The epitaph on the Silas May gravestone in the Waterbury Cemetery in Waterbury, Vermont, uses the age-old metaphor of crossing the river. Since ancient times, the imagery of the soul crossing a river was created to explain how the soul went from one realm to the other. This vivid imagery has long been a part of the symbolism of death in iconography and word.
In Greek mythology, the River Styx wrapped its way around Hades (the Underworld) nine times. To cross from this life to the next, the dead had to pay with a coin to be ferried from the realm of the living to the realm of the dead. The toll was placed in the mouth of the deceased to pay Charon, the ferryman. It was said that if the dead person did not have the coin, he was destined to wander the shores of the River Styx for a century.
JULY 21, 1859
Aged 55 years
Thou art no more on earth – Life’s changing scenes are o’re
Its cares, its sorrows, and its trials past
Deaths narrow stream is crossed, and thou hast gained the shore
And peace, and joy, and heaven are thine at last.