Tombstones and Gravestones…Wood

“Tombstone” and “gravestone” are words that are used interchangeably to describe all grave markers, no matter what they are made of.  And many think of gravestones and tombstones as being made of stone, after all stone is in the name, right?  

In fact, the dusty Western town Tombstone, Arizona, was named when a prospecting miner was searching for silver.  Soldiers in the area were trying to warn him, “You keep fooling around out there amongst the Natives Americans and the only rock you’ll find will be your tombstone!”  There it was—tombstone.  The miner named his claim tombstone, and it was later adopted as the name of the town.

Ironically, in the famous Boot Hill Cemetery in historic Tombstone, Arizona, nearly every grave marker is not made of stone, but of painted wood.  Gravestones, or rather, grave markers are made of many kinds of materials other than stone including wood which was often the only material readily available and easily carved or painted even though its ephemeral quality almost guaranteed that eventually the name of the person buried underneath the wooden marker wood fade and be long forgotten to history.  For instance, Effie Maud Crippen’s marker in the Yosemite Cemetery, in the Yosemite Valley of California, is a carved wood slab that becomes more faint with each passing year.   

Effie Maud had suffered from a lingering illness and her frail body succumbed, her September 3, 1881, Mariposa Gazette death notice described her untimely passing, “The grim monster, Death holds an impartial respect for persons: blooming youth, as well as the aged, must yield to the sickle, and fall into the swath, which is to be gathered into the fold and gathered with others who have preceded, and those who are soon to follow.” 

She died and was buried the next day, followed to the grave by her family, friends, neighbors, and her classmates.  Her epitaph now faintly whispers, “She faltered by the wayside and the angels took her home.” How long before the wooden grave marker that bears witness to her life fades along with her name?

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