About

I first experienced graveyards as a child.  On Memorial Days, my father and I would visit the Little Sioux Cemetery to decorate family graves.  Five generations of his family and countless friends and acquaintances were buried there and it was always a lively outing.  My father would spot the grave of a friend or relative and then tell me a story about this cousin wet the bed and that childhood friend died in the war.  We would spend hours just walking around the cemetery and I would watch my father, his arms flailing and his robust voice booming, tell some animated story about someone he knew and remembered. 

Often, on that day when other people were speaking in hushed tones, they would stare at us because we would be laughing and enjoying the trip to familiar graves.  It was in that graveyard that I grew to love family history, storytelling, and cemeteries.  Many people thought graveyards were creepy, all full of dead people.  But as my Dad used to say, “It’s not the dead ones you have to worry about; it’s the ones who are still alive!”  To me, graveyards were a place of comfort and warmth.  They were places where my father told stories of his family and mine and I felt the flow of generations past.

It was years later in college when I developed an academic interest in graveyards.  I was studying introductory anthropology.  One of the readings was the groundbreaking article, “Death’s Head, Cherub, Urn and Willow,” written by James Deetz and Edwin S. Dethlefsen.  I became interested enough in cemetery art and symbolism to check out an Iowa State thesis research and written by Coleen Nutty.  Because Professor Nutty was on campus, I went to talk to her.  After that, I decided to begin my own research into the cemeteries of Harrison, County, Iowa.  I wrote my master’s degree thesis, “Gender Differences in Harrison County, Iowa Cemeteries”.

When I began I had no idea that I would become so involved in cemetery preservation.  I joined the Association for Gravestone Studies.  I soon realized that the graveyards of Harrison County and Iowa were in jeopardy of being destroyed.  I lobbied the Iowa General Assembly for three years for passage of a law in Iowa that protected cemeteries in the state.  In March of 1985, a bill protecting Iowa graveyards was paased by the Iowa General Assembly and later signed into law by Iowa Governor Terry Brandstad.

Taken March 20, 1986, Governor's Office, Des Moines, Iowa. Standing from left to right: two unidentified women, State Representative Johnnie Hammond, Douglas Rife, State Senator Jack Hester. Seated: Governor Terry E. Branstad.

I worked with the Daughters of the War of 1812 to commemorate three 1812 soldier’s graves buried in Harrison County: Jesse Purcell, Lucius T. Raymond, and Jacob Yeisley.  One of those 1812 soldiers did not have a  gravestone.  I petitioned the Veteran’s Adminstration to get a gravestone for Lucius T. Raymond.  To my surprise a two-hundred and fifty pound segmented-top marble tablet came crated to my doorstep.  Apparently, the VA expected me to erect the gravestone in Magnolia Cemetery, which I did.

Often people told me of gravestones that they had found in retaining walls, backyards, and road ditches.  I was able to return some of them.  For instance, I restored the grave of Uriah Hawkins, the second person to settle in my home county of Harrison County.  His marker was in a ditch on Highway 44.  For two summers I worked as the caretaker of the Purcell Cemetery in Magnolia Township, Harrison County, Iowa, to help reclaim it after it had become overgrown with brush and weeds. 

All of these experiences helped me to understand the interest people have in gravestones and graveyards and the valuable treasury of information that can be found there.  It is because of that value that I embarked on my research and now write this blog.  I hope you will enjoy what you read.

Douglas M. Rife

32 Responses to About

  1. Great site, Douglas. What a great thing it is to share something you are passionate about with others.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your passion.

    AP

  2. Mike Rowley says:

    Douglas,

    I am the organizing seceratary for establishing an Iowa Society with the General Society of the War of 1812. please let me know of any assistance I can provide at any time.

    I am also trying to find a document to show the military service of Jessie Purcell. Do you have anything you might share?

    Thanks,
    Mike Rowley

  3. mikacomes2 says:

    Great blog! I look forward to reading future posts.

  4. Renet Bender says:

    This is great Douglas! I agree with you that cemetaries are a place of peace and comfort – they also have a lot of history in them….. Please keep sharing!

  5. Mike Rowley says:

    Compatriots of the Iowa Society of the War of 1812,

    Our webmaster Dan Rittel has come through for us again. with the addition of http://www.iowa1812.org/proclamations/ all municipalities that become aware of and are will to do so, may access templates of proclamations to make June 18th as “The War of 1812 Remembrance Day”” in their own communities just in time for the bicentennial.

    There are 947 municipalities in the State of Iowa. If you can help get this done in your own or neighboring communities please let me know and we will help promote it for that community.

    Sincerely,

    Mike Rowley
    1825 NW 129th Street
    Clive, Iowa 50325 (515) 975-0498 MJR1825@gmail.com

  6. Loyassatidosy says:

    Hello! Just want to say thank you for this interesting article! =) Peace, Joy.

  7. Mike Rowley says:

    Our historian Ron Rittel is compiling the names of all known veterans of the War of 1812 buried in Iowa. He currently has 253. Please send any that you may know of and their burial location (and photo if possible0 to Mike Rowley at MJR1825@gmaiL.com

    Thanks

  8. Morgan J says:

    Douglas, I would like to use the image of this link http://gravelyspeaking.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/img_0470.jpg. Do you hold the copyright to this image or can you tell me how I can find out how to get permission to use it?

  9. Jim Craig says:

    Hello – I have a blog called Under Every Stone which tells the stories of some of the people whose gravestones I have photographed. This week’s post is about someone with a carved tree tombstone. I would like your permission to reference your blog in my post. You have the best description of what you call “tree stump tombstones” that I’ve seen. Thanks. Jim Craig – Evanston, Illinois

  10. Mike Rowley says:

    Just an update on the War of 1812 veterans buried in Iowa. We have now confirmed more than 510.
    Thanks,
    Mikee Rowley
    http://www.iowa1812.org
    MJR1825@gmail.com

  11. Bet Z says:

    Amazing site and photography! Was wondering if you might know what the emblem is on the bottom of this gravestone in Fayette Mississippi – he was clearly a mason, and I recognize the three rings (father, son and holy ghost). He fought in the Civil War in the 1st Mississippi Light Artillery (company A) but it doesn’t appear to be one of their symbols….

    http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=45799468&PIpi=24466368

    • I can’t get a good enough look at the symbol. It looks to be a badge with the letters “A” and “M” intertwined. That is a clue to follow up on. The three links is actually a symbol for the Odd Fellows, a society that I am sure he was a member. Inside the links are the letters F L and T which stand for Friendship, Love, and Truth. I’ll keep looking to see if I can find out more about the emblem on the bottom.

  12. Bet Z says:

    Thank you so much! After reading your ENTIRE fascinating blog, I now recognize the Odd Fellows rings – I didn’t notice the FLT on the stone. Yes, I agree, it looks like an M and an A intertwined…. I couldn’t find any Freemason iconography that resembled it, so we are stumped. Thanks for your help!

  13. Is it possible that the intertwined M and A represent the Mississippi Artillery?

  14. Bet Z says:

    I think that is a possibility, but I couldn’t find any reference to use of an M and an A to symbolize that – the only symbols I found for light artillery were crossed cannons. The guy was only a private in the army, but he did serve for 3 years….

  15. Bob Giles says:

    The Luyties story is highly suspect; The sculpture is a form that can be traced back at least to the same figure in Staglieno Cemetery. Luyties figure just has no wings and the face does not look all that different, as far as I can tell, from the standard form. There are many copies of the Staglieno work in American cemeteries and European as well…a few have no wings. I think Luyties made up his story…or someone else did. People make up yarns all the time. First time I read it was from The Soul in the Stone by John Gary Brown.
    Re; the shaking hands. I’ve never heard of anyone describing this as a joining of man and wife. If you look at them; clearly the left hand is always the deceased and quite lifeless, never any grip whereas the right is grasping.
    Re; the note someone left for Col. Sanders dissing his chicken, I say the person who left that note is misinformed and very unfair. The company that bought out KFC ruined his recipe long ago. Col. complained about it afterwards….I think he was a little sorry he sold his business. When I was a kid, KFC was great and NOTHING like it is now.
    Great Blog you got going! I have enjoyed it a lot. Good photos and clear writing. My only critique is to darken the photos a bit as they read very light sometimes and darkening would bring them out more, imho. This is one of the best bogs on Cemetery Art I’ve seen.

    • Thank you for the great comments and compliments. I agree about the Luyties statue–but it is the story told and retodl at the Bellfontaine Cemetery. As for the clasping hands, the literature clearly describes this icon as having more than one meaning but includes matrimony among them. Again, thanks for your interest–hope you will keep on reading and commenting.

  16. What a great source of information about the creativity, beauty and variety of American tombstones! Its like going through an art museum and then walking out the door, wanting a bucket with brush and soap to go clean off all the bird poops. I am currently working on a short, informal history for my family (30-40 pages with photos) of the Hoadley tree-trunk monuments in south-central Indiana. My great grandfather was Silvester (old spelling) Hoadley, the principal carver among four brothers in Gosport. Their specialty was the twin-trunk variety for husband and wife, beginning in 1890, I have visited over 60 Indiana cemeteries and taken hundreds of digital photos. I am currently looking for any Indiana examples of that early design, prior to 1889–since I am interested in who might have influenced them and to what extent their work was an original contribution in the evolution of that style. Am currently going thorough Find A Grave website, county by county, looking for six that were reported in Indiana before 1889 in Susanne Ridlen’s excellent Indiana book, “Tree-Stump Tombstones,” 1999 (I have contacted her, but she no longer has that record). Again, your blog site is a wonderful source. As a amateur artist, I appreciate the craftsmanship shown here. Thank you.

  17. Julie Broaddus says:

    Hello,
    What beautiful work you have here. I live in rural Virginia. Our ARB is putting on a cemetery workshop next month and would like to hand out a sheet on tombstone iconography to our attendees (we expect about 30 people). If we reference your website, would it be okay if we used some of your images for this handout? The workshop focuses on preservation education. I can send you our flyer if you’d like additional info or feel free to email me. Thank you!

    • David says:

      body{font-size:10pt;font-family:arial,sans-serif;background-color:#ffffff;color:black;}p{margin:0px;}You are welcome to use the cemetery monument photos on my Facebook page.  Since last August, I have made several trips to Indiana from my Falls Church, VA home and visited 81 cemeteries from Richmond to Plainfield and Logansport to Bedford, looking for examples of Hoadley tree-trunk monuments.  I have taken 180 digital photos of that style and examined at least 30 more on the Internet and on the Find A Grave website.  This is pursuant to writing a 40-50 page study w/photos and locations of Hoadley carvings. When complete in a few weeks, it will be presented to the family and a couple of small museums in Indiana.  My grandfather, Sylvester Hoadley, was the best carver of the five brothers, who ran a small monument shop in Gosport around the turn of the century.  The information below adds to the brief Facebook comments, and you are welcome to use them.  The carvings believed to be Hoadleys have one (H) or if definitely their work, two (HH), based on the current study.  I have also identified 12 others of their monuments that are not shown here.If you do use some of these photos in your handout, I would appreciate receiving a copy at David Hoadley3415 Slade CourtFalls Church, VA  22042-39181 of 23  (H)   Perry Shelburn, 1857-1894;  Mt. Carmel Cemetery (west of Stinesville), Monroe Co., IN.2 of 23  (HH) Montgomery Taylor, 1823-1891, and Mary Taylor, 1833-1912; Gosport Cemerery, Owen Co., IN.3 of 23  …….Baby monument in the Yellowwood Cemetery (East of Bloomington), Brown, Co., IN.4 of 23 (HH) Marcus Smith, 1815-1897, and Melinda Smith, 1815-1895; Gosport Cemetery, Owen Co., IN…5 of 23  ……..Close-up of previous monument with a hand reaching for a biscuit, offered by Malinda, symbol of a generous wife. ..6 of 23  ……..Another close-up of a hand reaching for a Bible, on top of other books for the avid reader.7 of 23 (HH) Levi Beem, 1803-1888, and Sarah Beem, 1807-1889; Riverside Cemetery, Spencer, Owen Co., IN.  Monument may be their tallest, at roughly 9-11 feet.  A similar Hoadley monument, at 9 feet, sold for $72 in 1887…8 of 23 ………Close-up of previous monument with spinning wheel, showing Sarah’s industriousness.9 of 23   ……William Willard, 1845-1888; Mt. Carmel Cemetery (west of Stinesville), Monroe Co., IN…10 of 23 ……..Close-up of previous monument, showing a mallet.11 of 23  ……Monument in Yellowwood Cemetery (east of Bloomington), Brown Co., IN.12 of 23  ……Presbyterian Cemetery (?), Ellettsville, Monroe Co., IN.13-16 of 23 …Monuments in Rose Hill or Valhalla Cemeteries in Bloomington, IN. 17 of 23  (HH) William L. Taylor, 1850-1917, and Charles L. Taylor, 1888-1913; Gosport Cemetery, Owen Co., IN.18 of 23  ……Monument and close-up in Yellowwood Cemetery (east of Bloomington) Brown Co., IN…19 of 23  …….Close-up of previous monument.20 of 23  ……John R. Mayse, 1838-1896, and Mary Mayse, 1836-….; Old Dutch Community Church (south of Stinesville), Monroe Co., IN.21 of 23  (HH) James Starnes, 1827-1902, and Hannah Starnes, 1837-1890, and Alvin Howard, 185..-193.., and Sarah Howard, 1818-….; Methodist Cemetery, Monroe Co., IN…22 of 23  ……..Close-up of previous monument.23 of 23 (HH) Orris Dickerson, 1806-1901 and Mary Dickerson, 1818-1892; Riverside Cemetery, Spencer, Owen Co., IN.  This may be the best example of Hoadley twin-tree trunk carving.  I believe that family was setting the pace for this design in Indiana, from 1885-1903, regarding creativity and quality.- – - David Hoadley (74, retired EPA employee, amateur genealogist and storm chaser)

  18. I replied separately through email, but belatedly thought I should also answer via this medium. Yes, you may use any of those tombstone images that you wish. I will also try to attach my longer email response below. — You are welcome to use the cemetery monument photos on my Facebook page. Since last August, I have made several trips to Indiana from my Falls Church, VA home and visited 81 cemeteries from Richmond to Plainfield and Logansport to Bedford, looking for examples of Hoadley tree-trunk monuments. I have taken 180 digital photos of that style and examined at least 30 more on the Internet and on the Find A Grave website. This is pursuant to writing a 40-50 page study w/photos and locations of Hoadley carvings. When complete in a few weeks, it will be presented to the family and a couple of small museums in Indiana. My grandfather, Sylvester Hoadley, was the best carver of the five brothers, who ran a small monument shop in Gosport around the turn of the century. The information below adds to the brief Facebook comments, and you are welcome to use them. The carvings believed to be Hoadleys have one (H) or if definitely their work, two (HH), based on the current study. I have also identified 12 others of their monuments that are not shown here.

    If you do use some of these photos in your handout, I would appreciate receiving a copy at

    David Hoadley
    3415 Slade Court
    Falls Church, VA 22042-3918

    1 of 23 (H) Perry Shelburn, 1857-1894; Mt. Carmel Cemetery (west of Stinesville), Monroe Co., IN.
    2 of 23 (HH) Montgomery Taylor, 1823-1891, and Mary Taylor, 1833-1912; Gosport Cemerery, Owen Co., IN.
    3 of 23 …….Baby monument in the Yellowwood Cemetery (East of Bloomington), Brown, Co., IN.
    4 of 23 (HH) Marcus Smith, 1815-1897, and Melinda Smith, 1815-1895; Gosport Cemetery, Owen Co., IN.
    ..5 of 23 ……..Close-up of previous monument with a hand reaching for a biscuit, offered by Malinda, symbol of a generous wife.
    ..6 of 23 ……..Another close-up of a hand reaching for a Bible, on top of other books for the avid reader.
    7 of 23 (HH) Levi Beem, 1803-1888, and Sarah Beem, 1807-1889; Riverside Cemetery, Spencer, Owen Co., IN. Monument may be their tallest, at roughly 9-11 feet. A similar Hoadley monument, at 9 feet, sold for $72 in 1887.
    ..8 of 23 ………Close-up of previous monument with spinning wheel, showing Sarah’s industriousness.
    9 of 23 ……William Willard, 1845-1888; Mt. Carmel Cemetery (west of Stinesville), Monroe Co., IN.
    ..10 of 23 ……..Close-up of previous monument, showing a mallet.
    11 of 23 ……Monument in Yellowwood Cemetery (east of Bloomington), Brown Co., IN.
    12 of 23 ……Presbyterian Cemetery (?), Ellettsville, Monroe Co., IN.
    13-16 of 23 …Monuments in Rose Hill or Valhalla Cemeteries in Bloomington, IN.
    17 of 23 (HH) William L. Taylor, 1850-1917, and Charles L. Taylor, 1888-1913; Gosport Cemetery, Owen Co., IN.
    18 of 23 ……Monument and close-up in Yellowwood Cemetery (east of Bloomington) Brown Co., IN.
    ..19 of 23 …….Close-up of previous monument.
    20 of 23 ……John R. Mayse, 1838-1896, and Mary Mayse, 1836-….; Old Dutch Community Church (south of Stinesville), Monroe Co., IN.
    21 of 23 (HH) James Starnes, 1827-1902, and Hannah Starnes, 1837-1890, and Alvin Howard, 185..-193.., and Sarah Howard, 1818-….; Methodist Cemetery, Monroe Co., IN.
    ..22 of 23 ……..Close-up of previous monument.
    23 of 23 (HH) Orris Dickerson, 1806-1901 and Mary Dickerson, 1818-1892; Riverside Cemetery, Spencer, Owen Co., IN. This may be the best example of Hoadley twin-tree trunk carving. I believe that family was setting the pace for this design in Indiana, from 1885-1903, regarding creativity and quality.

    - – - David Hoadley (74, retired EPA employee, amateur genealogist and storm chaser)

  19. Bob Giles says:

    Do you have shot from Europe…if so please post them.

  20. laurelkg says:

    I enjoy following your site. Thank you for sharing your interest and expertise. May I have permission, please, to use one of your photos (Starr monument) in AGS lecture?
    Laurel G.

    • Please do use the photo of the Starr monument. Please credit the photo with my Blog name: gravelyspeaking.com. Thank you for following my blog. I would love a copy of your lecture. Is this one that you will give next year at the annual meeting in Franklin, Indiana?

  21. David Hoadley says:

    I am not sure who is talking to whom here. Is laurelkg or gravelspeaking asking permission and for which of my photos? I would like to know what I am being asked for permission. What does AGS stand for and “Starr monument” doesn’t register with me?

    • David, Laura is asking permission to use photos on this blog site, which I took. AGS is the Association for Gravestone Studies. The Starr monument is a gravestone that I took a picture of. I am not sure how you received my reply to Laura.

  22. David Hoadley says:

    OK. Another computer gremlin stirring things up.

  23. Suzy W says:

    Interesting site. I came across it looking up something about Forest Lawn in Buffalo and have been browsing your site for some time now. My Dad was from Bedford IN so I liked the basketball grave stone and I’m familiar with how awesome Indiana limestone is. I’ve always had an interest in strolling through cemeteries looking at all the gravestones – just recently on vacation in Galveston. There’s so much history to be discovered there.

  24. David Hoadley says:

    I remember seeing a Sioux cemetery once in North Dakota back in the 1950s, when my father took the family from Bismarck down to visit Fort Yates, where one of his offices was. At that time, he was a “Hearings Examiner,” who probated the estates of deceased Indians for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. We visited that graveyard sometime around Memorial Day. I remember walking toward the hard scrabble cemetery, admiring the many flowers decorating the small wood and field-stone markers –until I drew closer. Then I saw that almost all were artificial flowers. The Indians were too poor to afford real ones with which to remember their loved ones. I will never forget that scene…where once there had been no fences, as far as the eye could see, and the proud Sioux nation ruled the northern plains –from horizon to horizon.

  25. I just love this blog. I remember learning about this subject in a college anthropology course and I was fascinated. Great work!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s