Crown and cross in stained glass


The window in the St. Adalbert Catholic Cemetery at Chicago, Illinois, displays a radiant crown and crown in a stained-glass cartouche. The crown is a symbol of glory and victory over death.  The reward awaits in Heaven where the victor will receive a crown of victory. The cross represents the suffering of Christ.

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John Belushi and Puritan Iconography


Here Lies Buried

The Body Of


January 24, 1949

March 5, 1982

I may be gone, but

Rock and Roll lives on.

Catie, a friend of mine, was vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard and walked through Abel’s Hill Cemetery when she spied the tombstone of comedy legend John Belushi. His gray slate marker depicts the skull and crossbones. Here, what is old is new again. Some of the oldest gravestones in America display the skull and crossbones iconography broadcasting the message to “remember death” meant to remind all that life is short.

Here lies buried

The Body of Mr BENJAMIN PARKER Mercht

Who Departed this Life

The 14th day of November


Aged 54 Years

Here again on this gray slate gravestone in the Granary Burying Ground at Boston is an example of the skull and crossbones symbol.


But if you take a close look at the edges of the gravestone were the beginnings of a softer message.  Two small winged cherub faces are carved on the marker.  These images are called “soul effigies”.  They mark the transition away from harsh Puritan theology to the gentler Age of Enlightenment that gave way to the sentimentality of the Victorian Era.

These winged figures represent the flight of the soul away from the body, presumably to Heaven.  Instead of the symbolism of skulls, bones, grave-digging equipment and the like, the soul effigies speak to a message of optimism and the glory of the soul in the hereafter.

Here lies buried

The Body of


Who departed this Life

August 17th 1790

in the 60th Year

of his Age.


The version found at the Burying Point in Salem, Massachusetts, is a variant of the skull and cross bones that depicts the skull with wings—representing the flight of life.


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Rising or Setting Sun


Here lies the body of


Who departed this life

Oct. 19th, 1792.

in the 87th Year of her age

The gray slate gravestone in the Burying Point, the oldest burying ground in the City of Salem, Massachusetts, features the incised design of a sun. The anthropomorphic sun in this case has two eyes peeking forward.

It is always difficult to look at a design like this and know whether the sun is setting or rising. The setting sun represents death—darkness. If the sun is a rising sun it represents Christ’s resurrection.


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Wheat and Ivy



BORN DEC. 15. 1795.

DIED SEPT. 26. 1857.


BORN APRIL 17. 1802

DIED AUG. 20. 1865.



BORN OCT. 26. 1831.

DIED NOV. 16. 1835.


BORN MARCH 13. 1829

DIED AUG. 6. 1836.



BORN JULY 2. 1819

DIED MARCH 31. 1860.


BORN MARCH 9. 1833.

DIED MARCH 7. 1854.

The white marble gravestone of Levi and Eliza Buckingham in the Spring Grove Cemetery at Cincinnati, Ohio, prominently displays their names and birth and death dates on the front of the stone in an elaborate cartouche. Carved into two of the sides of the marker have other names of fallen family members. The cartouche has wheat tucked into the top and the bottom of the stone is adorned with ivy leaves twinning around the gravestone. The ivy traditionally represents friendship.

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.



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Neo-classical design



AUG. 15, 1856 – JAN. 25, 1936


MAY 19, 1880 – APRIL 29, 1912

The Chapin monument in the Westview Cemetery at Atlanta, Georgia, is a neo-classical design. Many ancient classical designs are replicated in modern graveyards based on the designs of Greek and Roman temples.  The canopy on the Chapin monument is modeled after the Roman tomb of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus.

Scipio's tomb

Scipio’s tomb

The Scipio sarcophagus was erected around 150 BC.  Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus (died c. 280 BC) was one of the two elected Roman consuls in 298 BC. His tomb is an example of classical Greek design based on the same design principles used for the Parthenon.  The scroll work, at the top of the canopy represents the Heavens, and also represented a bed. In an article written for “Design Hints” by John Cargill, a designer from the Chicago design firm of Chas. G. Blake & Company, describes the meaning of the scrolls writing, “The scrolls represent a bed; the bed refers to sleep and sleep is a type of death; and to the righteous death is but glorious transport to Paradise.

Cargill described the evolution of the classical architectural design principles, which he writes were conceived from the order that the ancients found in nature, primarily astrological, that were used in Greek architecture to imbue harmony into their structures.


The sarcophagus, as does the Chapin monument, has three distinct planes representing the universe—the base, the middle, and the top. The base is symbolic of the Earth, the middle represented man and the gods, and the top of the sarcophagus where the scroll rests represents the Heavens. In this case, the angel, as the messenger of God, clearly stands in that middle land. An angels stands holding a bouquet of Easter lilies in one arm and a single blossom in the other.


The lily, as a funerary symbol, has many meanings including purity, innocence, virginity, heavenly bliss, majestic beauty, and Christ’s resurrection.  Christians believe that the trumpet-shaped blossoms announce the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. If the lilies are white they symbolize the hope of eternal life. The Easter lily has long been associated with the Christian religion, commonly referred to as “White-Robed Apostles of Christ.” Early Christians believed that lilies sprouted where Jesus Christ’s sweat fell to the ground in the Garden of Gethsemane.


White has typically been a color associated with virtues of purity and innocence.  Often the lily can be found on the grave of a child, the epitome of purity and innocence.  The white lily is also associated with virginity and marriage, in particular relationship to women.  On one hand, the lily represents virginity and innocence, which is an appropriate symbol for a young unmarried woman.  On the other hand, it is symbolic of majestic beauty and marriage, which makes it an appropriate symbol for all married women regardless of their age.


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The Scroll




JULY 18, 1860






JAN 22, 1863


1822 – 1839


1831 – 1839

The City Cemetery at South Bend, Indiana, has a very elaborate monument dedicated to Reynolds Dunn and his family. The gravestone is a tall white marble column topped with a small urn resting on a plinth of the same material. The soft marble is slowly being eaten away by the elements, eroding the detail of the wording and the carvings on the market.

On what appears to be the back side of the marker is a cartouche. Inside that is the name Phebe Dunn, wife of Reynolds Dunn, along with her date of death and her age, though her age is so badly faded and illegible. The side of the plinth has two names carved into it—presumably children of Reynolds and Phebe—Simeon and Jennette, along with birth and death years. The front side is an elaborately carved tribute to Reynolds Dunn.


The design features—the “All-Seeing Eye of God” The all-seeing eye of God, also called the Eye of Providence is one of many symbols of Masonic iconography.  This symbol is to remind Masons that all of their actions and deeds are being observed by the watchful eye of the Great Architect of the Universe.  Sometimes the eye is displayed in a triangle.
Just below the All-Seeing Eye of God symbolism is the Masonic emblem—the square and two compasses.  In this example the letter “G” appears in the middle of the emblem.  Each component of the symbol represents a different Masonic orthodoxy, though, these are not hard and fast: The compasses represent the boundaries of wisdom a person should have the strength to circumscribe and stay within. The square symbolizes virtue in all actions, just as the expression “square deal” means treating people with fairness. The letter “G” seems to have more than one meaning.  It could possibly mean God, as in the creator of the universe; or Gimel, which is the word for the third letter of many Semitic languages.  The number three is significant to many Masonic rituals and beliefs.  Some also believe the “G” may represent geometry.
Directly below that are two female hands holding a scroll that look as if it is rolling open at the bottom. The scroll represents both the life of the deceased and the time spent on Earth. In this case, the scroll is being unfurled by two hands, most likely representing the life that is being recorded by the angels.

Though the poem, “Invictus”, was written by William Ernest Henley in 1875, a full 15 years after Reynolds Dunn died, the carving reminds me of the last stanza of the poem:
It matters not how strait the gate,

    How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

     I am the master of my soul.


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What to do with leftover turkey?


The Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in the fall of 1621. They had made it through a harsh New England winter with a little more than half of the original group having survived it. For three days, the Pilgrims and a band of Wampanoag Indians played games and feasted. They likely ate venison, lobster, clams, swan, and other water fowl and probably wild turkey.

Turkey, however, has evolved into the main dish on most Thanksgiving tables in America. In fact, the national Turkey Federation (yes, there is such an organization—and they are not working on behalf of the turkeys) claim that 88% of American households serve turkey on thanksgiving.

The question usually following Thanksgiving is what to do with the leftover turkey? That was the same question that had to be answered by the Swanson & Sons Corporation in 1953. That year, Swanson ordered too many turkeys and literally tons were left over after the big holiday.

To get rid of the leftover turkey, a Swanson Company executive, Gerry Thomas, suggested producing dinners in aluminum trays—the company cooked up 5,000 dinners of turkey, cornbread dressing, gravy, peas, and sweet potatoes ready for re-heating. At 98 cents a pop, they were a hit. Within one year, over ten million were sold. The TV dinner was born!

Swanson and Sons was founded by Carl Swanson (1879 – 1949). Swanson was a Swedish immigrant in partnership with John O. Jerpe who grew what started as grocery store into a large dairy operation buying eggs and butter from farmers. The company started selling poultry and other meat. Swanson eventually bought the company from Jerpe and renamed C.A. Swanson and Sons. Carl’s sons Gilbert and Clarke joined the business.

All three are buried in the Forest Lawn Cemetery at Omaha, Nebraska. Carl Anton Swanson (1879 – 1949) and his wife Carol Gerock Swanson (1881 – 1952) are buried in a light gray granite mausoleum with straight horizontal and vertical lines in a modern design. His son’s monuments flank his mausoleum.


His son Gilbert Carl Swanson (1906 – 1965) and his wife Roberta Epperson Fulbright Swanson (1911 – 1959) have a modernistic monument with two columns split with bonze cross surrounded by delicate ornamental metal work separating the two halves. In the corners of the monument are the initials “G”, “C”, and “S” intertwined.


Walter Clarke Swanson (1908 – 1961) has an intriguing monument. It is directly to the right of Carl Swanson’s mausoleum and is a bit of a mystery. The sculpture created in 1963 by famed artist Bruno Innocenti (the statue is signed) of a male figure holding his hands in the air with flames emanating from the palms. The meaning of the statue seems to be unknown to all but the Swanson family.





Now what to do about all that leftover turkey? There is always the old standard like a pot pie. Or you could try Melissa d’Arabian recipe for Chicken Pot Pie Turnovers, substituting turkey, of course. A new twist on an old idea. Here is a link to the recipe at the Food Network:

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