Graveyard

Graveyard
The Matthews Monument at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Sleep Most Permanent

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




“All is calm in this eternal sleep; 
here grief forgets to groan and love to weep.”          
                                                                                        ----Alexander Pope
Southampton Old School Baptist Cemetery, Southampton, PA


The 19th century may not have coined the term “eternal rest,” but that society truly raised the commemoration of death to a an art form.  They spoke in gentle terms, when they said “she was laid to rest next to her husband” or “our son is not dead, but sleeping.”  And they illustrated this concept of gentle eternal slumber with bed tombstones.

Bed tombstones, or tombstones that resemble beds, showed up first in 18th century graveyards in the United States.  The larger stone (with the inscription) was placed upright, marking the top of the coffin and a smaller stone was placed about five feet away, marking the base of the coffin.  The configuration resembled the headboard and footboard of a bed.  That is why tombstones are called “headstones.”  Footstones are not as prevalent as they used to be, as many a cemetery caretaker has removed them for easier maintenance.  I have found a lot of old cemeteries with dozens of small footstones propped up along the outer stone walls.  I say, get off your damn lawnmower and get some exercise with the weed whacker.  And put the footstones back.  But that’s just me.

The inscription on the head stone in the 18th century tended to be written on the “back” of the head stone, usually facing west.  The reasoning here was two-fold:  first, visitors reading the inscriptions would not be walking or standing on the actual resting spot (in between the head and foot stone) of the deceased.  Second, on the Day of Judgement, when the sun rises in the east, the resurrected dead would sit up in their “beds” to greet the sun and the Son (of God).  

The 19th century bed tombstones became much more elaborate, with “bed rails” connecting the head and foot stones.   Childrens' and infants' bed tombstones were sized appropriately.  These configurations were made for plantings in the bed frame.  Unfortunately, I have only found a few examples of how beautiful this can look.  Many of the bed tombstone rails have been broken (Lawn mower?  Delinquents?  Acid rain?), but some excellent examples remain.  These 19th century tombstones have the inscription engraved on the inside or the front of the headstone, since visitors would not be able to walk on the grave (if it was planted with flowers).  Facing east became less important as well, as cemeteries sold plots facing every which way.  Cram ‘em in, get the most out of that real estate.

I especially like the family plots of bed tombstones, where the entire family “rests,” each with their own “bed” for their eternal rest.  When they were all planted with blooming flowers, that must have made a beautiful sight.  

As the 19th century progressed, bed tombstones “filled in”…that is, the “bed” was actually a solid shape.   Sometimes the footstone was eliminated.  I don’t like this, as these could not be planted, but perhaps as family members moved away from their childhood homes, it was not as easy to get back to visit the cemetery and tend to plantings.  

You can still buy a bed tombstone today from monument companies.  My parents are getting bed tombstones.  They don’t know it yet.  They think they are going to be buried in a memorial park with those nasty flat metal markers.  (the lawnmower wins there)  I am having them dug up and reinterred in Laurel Hill Cemetery, marked by two beautiful bed tombstones, carved with lots and lots of 19th century symbols.  And I am going to plant lots of flowers in their “beds.”  It’s going to be great---their eternal slumber will be lovely.

Davisville Church, Davisville, PA

Deep Run Presbyterian Cemetery, Bedminster, PA

Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA

Durham Cemetery, Durham, PA

Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA

Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA

Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA

Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Montgomery Baptist Cemetery, Montgomeryville, PA

Neshaminy Presbyterian Cemetery, Warrington, PA

Pleasant Hill Cemetery, Pleasant Valley, PA

Riegelsville Cemetery, Riegelsville, PA

Riegelsville Cemetery, Riegelsville, PA

Riegelsville Cemetery, Riegelsville, PA

Richboro Union Cemetery, Richboro, PA

St. James Cemetery, Chalfont, PA

St. John's Lutheran Cemetery, Quakertown, PA

St. John's Lutheran Cemetery, Quakertown, PA

St. John's Evan. Lutheran Cemetery, Ferndale, PA

St. Luke's UCC Cemetery, Ottsville, PA

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

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

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

St. Peter's Union Cemetery, Hilltown, PA

St. Peter's Union Cemetery, Hilltown, PA

St. Thomas Whitemarsh Cemetery, Fort Washington, PA

St. Thomas Whitemarsh Cemetery, Fort Washington, PA

St. Paul's Applebach Cemetery, Applebachville, PA

St. Paul's Applebach Cemetery, Applebachville, PA

St. Paul's Applebach Cemetery, Applebachville, PA

St. Paul's Applebach Cemetery, Applebachville, PA

Trumbauersville Cemetery, Trumbauersville, PA

St. Andrew's UCC Cemetery, Perkasie, PA

Abington Presbyterian Cemetery, Abington, PA

Hellertown Union Cemetery, Hellertown, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Montgomery Baptist Cemetery, Montgomeryville, PA

Pleasant Hill Cemetery, Pleasant Valley, PA

Pleasant Hill Cemetery, Pleasant Valley, PA

St. Luke Evan. Lutheran Cemetery, Ferndale, PA

St. Luke Evan. Lutheran Cemetery, Ferndale, PA

St. Luke Evan. Lutheran Cemetery, Ferndale, PA

St. Luke Evan. Lutheran Cemetery, Ferndale, PA

St. Mary's Cemetery, Doylestown, PA

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

St. Peter's Union Cemetery, Hilltown, PA

St. Thomas Whitemarsh Cemetery, Fort Washington, PA

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

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