Greenwood Cemetery, Phoenix, Arizona

Greenwood Cemetery, Phoenix, Arizona


Wife of

A. J.


Dec. 16, 1893

23 Yrs 11 Mos.

18 Dys

The Victorian Era lasted from about 1832 until Queen Victoria’s death in 1903.  The era was an eclectic period in the decorative arts with several styles—Gothic, Tudor, Neoclassical—vying for dominance.  The period was marked by ornamentation.  This was true in architecture, furniture, and funerary arts.  In cemeteries gravestones became taller, ornamented, and sentimental.

In Victorian times, flowers took on significance as a way to send coded messages; this was known as floriography from the Latin combining flora—“goddess of flowers” and graphein—“writing”.  Each flower had a meaning that was conveyed to the viewer or receiver of the flower or bouquet of flowers—the lily of the valley represented humility, the coral rose represented desire and passion, the white lily represented purity, and so on.

Here on this gravestone in the Greenwood Cemetery at Phoenix, Arizona, lightly incised into the four sides are cattails.  Cattails are found in marshes and at the pond’s edge.  The cattail is a plain plant, a common plant that flourishes next to the water.  In Christianity, the great prophet—the infant Moses—was found floating in a tiny basket woven of bulrushes and among the cattails.  Cattails, therefore became connected to a place of Salvation.  And because cattails only thrive with “wet feet” faithful Christians see it as a plant that is connected to the source of living waters—the teachings of the Church.  Cattails are a metaphor for the humble servants of the Lord who live a life of humble obedience.

A common epitaph found on many gravestones uses the imagery of the water’s edge to describe the place where loved ones will meet in the hereafter, a place of Salvation:

Our darling one

Has gone before

To greet us

On the blissful shore.



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1878 – 1909

until the morning

of the resurrection.

Occasionally a gravestone is fashioned in a way so that the symbolism is matched to the epitaph, as is the case.  Here, an incised carving shows curtains being drawn to the sides to reveal the sun rising over the clouds–the rising sun, a symbol of the resurrection.  This matches the epitaph on the gravestone and leaves little doubt what message the gravestone is trying to convey.  In addition to that, the open book on the top of the gravestone most likely represents the Bible.  This further the religious message of the marker–God’s Word is the way to Heaven.


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The Trumpet and the Book

Mount Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee

Mount Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee



OCT. 14, 1842.


MAY 28, 1906.



BORN MAY 15, 1845.

DIED APR. 4, 1908


On the top of this gravestone, a youthful angel is looking upward toward the Heavens and clutching a trumpet in one hand and a book in the other.  The trumpet announces the Day of Judgment and the Call to Resurrection.  The closed book is often a metaphor for the end of life, the story has been told and the end of the story has come.  After the book is complete, and the book is closed, the author lay in the grave.


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Mt. Oliver Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee

Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee

Some of the most clear examples of symbolism can be found on the zinc markers found in nearly every graveyard.  Here, is an example of a lyre traditionally seen as a symbol of Apollo, the Greek god of music. In Christian symbolism it can represent harmony and Heavenly accord and song in praise of the Lord.  In funerary art, however, the lyre can also represent the end of life.

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Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois

Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois

In the poem, On Another’s Sorrow, by William Blake, the poet asks:

Can I see another’s woe,

And not be in sorrow too?

Can I see another’s grief,

And not seek for kind relief?

A mourning figure is carves into the gray granite monument in the Graceland Cemetery at Chicago, Illinois, marking the graves of William Penn Frailey, Caroline Goodwill Frailey, and Nellie C. Frailey.

The mourning figure looks as if it has collapsed against the back of the monument.  Its head is bent in sorrow, a display of contemplation and grief.

Just as in the poem, it is difficult to look at the gravestone and not be moved by the expression of grief represented by the mourning figure and feel the loss and sorrow of the family who erected the stone.


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Calvary Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois

Calvary Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois

Mary Crawford’s white marble tombstone in the Calvary Cemetery at Chicago, Illinois, is a Victorian mélange of symbolism, typical for the age.  The Victorians knew how to do funerals and all things death.

The top of the stone depicts swirling clouds with two hands coming downward presumably from the Heavens.  Typically, a hand pointed downward on a gravestone represents the hand of God, and symbolizes mortality and death, often sudden death.  In this case, the hands look welcoming, almost like they are inviting the soul up to Heaven.

The tableau on which the hands are displayed is set like a stage with two curtains drawn to the sides.  These often represent funeral drapes, a symbol of mourning and grief. However, they could also represent the veil between one realm and the other—the passage of the soul from the Earthly Realm to the Heavenly realm.

At the base of the scene is a dove. Many symbols found on gravestones have multiple meanings. The dove is one of those.

Several references in the Bible refer to the dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 3:16 reads, “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him.” In Mark 1:10 the Bible says, “And Straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him.” Again in John 1:32, the Bible reads, “And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.”

Along with the dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit, the dove is also closely associated with peace, often depicted with a sprig of an olive in its beak. This, too, originated in the Bible. After the waters receded in the story of Noah, the dove appears. Genesis 8:11, “And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off; so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.”   It was a sign of God’s forgiveness.

The dove, with its white color, is also a symbol of purity and innocence and for that reason is often found the tombstones of children.

Thus the dove symbolizes the Holy Spirit, peace, and purity.  Here the dove sits atop a tilted cross.  The cross, of course, is the universal symbol of Christianity.

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Open Book


Greenlawn Cemetery, Franklin, Indiana

Greenlawn Cemetery, Franklin, Indiana





January 17, 1875


16 YRS. 1 MO. 13 Ds.

The white marble tombstone in the Greenlawn Cemetery at Franklin, Indiana, is topped with an open book that has a mourning drape complete with tassels laid over the top.

The medallion in the middle of the gravestone displays the name and death date of the young teenage girl buried here.

The open book is a common symbol found on gravestones. The motif can represent the Book of Life with the names of the just registered on its or it can symbolize the Word of God in the form of the Bible.

Greenlawn Cemetery, Franklin, Indiana

Greenlawn Cemetery, Franklin, Indiana

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