Graveyard

Graveyard
Cedar Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Gotta Hand It To Them

Delaware Water Gap Cemetery, Delaware Water Gap, PA

The 1800’s saw the rise of the individual and the creation of the middle class.  Romanticism in the late 1700’s paved the way and the okay for emotion to be expressed openly in everyday life, including grief and sorrow over the death of loved ones.  Gravestone carvings changed as well, from the stark and grisly skulls and crossbones of the late 1700’s to the softer, more comforting symbols of the mid-19th century, such as hands, still flesh-covered and living, not just the dry, dead bones.

We have already looked at two of the most prevalent symbols involving hands:  the finger pointing up to Heaven, and the set of shaking hands signifying the final farewell to earth. Giving Us the Finger  The Final Handshake

But I have found many other carvings featuring a hand, usually holding another object of significance.  Once in awhile, I have found just a hand, palm out in perhaps a gesture of friendship, or perhaps a warning:  “As am I, so will you be one day.”  The most poignant stone I have found features a three-dimensional hand of a child, breaking the plane of the tombstone.  It is a beautiful life-like sculpture.

Stark Cemetery, Starkville, PA

Molded hand on a Zinc Monument, Prompton Cemetery, Prompton, PA

Equinunk Cemetery, Equinunk, PA

Most of the hand carvings I have found are holding something, frequently a single flower or a bouquet of several flowers.  For 19th century Victorians, a plucked flower or bouquet symbolized the mortality of life, since those flowers, while in a full bloom right now, would soon die.  The flowers used most frequently are roses, lilies and lily of the valley.  

Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA

Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA

Mountain View Cemetery, Upper Exeter, PA

Stroudsburg Cemetery, Stroudsburg, PA

Norris City Cemetery, Norristown, PA

Boehm's UCC Cemetery, Blue Bell, PA

Christ Covenant Cemetery, Harleysville, PA

Overfield Cemetery, Meshoppen, PA

Overfield Cemetery, Meshoppen, PA

Springville Cemetery, Springville, PA

Stark Cemetery, Starkville, PA

Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA

Mt. Zion Cemetery, Snydersville, PA

Tannersville UCC Cemetery, Tannersville, PA

St. Peter's Union Cemetery, Hilltown, PA

Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, PA

Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, PA

Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, PA

Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, PA

Falls Cemetery, Falls, PA

Falls Cemetery, Falls, PA

Milwaukee Cemetery, Milwaukee, PA

Post Hill Cemetery, Falls, PA

Stark Cemetery, Starkville, PA

Stark Cemetery, Starkville, PA

Stark Cemetery, Starkville, PA

There are hands holding links of broken chain, signifying the loss of life in the family chain.  When hands are pointing downward (whether holding a chain or not), it is said to represent the hand of God, descending from the clouds.  Perhaps this means that since God has control of all life in his hands, he has chosen to break the chain.  

Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

Union United Church, Wayne Co., PA

Delaware Water Gap Cemetery, Delaware Water Gap, PA

Riverview Cemetery, Portland, PA

Kizer Cemetery, Cortez, PA

Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA

Close-up of above, Gettysburg, PA

When a hand is shown holding a scroll or a wreath, or gripping part of the mourning cloth, this also represents God and His role in the lives of 19th century people.  That century saw wave after wave of evangelical Protestantism sweep across the country, converting the unbelievers and making Christianity an important force in life and in death.  The concepts of resurrection and a glorious afterlife played their roles in gravestone symbols.  A hand on an open page of the Bible also can be found on occasion, pointing out the Bible passage used for the deceased’s funeral mass.  

St. Mary's Cemetery, Doylestown, PA

Pittston Avenue Cemetery, Scranton, PA

Doylestown Cemetery, Doylestown, PA

Indian Orchard Cemetery, Indian Orchard, PA

Forks Cemetery, Stockertown, PA

Kaiserville Cemetery, Kaiserville, PA

Lawnview Cemetery, Rockledge, PA

Moscow Cemetery, Moscow, PA

Equinunk Cemetery, Equinunk, PA

Isn't this cool?  This is the sign language sign for "I Love You."  Was the deceased deaf?  Salem Cemetery, Hamlin, PA

Kaiserville Cemetery, Kaiserville, PA

Kaiserville Cemetery, Kaiserville, PA

Hill Cemetery, Brooklyn, PA

Hands on tombstones humanized death and loss in the 19th century, and showed society’s hope for a better afterlife.  They really do remind you that these are more than just slabs of slate, marble and granite; they stand for a person, someone who was here yesterday and is gone for good, but not entirely forgotten.  

Molded Hand on Zinc Monument--Symbol of Charity, probably Independent Order of Odd Fellows or Masons  Hays Cemetery, Easton, PA

Levi Kolp was the Prothonotary of Bucks County, which means he was the Recorder of Wills, etc.  Could this hand writing signify that accomplishment of his?  Doylestown Cemetery, Doylestown, PA

2 comments:

Ethan Taliesin said...

Thank you for taking the time to post the great pictures! I'm giving a talk on symbolism in cemetery art and found the hard work very useful...and appreciated! Here is a site you may already be aware of, but here it is anyway----> http://www.thecemeteryclub.com/symbols.html

Anonymous said...

I have pictures of 2 tombstones having hand carvings. One has a hand with index finger pointing straight up. The stone is for my 3rd great grandfather. The tomb next to him is of his grandson and has a carving of hands shaking (male and female judging by the cuffs). They are from the West Union Cemetery in Tama County, Iowa. Contact me if you'd like copies. mrstlg1973@yahoo.com