Graveyard

Graveyard
Cedar Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Final Handshake

Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA




One of the most prolific gravestone carvings of the 19th century was the handshake.  The handshake symbolized the last farewell to those left behind.  I have taken about 100 pictures of handshakes on tombstones in more than 50 cemeteries in mostly eastern Pennsylvania, and without an exception, they all have one thing in common:  they all depict the hand on the right clasping the hand on the left, whose palm and fingers almost always remain flat and open.  (The one above is the only exception--the left hand is clasping also.)  Other internet cemetery symbol sites mention the same pattern, occurring across the country.  (And you thought I was the only gothic nutcase into this, eh?)  This probably represented God, on the right, leading the deceased, with the meek and open hand, to heaven.  

Carved handshakes frequently marked the final resting place of husbands and wives.  It showed that even “death do us part” does not severe the marriage bond.  Many of the carvings show two different cuffs…one decidedly more feminine with lace or a blouse-y drape, one with a suit-coat look.  However, I have noticed that sometimes the gravestones of single adults also had the same carvings---a male hand and a female hand clasped together.  Perhaps the purchaser of the stone just liked the design, or the stone carver sold them on the idea, or it was a popular stock design in the tombstone catalog (even Sears and Roebuck sold tombstones back in the late 1800’s through their catalogs.)

And yet even though every carved handshake has the same basic form, the variations of design amaze me:  stubby fingers, elongated fingers, fat hands, slim hands, nails, no nails, the barest hint of cuffs, elaborately detailed cuffs…it is hard to find two carvings exactly alike.  

The detail that most intrigues me is that some of the carvings---about ten percent of the pictures I have collected---show the right hand with the index finger extended, not clasped around the left hand like the rest of the fingers.  My research has not yielded any definite answers on the meaning.  There are claims that it symbolizes a handshake from a secret fraternal organization such as the Masons or the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (that will be a future blog, never fear).  One source (Remnant Stones, by Viva Ben-Ur and Rachel Frankel) call this “presenting hands,” and argue that it symbolizes “a continuum of being, and even interaction, between above and below, between the living and the dead, and between the human and the divine.”  Maybe.  Did you know that if someone shakes your hand while you extend your index finger like that, they can squeeze as hard as they want but they cannot give you a bone-crushing handshake?  Maybe then, that symbol with the index finger extended does show the supremacy of God over Man…no matter how hard we try, in the end, we die.  And on that cheery note........

Bolkcom Cemetery, Rileyville, Pa

St. John's Lutheran Cemetery, Quakertown, PA

Hornbaker Cemetery, Madisonville, PA

Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Quakertown Union Cemetery, Quakertown, PA

St. Paul's Applebach Cemetery, Applebachville, PA

Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

Salem Cemetery, Hamlin, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

Hays Cemetery, Easton, PA

Montgomery Baptist Cemetery, Montgomeryville, PA

Newtown Cemetery, Newtown, PA

Quakertown Union Cemetery, Quakertown, PA

Quakertown Union Cemetery, Quakertown, PA

Quakertown Union Cemetery Close-Up, Quakertown, PA

St. John's Lutheran Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

St. Michael's Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery, Sellersville, PA

St. Peter's Union Cemetery, Hilltown, PA

St. Peter's Union Cemetery, Hilltown, PA

St. Peter's Tohickon UCC Cemetery, Keelersville, PA

St. Peter's Tohickon UCC Cemetery Close-Up, Keelersville, PA

Tannersville UCC Cemetery, Tannersville, PA

UPSIDE DOWN HANDS, Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Wentz's UCC Cemetery, Worcester, PA

Zion Cemetery, Newfoundland, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT, Hays Cemetery, Easton, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT St. Paul's Applebach Cemetery, Applebachville, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT, Daleville Cemetery, Daleville, PA


INDEX FINGER OUT, Hollisterville Cemetery, Hollisterville, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT, Madisonville Union, Madisonville, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT, Neola Methodist Cemetery, Neola, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT, St. Michael's Evan. Lutheran Cemetery, Sellersville, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT, St. Peter's Union Cemetery, Hilltown, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT, St. Peter's Union Cemetery, Hilltown, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT, St. Peter's Union Cemetery, Hilltown, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT, St. Paul's Applebach Cemetery, Applebachville, PA

INDEX FINGER OUT, Wentz's UCC, Worcester, PA

MISSING FINGER, St. Peter's Tohickon UCC Cemetery, Keelersville, PA

MISSING FINGER, St. Peter's Tohickon UCC Cemetery, Keelersville, PA

BOTH INDEX FINGERS OUT, Springbrook Cemetery, Springbrook, PA

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you. My great grandfather's headstone (1917) has the "finger out." Someone asked me about it today.