, Called hence by early doom, Just came to show how sweet a flower, In Paradise would bloom.”

Other common epitaphs would soften the blow of death; for example variations such as “Only sleeping” were employed. Another popular epitaph of the times was reference to the deceased going on to a higher reward, or to a place where pain and troubles do not exist.

Of course, many families came up with unique epitaphs that described the deceased, their accomplishments, and sometimes the tragedy of their deaths. While epitaphs are not so commonly used on modern headstones, they continue to appear. One modern example, a perfect inscription for Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Sylvester the Cat, Yosemite Sam, Fred Flintstone, Woody Woodpecker, and many other cartoon characters, stated “That’s All Folks!” “Man of 1000 Voices, Beloved Husband and Father.” He passed away in 1989 and is interred in Hollywood, California.

In Harrodsburg, the Springhill Cemetery was started in 1860, after the community cemetery immediately southeast of the downtown area began to fill up by the 1850s. Springhill Cemetery is an excellent example of a cemetery that was laid out at its inception as a community cemetery with a park-like setting, and it exhibits many of the attributes of a cemetery inspired by the Beautification of Death Movement. The varieties of trees, shrubs, and other plantings in this cemetery is remarkable, and the cemetery also features outstanding examples of Victorian and Edwardian Period monuments with decorative elements bearing the iconographies associated with Victorian symbolism. Some of the interments at this cemetery are dated earlier than 1860, because family members elected to remove their loved ones from the older cemetery and reinter them at Springhill.  Following the trend, many rural cemeteries, both family and community cemeteries, as well as cemeteries associated with churches, show the influences of the Beautification of Death Movement as people continued to be interred over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In many cemeteries with Protestant Christian interments, the deceased are laid out in rows, with the grave in front of a headstone that faces the east. The philosophy was that when the Second Coming occurred, the deceased could rise up and walk toward the Lord.

Examples of the symbolism seen at Springhill Cemetery include obelisks. The obelisk headstones are a product of the Egyptian Revival in architecture that occurred in the nineteenth century. It symbolizes a ray of sunlight in Egyptian cosmology, but Victorians soon interpreted it as symbolic of death and pointing to heaven. Obelisks also varied in design, with crosses, and urns topping them in some cases, as well as draperies, symbolizing the drapes over a funeral bier (Figure 4).

A stylized weeping willow tree carved in bas relief is a very popular motif for headstones of this period. The willow was a symbol of weeping and sadness for the Victorians. In Christian symbolism, it is associated with the gospel of Christ because the tree will flourish and remain whole no matter how many branches are cut off

The depiction of roses in bas relief sculpture on the headstone conveys sorrow and the brevity of earthly existence. Roses in Victorian cemeteries frequently adorn the gravestones of women. For the deceased who died young, including children, roses or other flowers are frequently depicted with broken stems, symbolizing a life cut short.

Other foliage has specific meanings and these examples are one of many: lilies are associated with motherhood, and an Easter Lily with resurrection, while daisies symbolize innocence or childhood and young people in general. Cornucopias symbolize the bounty of God and heaven. Acorns symbolize latent greatness or strength and the power of spiritual growth. Shocks of wheat symbolize the end of a fruitful life, and eternal life in Heaven. When shown with a sickle, it is symbolic of the Divine Harvest. A wreath of flowers or leaves symbolizes victory in death. If it is with a Latin cross, it means victory of the Redemption. Sometimes the wreath is shown draped over an obelisk (Figure 4), urn or the top of a gravestone, or an angel carries it. It is usually associated with an adult. If the flowers or leaves are a specific species, it assumes the meaning of that species; for example, if of ivy, it means conviviality, friendship, and a symbol of faithfulness and eternal immortality.

Animals are also associated with gravestones. A few examples: A snake with its tail in its mouth symbolizes eternity, a Circle. A dove with an olive twig in its beak means that it is after the troubles of death, and the idea of peace in the future life. On the grave of a young woman, a dove may mean purity and modesty. A lamb is the most popular motif for the grave of a baby or small child, symbolizing innocence, and the soul of the deceased. If on the grave of an adult, it means the deceased was a devout Christian. Generally the lamb is reclining, and often the head is turned to face the viewer of the headstone. A dog represents watchfulness and fidelity; in some cases, it is a portrait of a favorite dog of the deceased.

One of the most popular motifs of the time period is the use of hands as headstone symbols. A bas relief of a wrist and hand, male or female, depending on the sex of the deceased, is frequently depicted in a long sleeved garment. The index finger is generally pointing upward, to heaven, showing where the deceased has gone. Clasped hands of the same sex mean the hope of being together again. It may be accompanied by an epitaph ”Till we meet again.” If the hands are those of a man and a woman, it symbolizes the union of marriage. The cuffs give the sex of the represented hand: a straight shirt cuff is male, sometimes with a button or cufflink, while a flared or ruffled cuff is female. A male hand with a broken blossom symbolizes God claiming a flower for His garden in heaven. If the hand is holding a broken link in a chain, it has the same meaning.

Mourning figures on large headstones and monuments can be smaller figures or life size or larger. The use of a woman bent in grief goes back to Greek reliefs from the fourth and fifth century B.C. The figures are sometimes, but rarely, male. It symbolizes the grief or prayers of the surviving family, and may be depicted sitting, standing, kneeling or weeping. It may be clinging to a cross, symbolizing the song “Rock of Ages.” These statues may have been commissioned but were also available in dozens of styles from Italy, and as stock items from dealers.

Victorians believed that most angels were women, and usually portrayed female angels. On a gravesite, what the angel is depicted as doing is the most important part of the symbol, since they are said to be messengers or attendants of God. An angel holding a scroll or banner was taking an inventory of the person’s life. An angel holding a trumpet announced Judgment Day. An angel with its right hand extended, palm open showed guardianship of a human being, while both hands extended was an invitation. A kneeling angel looking up, with clasped hands was conducting intercession on behalf of the deceased, while a kneeling angel with clasped hands and looking down was in prayer.

While this article cannot begin to do justice to the vast array of symbolism in a nineteenth century cemetery, interested readers are urged to learn more about this fascinating window into the beliefs of their nineteenth and early twentieth century ancestors. Suggested sources are presented below. Books out of print can be found at used book dealers, or ordered through interlibrary loan. The sources below are the tip of the ice berg for this fascinating topic and are personal favorites of mine. Once people learn the meanings of the headstones and statuary in these beautiful cemeteries, visiting them will be a fun and absorbing hobby.

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Suggested Reading:

Brown, John Gary 1994. Soul in the Stone: Cemetery Art from America’s Heartland. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. The photos are beautiful, and the narrative is fun to read.

Jordan, Terry 1982.  Texas Graveyards: A Cultural Legacy. University of Texas Press, Austin. This is not just about Texas! Jordan introduces the Southern Folk Cemetery, their layout and grave markers, elements of which are in Kentucky, and a variant of the Beautification of Death Movement. He also discusses Catholic cemeteries, and Hispanic Cemeteries. This book is one of the best introductions to nineteenth cemeteries in the South I have ever seen.

Hacker, Debi 2001.  Iconography of Death: Common Symbolism of Late 18th Through Early 20th Century Tombstones in the Southeastern United States. Chicora Foundation, Inc., Columbia, SC. You can tuck this into a purse or bag and visit your favorite cemetery!

Kahlert, John M. 1981 Pioneer Cemeteries: Door County, Wisconsin. Meadow Lane Publishers, Bailey’s Harbor, WI. The black and white photos of grave stones in this book are stunning and very interesting.

Keister, Douglas 2004. Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography. Gibbs Smith, Publisher. Layton, UT. Hard bound, fits in a jacket pocket, color photos and very comprehensive. He has every symbol I have ever seen in a cemetery in this compact, pretty little book! Enjoy!

Laderman, Gary 1996. The Sacred Remains: American Attitudes Toward Death, 1799-1883. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT. Traces the changes over time in the nineteenth century. A good foundation toward understanding the Beautification of Death Movement, and its effect on American culture.

Little, M. Ruth 1998. Sticks & Stones: Three Centuries of North Carolina Gravemarkers. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC. A wonderful history of cemeteries in this state, with insights on stonemasons who carved these stones, as well as beautiful photos of the cemeteries and headstones. The first chapters cover the “old graveyards,” grim as they were.

Meyer, Richard E., Editor 1992.  Cemeteries & Gravemarkers: Voices of American Culture. Utah State University Press, Logan, UT. Numerous authors have chapters in this volume. Chapters include loggers graves, childrens’ headstones, African-Americans, New Orleans cemetery architecture, epitaphs and personality, the Upland South Folk Cemetery, tourist uses of cemeteries in the nineteenth century, Navajo, Zuni and Morman cemeteries, among other topics.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Repairs Made At The Mansion Museum

The Mansion Museum at Old Fort Harrod has received some much needed repairs recently thanks to very kind donations from both the James Harrod Trust and the Friends of Fort Harrod. JHT paid Lanham & Sons roofing to repair some flashing troubles on the roof as well as Julius Schnurr & Sons to repair the plaster in several locations, including one ceiling that had completely fallen. Friends of Fort Harrod then donated funds to purchase paint and hire a professional painter to finish the project.  Officials from both the Kentucky Heritage Council and Parks Facilities Management gave assistance and input on the project. “The James Harrod Trust appreciates the importance of the Mansion Museum's heritage to local and state history. It is our mission and goal to make sure these treasures are not lost, as well as kept in good repair. It is a beautiful house with extraordinary woodwork,” said Helen Dedman, with the James Harrod Trust; David Coleman added, “ This project is a great example of several different organizations all coming together to accomplish a common goal." 

For more information about The Mansion Museum at Old Fort Harrod: http://parks.ky.gov/parks/recreationparks/fort-harrod/default.aspx


Pictured are Jerry Sampson, with the James Harrod Trust, and David Coleman, with Old Fort Harrod and the Friends of Fort Harrod.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Pawling House--A Message From Our President

The Pawling House, circa 1828
May 27,  2013

      For almost 2 years the James Harrod Trust has been "looking" for a an historic property that needs to be restored. Our criteria was affordability, amount of historic fiber still left in the property, feasibilty and that the restoration would make a difference in the location. We considered at least 10 properties but finally decided on the Pawling House. Mission accomplished by the diligent effort of board members Seth Singleton, Matt Singleton and Ted Dean. Yay, I think!

     First we got the windows boarded up with plywood and plexiglass. Thank you to Robert and Toni Preston who installed it. Right after we bought the house rocks were thrown through the front windows! Some welcoming present. 
Next we tackled the garbage left in the house and garage--3 loads (full!) to the landfill.  We still have a freezer, heater and wet carpet to get out!

      We plan to apply for tax credits from the Kentucky Heritage Council so staff member Jen Williamson came to visit the property. She agreed that we own a very interesting house. The more you investigate, the more you questions you have--when was addition put on, what did original porch look like, was the addition once a porch, is there a basement or just a crawl space? And more! Jen did determine that the original roof was cedar shake and we should try to replace it with synthetic shake as well as leave the addition on the house.

     The roof is almost like a sieve--water runs right through it even after a patch was put over "the big hole."  So now we are getting bids for the roof which will basically have to be torn off and completely rebuilt. It certainly will not be cheap! But once it is dry we will begin to repair chimneys, fascia boards and hopefully keep Old Man Winter out. Water and moisture can be so damaging! 

Watch our progress and help us if you can!

Helen Dedman, JHT President

Thursday, October 10, 2013

JHT Purchased The Pawling House

The James Harrod Trust recently purchased the Pawling House and has plan to make restorations to save this important, historic structure. Below is a "This Place Matters" article written by James Harrod Trust's very own historian, Amalie Preston.

This Place Matters
The Pawling House
   
The Pawling House
September 6, 2013


The brick house at the northeast corner of College and Factory Streets has been a fixture in Harrodsburg for a long time.  It was constructed on in-lot # 130 in the original town plat sometime before 1828.  We know this because on 4 September 1828 Dr. William Robertson made a deed for the property to William Pawling for a certain parcel of ground “on which the said Pawling’s brick residence is now erected.”  This was in the day when a man’s word was as good as his bond, and Pawling had apparently built his home without benefit of a legal deed to the property!  Dr. William Pawling may have practiced his profession at the house.  Among the personal property he mortgaged in 1831 are his medical library, medicines, and shop furniture.  After several years of financial struggle, perhaps brought on by the nation’s economic downturn in the 1820s, Dr. Pawling sold the property and moved to Danville where he continued to practice medicine until his death in 1872.   

The house was and is a fine home, built with a central hallway flanked by parlors on either side.  As with the better homes of the day, the front is laid in Flemish Bond with every course of brick alternating headers and stretchers, and it sports an impressive array of five chimneys.  The house shared the street with other great homes such as the Christopher Chinn House and with businesses such as the cotton carding and spinning factory, a carriage shop, and even a “racepath” for horse racing in downtown Harrodsburg.  Factory Street took its name from these industries.

In its 185 years of existence, the house has changed hands many times rarely staying with one owner longer than fifteen years.  This rapid turnover with use as rental property has been a major contributing factor to the present condition of the house.  The James Harrod Trust is the 31st owner of the Pawling House.  Its architecture, its connection to the early history of Harrodsburg, and its role as a visual anchor in the historical vista of Factory Street make this an important structure.

THIS PLACE MATTERS!   

*Author & Researcher: Amalie Preston

Thursday, September 19, 2013

10th Annual James Harrod Trust "History Underfoot" Cemetery Tour




The James Harrod Trust is excited to announce the 10th Annual James Harrod Trust "History Underfoot" Cemetery Tour at the Spring Hill Cemetery this weekend!!





The tour, co-sponsored by The Harrodsburg Herald, begins at 6:30PM on Friday and Saturday, September 20 & 21, 2013, at the Spring Hill Cemetery (North Greenville Street Harrodsburg, KY.)






 Tickets will be sold at the entrance to the cemetery and are $5 each. The tours are staggered. This "edutainment" event is billed as being enjoyable for the whole family.









The James Harrod Trust Cemetery Tour offers visitors a unique and fun opportunity to learn about the history of the state's oldest settlement and the people who lived, loved, fought and died in the community.




“The night is about remembering their lives and learning about the trials, tribulations, the joy and the sorrow that our ancestors endured." -Jerry Sampson






This year’s cast and characters includes:


  • Doris Bartleston who will portray Diadema Wilson, wife of Joseph Wilson. They were both long-time residents of Cornishville Street (the house is still standing). A former slave, Diadema reared a successful, well-known family. 


  • Annie Denny will portray Anna Nelson Shelby Magoffin, wife of Beriah Magoffin, who was the 21st Governor of Kentucky. She was the granddaughter of Kentucky's first and fifth governor, Isaac Shelby. Ten of the couple's children survived infancy. 


  • Amalie Preston who will portray Jane McAfee, the woman for whom the local Daughters of the American Revolution was named. The DAR name is fitting because she had the unusual experience of having five sons fight in the American Revolution. A native of Ireland, she endured great hardship to make this area her home, after leaving the safety of Botetourt County, VA, and traveling 40 days by pack horse over a mere bridle path to what is today Mercer County, KY, while fearing attacks by Native Americans. And, that is just part of her story. 


  • Jerry Sampson who will portray Charles Geffinger, a local jeweler who had a serious fall on Main Street that ended his successful career as a jeweler. He was survived by his daughter, Hazel Geffinger, and his well known grandson, Jimmy Donovan. Sampson currently resides in Geffinger’s former Harrodsburg home. 


  • Richard Stallings who will portray M. L. Forsythe, a medical missionary to Korea who survived a violent attack. 


Don't forget to visit our webpage by clicking here!

For additional information, contact the Harrodsburg/Mercer County Tourist Commission at 859-734-2364, Jerry Sampson at 859-734-7829, or Helen Dedman at 859-734-3381.

Members of the Cemetery Tour Committee include: Jerry Sampson, Carolyn Crump, Terry White and Rosalind Turner.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sign Up For E-News!

James Harrod Trust now offers the ability to sign up for e-news. This is a convenient way to receive notifications of upcoming events provided by James Harrod Trust via e-mail, whether you are a James Harrod Trust member or are simply interested in our upcoming events.

Please feel free to subscribe by visiting our WEBSITE to enter your e-mail address in the subscription box near the top of the page or on our BLOG by entering your e-mail address in the subscription box on the right column. Also, there is a subscription blog below within this post.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

For The Love Of Preservation

FOR THE LOVE OF PRESERVATION
By: Helen Dedman, chair of James Harrod Trust, local preservation group

To adapt an old adage, “it takes a village to preserve a town.”  Great preservation partnerships have been formed in the last few months.  Hopefully many of you read of the partnership of several preservation groups from Central Kentucky to purchase Waveland in Boyle County.  This wonderful house is reputed to be the last truly good example of Georgian architecture in the Bluegrass.  Preservation Kentucky, our statewide non-profit preservation organization in Frankfort, Bluegrass Trust in Lexington, James Harrod Trust, and the Jess Correll family from Stanford agreed to donate funds making sure the house was purchased to be saved, not demolished.  It was a “tense” auction with several bidders but in the end it seemed both bidders were preservationists.  An agreement was made that the preservation groups would buy it, with Bluegrass Trust (BGT) holding the deed, and BGT would in turn attach a historic easement to deed, protecting the property, so that the other preservationist could buy and restore the property—a win, win!

Just as important is the partnership of Friends of the Fort and the James Harrod Trust.  The wonderful Mansion Museum was in need of roof repairs.  The Trust agreed to fund the repairs using a local roofer.  Another partnership—this young businessman put copper flashing on with no extra charge because he loves the Fort and the work of the James Harrod Trust. 

The partnership of the Trust and the Harrodsburg Historical Society organizing a Dry Stone Conservancy workshop sponsored by the Harrodsburg/Mercer County Tourist Commission was another success story.  Volunteer stone masons worked on the rock wall around the Old Mud Meeting House cemetery one Saturday in May.  Great strides were made that day.  But that wonderful volunteer spirit didn’t stop that day—a local stone mason who attended the workshop continues to repair the wall in his free time because “he feels it is important.”  Another volunteer from that workshop, who happens to be a roofer, asked if he could come back to put a tarp in the old schoolhouse at the site so that it would keep the rotting sun damage to a minimum.  It was done last week.  Don’t you love it?!

And the Trust could not do without another local volunteer who maintains Greenville Springs and McAfee Cemetery, properties owned by JHT.  He does an amazing job says it is “his contribution to the preservation community.” 

I haven’t named names because I wouldn’t want to “compromise” their positions but it is rewarding to be associated with such humble folks. 

We all do our part to preserve and maintain our heritage and community but sometimes the “unsung heroes” need to be recognized—you know who you are.  Thank you!


Old Mud Meeting House Lot

Old Mud Meeting House Cemetery