Statue of William Shakespeare by the River Avon at Stratford-upon-Avon

Statue of William Shakespeare by the River Avon at Stratford-upon-Avon

Ordinarily this space is confined to blog posts about North American graves. But, vacation abroad and a visit to one of the most famous graves in whole of England merits a slight and hopefully memorable change of pace.

A mosaic of Shakespeare above a doorway into a Stratford bank

A mosaic of Shakespeare above a doorway into a Stratford bank

In 1564, in the small village of Stratford-upon-Avon, William Shakespeare was born, the son of John and Mary Shakespeare. John was a prosperous glove maker but his son was destined to become one of the most celebrated playwrights and poets in the whole and long literary history of England.

William Shakespeare's birthplace

William Shakespeare’s birthplace

It is difficult to estimate his influence on drama, the English language, poetry, and the lives of countless high school students worldwide who have read his works and been tested accordingly.


The sole industry in sleepy Stratford is selling Shakespeare. His image is seen everywhere—selling ice creams, on store fronts, in alcoves, in statuary in the park, on signage of all kinds.     Shakespeare is seen everywhere. Without the Shakespeare birthplace, Ann Hathaway’s cottage, his daughter’s home—Hall’s Croft, his mother’s farm, along with his burial place in Holy Trinity, Stratford would most likely be no bigger than neighboring Henley. It is also the home of the Swan Theater and the Royal Shakespeare Company. But, be sure Shakespeare not only left a mark on sleepy Stratford, but all of literature.

Holy Trinity Church

Holy Trinity Church

In the floor of the chancel at the Holy Trinity Church at Stratford-upon-Avon is the grave of William Shakespeare with what may be the world’s most well-known epitaph:





Shakespeare's grave in the Holy Trinity Church Chancel at Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare’s grave in the Holy Trinity Church Chancel at Stratford-upon-Avon

In addition to the grave in the chancel, a memorial bust on the chancel wall honors William Shakespeare, as well.


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Lady of Tears

Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado

Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado



1911 – 1989


1919 – 1981

Together Forever

The elegant and sleek mourning figure that marks the graves of Bert and Mildred Travis in the Fairmount Cemetery at Denver, Colorado, sits serenely in a chair, her head slightly bent in sorrow. She clasps her hands together in a display of contemplation and grief.   The patina of the bronze makes it look as if tears have streamed from her eyes which has given way to the name of the statue, the Lady of Tears.


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Keeping up with the Joneses


The Soper Mausoleum in the Fairmount Cemetery at Denver, Colorado, was commissioned by Susan Soper in honor of her husband, Roger.  The mausoleum is constructed of rusticated sandstone, that is, the sandstone on the sides of the mausoleum are rough cut as opposed to smooth or polished. Flanking the doorway are Corinthian columns that support an arched doorway with an intricately carved frieze in a half circle. Intertwined in the frieze are laurel leaves, symbolizing victory over death, and acorns and oak leaves, representing strength.

The roof of the tomb is constructed a series of stacked slabs each being smaller than the one before in creating a step pattern. Atop the top step is the life-sized allegorical figure of Hope, common in American cemeteries, leaning on an anchor. Hope looks toward the Heavens clutching her breast. The anchor, one of the earliest Christian symbols, represents faith. The anchor was used by early Christians as a disguised cross.  The anchor also served as a symbol of Christ and his anchoring influence in the lives of Christians.


According to Pioneer Cemeteries: Sculpture Gardens of the Old West written by Annette Stott, (page 182) the Soper Mausoleum was the first mausoleum built in the Fairmount Cemetery triggering a sort of race to create elaborate and ostentatious displays of grief. It represented a “social competition” among the wealthy women of Denver who were “contemplating tributes to their husbands.” Wealth combined with the Victorian traditions of displaying sorrow in an outward fashion caused ever bigger and more grandiose monuments to be built. Several large and impressive mausoleums were built in Fairmount Cemetery after the Soper tomb that were meant to keep up with the Jones, or in this case the Sopers.


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Dennis O’Leary

Pvt Co. I 23rd Infantry

Died Apl 1, 1901

Age 23 Yrs, 9 Mos.

Marking the grave of Private Dennis O’Leary in the Santa Fe National Cemetery is the hand-carved sandstone gravestone, which O’Leary reportedly carved for himself. Several legends have been told surrounding the soldier’s monument. As one story goes, O’Leary was bored and carved the gravestone including the inscription that states his death date. Then on that date he committed suicide leaving only a note with instructions that he was to be laid to rest underneath his work of art. Another story states that he deserted, carved the gravestone including his death date, turned himself in to the military authorities at Fort Wingate and was summarily hanged on the date he himself had inscribed. Both fanciful stories, however, do not jibe with the military records which cite tuberculosis as the cause of his untimely death.

Private O’Leary was first buried at Fort Wingate, New Mexico.  But, when the fort was decommissioned and closed the soldiers buried there were removed to the Santa Fe National Cemetery.


The photographs in today’s blog post were taken by my friend, Dan Siburg, who often thinks of me as he passes by a cemetery, as many of my friends do. While I completely understand why they do, on some level it is still a bit disturbing.  I know it is my own fault!

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For such is the kingdom of Heaven

Forest Lawn Cemetery, Omaha, Nebraska

Forest Lawn Cemetery, Omaha, Nebraska

Matthew 19:14 King James Version (KJV)

14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

Many cemeteries have sections laid aside for infant burials. Often a feature of these sections is a statue of Jesus with children, a reminder of the Bible verse from Matthew.


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You say sarcophagi, I say sarcophaguses. Whichever way you say it, it means more than one sarcophagus.

Sarcophagus tombs are designed to look like coffins.  Most often they are set on a platform or a base.  The tomb is often embellished with ornamentation and nearly always has feet–but the “coffin” is empty–just an empty symbol of the receptacle.  This style of burial monument is ancient.

The word, sarcophagus, is derived from two ancient Greek words, sarx, which meant flesh and phagein meaning to eat.  The two words together, sarkophagus, meant flesh eating.  The term came from the limestone used by the ancient Greeks to bury the dead which was thought to decompose the flesh of the deceased.

The sarcophagi shown here are from the Mt. Auburn Cemetery at Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The John Adams Blanchard sarcophagus features four winged cherubs, two on each side, embellish the footed tomb.  The winged cherub was a symbol that became popular in the 18th Century.  Winged cherubs replaced the stark and morbid flying death’s heads from our Puritan forefathers.  The cherubs have a childlike countenance of innocence.  The iconography represents the flight of the soul from the body upward to Heaven and the hope of the resurrection.


Carved on top of the William and Lucy Howard Brown white marble sarcophagus is a great shock of wheat. Wheat’s origins are unknown but is the basis of basic food and a staple in many cultures. Because of wheat’s exalted position as a mainstay foodstuff, it is viewed as a gift from Heaven. Wheat symbolizes immortality and resurrection.  But, like many symbols found on gravestones, they can have more than one meaning.  For instance, because wheat is the main ingredient of bread, the sheaf of wheat can represent the Body of Christ.  Wheat can also represent a long life, usually more than three score and ten, or seventy years.



This sarcophagus was erected by the students of Professor John Hooker Ashmun, a testament to his connection to his teaching ability and personality. The tomb rests upon four lion’s feet, giving it an imposing feel.


Here lies the Body of


Royall Professor of Law in Harvard University

Who was born July 3d. 1800 & died April 1, 1833


In him the science of law appeared native and intuitive.

He went behind precedents to principles, and books were his helpers, never his masters.

There was the beauty of accuracy in his understanding,

And beauty of uprightness in his character.

Through the slow progress of the disease which consumed his life,

He kept unimpaired his kindness of temper and superiority of intellect.

He did more work sick than others in health.

He was fit to teach at an age when common men are beginning to learn,

And his few years bore the fruit of long life.

A lover of truth, an obeyer of duty, a sincere friend, and a wise instructor.

His pupils raise this stone to his memory.

This white marble sarcophagus was built for Waldo Merriam, a soldier who was killed in a battle. The top of the monument features the soldier’s hat and sword.




BORN FEB. 23, 1839;


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A Bouquet

Fairmont Cemetery, Denver, Colorado

Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado





JULY 21, 1847.

DIED NOV. 19, 1871.

AGED 24 YRS. 3 MS.

& 28 DAYS


There are many symbols that represent death in funerary art—the broken bud, the sleeping lamb, baby shoes, the flying death’s head, and, here, a broken pot of flowers turned on its side.  The bouquet spilling out of the pot may be reminiscent of the one the young bride carried down the aisle.


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