Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Episode 82: Headstones & Grave Markers

Oh dearest listeners and savvy blog-goers, it is almost the most magical time of the year, Halloween!  And for this episode, we are bringing you a very special Arts and Facts episode on the world of the graveyard and its fabulous monuments!

Almost nearly all of the information in this episode came from:

Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography by Douglas Keister, thank you Douglas for your wonderful publication!

There are are three basic types of graveyard markers and these are the tumulus, the sarcophagus, and the exedra.

The Tumulus:
One of the oldest forms, it is essentially a glorified burial mound. These are most often a build up of rocks with dirt and sod thrown on top to make it look like a hill. Examples of this include the of the tholos “Treasury of Atreus”, the Mycenean burial plot of an ancient king. Once thought to be the tomb of the great king Agamemnon (as has now been proved otherwise), it is still an amazing feat of ancient funerary architecture.

Interior shot of Treasury of Atreus, 1300 BCE, Mycenae
Exterior of Treasury of Mycenae

Exterior of Tomb of the Reliefs, Caere at Cerveteri, 5th-4th BCE

Interior of Tomb of the Reliefs
Elk Tumulus, Greenwood Cemetery in New Orleans, Louisiana, 1912

Alrighty, here is The Sarcophagi (literally body-eating stone, ew!):

These are often structures containing bodies, but they can also be purely ornamental, just demarcating the place over where the coffin actually resides.

Here are probably the coolest sarcophagi ever made. No, really, look at these guys. They get to have the skulls of the losers that they killed on their graves.

Chachapoyan sarcophagi at Carajia in Peru, 15th century AD

Sarcophagus of Tutankhamun, 1300's BC

et finalement The Exedra:

Now, the exedra is usually a curved outdoor bench with a high back, whose structure dates back to the ancient Greeks, who knew how to party it up with their dead ancestors!

Many of these modern exedrae feature permanent mourners, like below, that families would have installed so that there was always someone to stay in vigil over their lost loved one. I wouldn't mind a few myself.

Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York

Marshall Field Monument, designed and executed by Daniel Chester French and Henry Bacon, Graceland Cemetery at Chicago, Illinois

The Marshall Field Monument was done by the pair that would later create the Lincoln Memorial...hopefully this one doesn't smell of urine like the Lincoln one does. One can only dream!

Now let’s talk about some really weird local funerary artwork. And when I say local, I mean in the United States. We’re shifting gears to good ol’ Kansas, in the city of Hiawatha.

The link above provides some more photos, and an excellent summary of this bizarre gravemarker!

Davis Memorial at Hiawatha, Kansas, 1930-1947

Guys, this is weeeeeird. I’m talking weird on the level that this looks more like a modern art installation than an actual gravesite.

It all started with a guy named John Davis, who in the late 1800’s married an important woman Sarah of the Hart family. The Hart family was very well off, and didn’t like the idea of Sarah marrying a lowly wage-earner like John. However, this didn’t stop the couple, and got married anyways.These two worked hard and brought up their own small fortune from farming and smart investments. Some say that John was abusive to Sarah, not letting her out of the house, and being that controlling type of man that typically no one likes. 

Well, it is easy to see that same OCD attitude of John coming through in the memorial that he had built for Sarah when she passed away in 1930. Sarah, when she died, left a nice chunk a change to her husband, as she didn’t have anyone else to leave it to, and so with 54000 dollars, John put it to good use.

The memorial started out with a simple headstone, but Davis had that removed, and, over the course of the next 17 years until his own death, a memorial grew that was an amalgamation of over 11 statues of John and Sarah throughout their lifetimes represented, with the final figure of John sitting alone with an empty chair sitting beside him, vacant for his lost wife. 

With that, we bring you the last of our Headstones and Grave Markers special. Be sure to sure check out the Davis Memorial in more depth, and tell this cool story to your friends, so you can feel special about your smart self!

Thanks, and have a safe, yet terrifying, Halloween!


  1. Wow! Amazing! Those are awesome headstones and markers. I would love to see those stuff for real. We don't have so many of that kind of stuff in our place. It would be a great experience to explore a cemetery filled with great headstones, with awesome statues. It can be creepy but cool as well.


  2. This is very interesting. I never knew what those tombs are about until now that I have read this blog. I have always seen them on TV or blogs but have never delved so much about its history. Amazing how they were able to make the tombs despite the limited tools during those times. The designs are even extraordinary. :)
    - SunCityGranite.com


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