Headstones and Markers

Date Published: 
September, 1892
Original Author: 
Marcus A. Farwell
President, Oakwoods Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 6th Annual Convention

The first thing that attracts the attention of visitors to a cemetery is the genial outline appearance and its prominent points. Then the most imposing monuments are selected for examination. After these come the head stones and markers. Here the visitor, whether he be from abroad or living in the same city or neighborhood, begins to investigate and comment on the various stones, their construction and inscriptions, particularly the latter. A large number of people who bury their dead, are unable to build a monument, hence, it seems as if they were desirous to erect a headstone that would resemble one, they try to put up something that will present as large a surface as possible, regardless of its appearance or good taste. We all understand how difficult it is to educate the masses, as to what is the most appropriate for headstones, for this reason alone, such rules should be adopted by cemetery organizations as will regulate and end all controversy.

I have examined the rules of many cemeteries and was surprised at the great diversity and latitude of the rules, and still more surprised at the omission of any well defined rules in many cemeteries on this matter. Go into a majority, and I might almost say all of the first class cemeteries, and you see headstones that are a disgrace to the place, and when you inquire why they are permitted, you are informed by the superintendent that he does not approve of them, and has done all he could to prevent their being put up, but the rules of the cemetery do not positively prohibit them and he cannot help it I recently visited a beautiful cemetery in the capital of a New England state. This cemetery was a comparatively new one, and is being conducted on modern ideas. Here I found numerous headstones (or slabs) that had been moved from the first cemetery located in the place, one marble slab 2½ feet high by 15 inches wide and 1¾ inches thick, set in a granite base, with brimstone. The stone was badly discolored several inches from the base, the date on it was 1833; another on the same lot in the same condition, two feet high 10 inches wide 1½ inches thick. Another of marble moved there dated 1851, set in marble base, five feet high, two feet wide and 2 inches thick. These three stones are sufficient to illustrate the point I wish to make. None of these were in good condition, they certainly did not look well, and they marred the beauty of the cemetery. Then why were they there? Simply because the rules of the cemetery did not prohibit it. I suppose that I might safely add that the owner of the lot claimed that there was a sacredness about those ancient stones that he must respect, while the real fact probably was, that he venerated the few dollars required for new stones more than the old deformities that he moved from the ancient graveyard.

Why should every modern cemetery not make a rule that no such rubbish could be moved into the grounds, and why not make a rule that no new stones should be erected that will in time appear almost as bad as those referred to? I believe there is a general opinion among owners and superintendents of the best cemeteries that headstones should not be over one foot high, and not less than six inches thick. This association can do very much toward bringing about some desirable uniformity as to height and dimensions, thereby preventing that "old graveyard" appearance which we so heartily detest.

The members present understand what inappropriate things, words and designs people will put on stones if allowed space to do it. "The Weeping Willow" of old, the hand pointing upward, and "Mary's little lamb”, which has served her time in all positions from the young creature up to quite a large sheep, according to the ability to pay for her carving.

The object of this paper is to simply remind the association of the defects and necessity of rules on this subject, knowing that a discussion by the experienced members will be of more value than any elaborate argument I can make.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 6th Annual Convention
Baltimore, MD
September 27, 28 and 29, 1892