Cemetery symbolism in Sudbury District Cemeteries

This post was first published in the Ontario Genealogical Society, Sudbury District Branch newsletter, Ancestor Hunting (Volume 44 Issue 4).

For me, symbolism is one of the many things that make visiting cemeteries so interesting. I have been photographing them for over 15 years, but I still continue to find unique symbols that have me reaching for my reference books. I have lived in Sudbury almost all of my life, so I have spent a fair amount of time traveling in Northern Ontario to visit cemeteries. I have yet to visit ALL the cemeteries in the Sudbury district, but as of May of this year, I can now say that I have visited all 25 in the Greater City of Sudbury. I have noticed a repetition of certain symbols and motifs and wanted to share some of my findings.

The majority of the cemeteries found here are of a religious denomination. You can often find a variety of human statues in these cemeteries, representing Saints and Angels or symbolizing grief and mourning. Another common religious symbol is the cross. There are so many varieties of crosses, each with various meanings. You could write a whole book on just cross symbolism alone! Some of the more common crosses you can find are the Agony cross, with its pointed ends that represent the agony of the crucifixion, or the Glory or Rayed cross, its rays representing the glory of God. 

I have also noticed quite a few handmade stones. I find handmade stones to be beautiful, full of love, and have a unique charm. They come in all shapes and forms. Some are hand-poured cement, with stones and tokens embedded in them. They are usually adorned with hand lettering, either hand painted or hand carved, or might have handmade plaques affixed to them.

Another common symbol you will find in the area is the lamb. This is another religious symbol, representing the “lamb of God”, as well as innocence and sacrifice. Lambs are most commonly found on the graves of small children and infants. Lambs are often depicted laying down, sometimes in front of a tree stump. The tree stump symbolizes a life cut short. 

Another common symbol found on children’s graves in the Sudbury district is the dove. Similar to the lamb, a dove represents peace, innocence, and purity. One of the variations on the dove symbol you might find is a dove that looks dead. This symbolizes a life cut short.  

In my experience, books are not quite as common as some other symbols in our area, but they are still one of my favorite cemetery symbols. I’m an avid reader, so seeing a book on a gravestone always makes me smile. I have seen many variations of books in the area. Books can be decorative or symbolic. Some gravestones use a book as a device to display the name of the deceased, along with dates. An open book can sometimes represent emotions, open to the world, or symbolize a life that has been cut short, before getting to the last page. Another variation you might find, is a closed book, usually at the top of a truncated obelisk. A closed book symbolizes a long life, lived to the last chapter. Some books represent the Holy Bible and might be labeled as such. 

This is just a small sampling of the more common cemetery symbols you will find in our local cemeteries. I look forward to seeing what other common symbols might be found in our district cemeteries, as I continue to explore them. 

Thanks for reading!

A Collection of Tree Stones

While wandering a cemetery, have you ever come across a monument that is shaped and textured to look like a tree? Today, I want to take a closer look at these types of grave markers, called tree stones. Although they are a bit harder to come by in Northern Ontario, you can find them, and they are usually very easy to spot since they are so unique!

Tree stones are often used as memorials for members of the Woodmen of the World, a fraternal organization. This fraternal order was started in 1890, and membership included those who worked in particularly dangerous professions. The organization offered health insurance and death benefits to its members, which included a tree stone tombstone.1

Woodmen of the World tree stones, often bare the Woodmen crest, as well the tools of the trades like an axe and sledgehammer, representing the works of man. You may also find other symbols on tree stones like ivy or doves, representing friendship and peace, respectively.

The severed branches or tree stump of a tree stone, Woodmen of the World or otherwise, often represents a life cut short. We often see this combined with other symbolism, like a lamb or dove laying in front of a stump. Lambs and doves are often found on the graves of small children, symbolizing innocence and purity.

Sometimes the number of logs on a tree stone can be symbolic of the number of children the deceased had. A tree stone can also be seen as a representation of the tree of life, symbolizing knowledge. 

Have you ever come across a tree stone? Or maybe a Woodmen of the world memorial? I would love to hear about your finds, in the comments. 

Thanks for reading! 

References:

  1. Understanding Cemetery Symbols: A Field Guide for Historic Graveyards by Tui Snider

Cemetery Recipes: Mom’s Christmas Cookies

Christmas time is almost here! For me, Christmas is synonymous with holiday baking! What better time of year to warm the house with the sweet smell of cookies in the oven? So, I thought it’s the perfect time to try out another tombstone recipe. I have been saving this one specifically for this time of year—Mom’s Christmas Cookies. 

This cookie recipe can be found on the backside of a beautiful, large black marble tombstone. This is the gravestone of Maxine Menster.1 It can be found in Cascade Cemetery, in Cascade Iowa. The front of the stone has a beautiful sand-blasted winter scene, of a lovely detached house surrounded by forest. You can view the front of the stone on Maxine’s memorial page on Find A Grave.

Maxine’s family wanted to do something special to remember their mother and chose the sweetest way—with the family sugar cookie recipe. Jane Menster, Maxine’s daughter has said that when they were trying to think of something specific to her mother to put on her stone, “It was her cookies.”2 

Maxine passed away in 1994, so this recipe has marked her grave for decades. According to Atlas Obscura, this recipe was part of a long-standing family tradition, where they would bake this cookie recipe on Christmas Eve, then hang the sugar cookies on the Christmas tree. They would be an early morning treat on Christmas Day.3

Here’s the recipe:

Mom’s Christmas Cookies

Cream:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup oleo

Add:

  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Add:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt

Add alternately with 1 cup cream.

Chill and roll out with flour.

Bake 350 degrees oven, and frost.

Most tombstone recipes use short form when it comes to the instructions. Instead of turning to Google, I thought I would ask my Mom. We went through the recipe together and talked about each step, and how long to chill the dough. My mom is an avid baker, especially at this time of year. We had a nice chat about baking instructions and tombstone recipes in general. I have yet to find a Canadian one. 

I was also surprised to find out that my mom was familiar with the tradition of baking cookies to put on the tree for Christmas morning. It’s not something we ever did when I was growing up. We also had dogs. She recounted a story about putting candy canes in the tree one year and coming home one day to find the tree on the floor. My dog Shadow had gotten a little too excited about finding candy in the tree. No foodstuffs ever went into our tree after that. 

After our chat, I got to baking cookies! This recipe is very straightforward. There is one ingredient that some people might question, the 1/2 cup of oleo. What is oleo? Turns out that it is just an older term for margarine. Mixing everything was a breeze and didn’t take that long at all. The biggest question I had about the recipe was how long to chill the dough. My Mom had suggested an hour. After an hour in the fridge, I got to work on cutting out the shapes. 

I am not a traditional Christmas person and don’t actually own any Christmas cookie cutters. I choose to go with a skull, tombstone, and bat for my shapes. I also didn’t have any frosting on hand, so instead, I opted to use sprinkles. My usual go-to for baking is cupcakes, so I have a lot of sprinkles on hand—just not Christmas ones. So I used black sanding sugar, red and black nonpareils, black bats, and purple, red and black sprinkles. 

I left the cookies in the oven for about 10-14 minutes and ended up baking 4 trays of cookies. This recipe makes a pretty big batch.

They turned out delicious! I think this will be my go-to sugar cookie recipe moving forward. They are very easy to make and so tasty, especially right out of the oven. I ate way more of them off the cookie sheet than I should have, but I just couldn’t resist. I also really enjoyed making this recipe because it prompted some good conversations with my Mom. Usually, when I make tombstone recipes, I talk out loud to the deceased, talking through the recipe. This time around it made more sense to talk about Mom’s Christmas cookies with my own Mom.

Thank you, Maxine, and the Menster family for sharing this delicious recipe with the world!

Have you made this recipe before? Or do you have a go-to Christmas cookie recipe? I would love to hear about it in the comments. 

Thanks for reading!


References:

  1. Maxine Kathleen Poppe Menster | Find a Grave
  2. Family cookie recipe stands the test of time | The Gazette
  3. The Menster Christmas Cookie Gravestone | Atlas Obscura

A Gift Guide for Taphophiles

It’s almost Christmas time, and the hustle and bustle of Christmas dinners and get-togethers are right around the corner. I love finding unique and meaningful gifts for my loved ones. It’s a great feeling to see someone close to you, open up a unique gift that you know they are going to love! These types of gifts also don’t need to cost a fortune, and supporting a small business is always a bonus. I have been eyeing a few fun and interesting cemetery-related items online myself. Unfortunately, I don’t have any taphophiles in my family to buy for, but I thought maybe some of you might.

So this year, I thought I would try my hand at writing a little gift guide for those looking for some inspiration for your cemetery loving friends and family, or maybe your own Christmas wish list.

Below is my round-up of some unique, beautiful and practical cemetery-related items that I think any taphophile would love!

Cemetery Photography by Chantal Larochelle is not affiliated with these brands and artists. I do not receive any proceeds from sales. Just sharing products I love!

A Tomb With a View – The Stories & Glories of Graveyards | Indigo Books

If your taphophile friends and family like to read, you can’t go wrong with a cemetery book. I’ve heard excellent things about Peter Ross’ new book, and hope to pick myself up a copy if I don’t get one for Christmas. “A book for anyone who has ever wandered through a field of crooked headstones and wondered about the lives and deaths of those who lie beneath.” – Indigo.ca

Cooking with the Dead: A zine of Tombstone Recipes | Etsy

A unique full-color illustrated zine by Reading Reliquary. This 20-page booklet features recipes found on tombstones from “Alaska to Israel”. There are a bunch of other spooky-cute items available in their Etsy shop, such as stickers, bookmarks, and another zine about the language of floral symbolism on tombstones. Unfortunately, some items don’t ship to Canada.

Custom Graveyard Garden Stakes | Etsy

Cursed by Design offers a set of 6, 3D printed garden stakes. You can customize them with any of the 40 available herb names, or you can personalize them with your own names. They would be perfect for a taphophiles herb garden!

Death’s Garden Revisited: Personal Relationships with Cemeteries | Blurb 

This new book of essays, edited by Loren Rhoads, illuminates the reason why people visit cemeteries. This collection features 40 personal essays, written by cemetery tourists, genealogists, geocachers, anthropologists, and more. A great addition to any taphophiles library.

Deaths Head Enamel Pin | Etsy

This gorgeous 1.5” soft enamel Deaths Head pin, by Verona Black, would look striking on a jacket, camera bag, or anywhere really. It also has some interesting symbolism behind it. A Deaths Head or Skull effigy is a form of Momento Mori, a reminder of your mortality.

Gravestone Casting Wall Art | The Gravestone Girls

Their online store is filled with beautiful castings of old New England gravestones. Their pieces range from small magnets to large castings. They all feature unique gravestone symbolism. The Gravestone Girls, who are fellow taphophiles, have over 30 years of experience working in old cemeteries. So you can be certain that these beautiful gravestone castings have been made with every precaution taken to not harm the gravestones. 

Gravestone Symbols T-Shirt | The Order of the Good Death Store

This unisex t-shirt features some beautiful gravestone symbolism, illustrated by Meagan Meli. The symbols are also accompanied by their meanings. Perfect for those who would rather be visiting a cemetery. I know I would personally try to find all the symbols on it if I ever wore this while visiting a historic cemetery.

Gravestone Types Classic T-Shirt | Red Bubble

I feel like t-shirts are always a safe bet, especially if they have some cool graphics. This t-shirt by Shaded Grove Art on Red Bubble features a bold, but simple design that lists different types of gravestones. It’s a little bit classic, and a little bit nerdy, a great combination.

I Brake For Cemeteries Bumper Sticker | TalkDeath

Does your vehicle brake for cemeteries? This is a fun novelty accessory, but I can see how this would come in handy on cemetery road trips. Other drivers should be warned! 

Natural Spectrolite Tombstone | Etsy

These beautiful miniature tombstones from WHCrystal are made from spectrolite minerals that flash beautifully in the sunlight. These would be a very unique addition to someone’s rock and mineral collection, or as a stand-alone piece. I just love the look of these little gravestones.

One-year membership to AGS | Association for Gravestone Studies

A one-year membership to AGS is a gift that keeps on giving! Members receive some great benefits throughout the year, like The AGS Quarterly, filled with cemetery and gravestone-related articles. They also receive the monthly e-newsletter that features special announcements, news articles, and event information. Membership also includes the next published issue of Markers, their annual journal full of definitive cemetery and gravestone articles. You also get member pricing for the AGS Annual Conference, that’s also known as Cemetery Camp.

Pocket Cemetery – Cemetery illustrations | Etsy

Landis Blair is an amazing illustrator and is offering pre-orders of this beautiful Pocket Cemetery booklet. “A convenient reminder of your pending mortality.” This 24-page booklet contains 21 black & white illustrations of a variety of cemeteries and is estimated to ship by the end of November. They also offer prints and stickers in their Etsy shop.

Tombstone Zip Hoodie | Find a Grave

Did you know that Find a Grave has an online store? My favorite item in their shop is this grey zip-up hoodie, perfect to keep you warm while you wander cemeteries and fulfill photo requests. 

There you have it, 13 gift ideas for the taphophiles in your life.

Thanks for reading! 

Cemetery Book Review: The American Resting Place

It’s been a little while since I shared a book review on the blog. I have some catching up to do on my reading. There are a lot of cemetery-related books in my to-be-read pile! Now that October has come to an end, I should have a bit more time to read through them. There are quite a few I am really looking forward to getting into. 

I did manage to get some reading in last month, so today I wanted to talk about The American Resting Place, by Marilyn Yalom, with photography by Reid S. Yalom. “Four hundred years of history through our cemeteries and burial grounds.” This book, published in 2008, by Houghton Mifflin Company, boasts 64 pages of beautiful black and white cemetery photographs and traces a path across America, looking closely at the ever-changing ideologies on death, burial practices, and history.

Here is the book synopsis from Goodreads

“Cemeteries and burial grounds, as illuminated by an acclaimed cultural historian, are unique windows onto our religious, ethnic, and deeply human history as Americans.

The dedicated mother-son team of Marilyn and Reid Yalom visited hundreds of cemeteries to create The American Resting Place, following a coast-to-coast trajectory that mirrors the vast historical pattern of American migration.

Yalom’s incisive, often poignant exploration of gravestone inscriptions reveals changing ideas about death and personal identity and demonstrates how class and gender play out in stone. Rich particulars include the story of one seventeenth-century Bostonian who amassed a thousand pairs of gloves in his funeral-going lifetime, the unique burial rites and funerary symbols found in today’s Native American cultures, and a “lost” Czech community brought uncannily to life in Chicago’s Bohemian National Columbarium.

From fascinating past to startling future–DVDs embedded in tombstones, “green” burials, and “the new aesthetic of death”–The American Resting Place is the definitive history of the American cemetery.”

The first 64 pages of the hardcover version of The American Resting Place consist of glossy black-and-white photos. They range from lovely landscapes to detailed close-ups. It’s a feast for the eyes before you even get into the meat of the book. The book chapters are broken down into geographical locations, but there are also a couple of chapters on the history and evolution of death and burial practices. Because the photos are presented at the front of the book, it requires some flipping back and forth to reference them when they are mentioned in the text. That would be my only negative critique of the book. 

Otherwise, Marilyn and her son Reid take the reader on a very well-researched and informative trip across the state, taking us along with them on their journey, as they explore funerary art and burial practices. I was a little afraid when I started reading this book that it would be incredibly dry and academic, but the information is presented in a tone that is relatable and keeps you interested. I would love to see something similar written about Canadian cemeteries and burial grounds. 

This would be a great read for anyone looking for information specifically on American burial rites and practices. It is very fascinating stuff, so I think any taphophile would love this book for their bookshelf. The copy of The American Resting Place I found was a previously loved library book. I am a bit sad it was retired and will no longer be discovered by curious readers, but I am very happy to have it now in my collection. I hope there are many more copies of it out there, in other libraries that are piquing the interest of budding taphophiles.

As usual, I am always on the hunt for cemetery-related book recommendations. Please feel free to share in the comments. If you are an author and have a cemetery-related book you would like me to review, please reach out at hello@chantallarochelle.ca. I would love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading!

Celebrating the last weekend of October

October is coming to an end. This post-pandemic Halloween season has felt a bit more normal because of all the fun spooky activities happening. It’s been a whirlwind of a month for me, between pumpkin patch activities, a haunted holiday, watching way too many horror films, and visiting cemeteries. I even put up my own little front lawn cemetery for the trick-or-treaters on Halloween night. 

This year, I was able to visit some cemeteries a little farther away from me, in Cobalt, Haileybury, Huntsville, and Penetanguishene. I am looking forward to sharing more about those visits in upcoming posts. You can read about my visit to the Beck House and the Presbyterian Cemetery here.

I also had a chance to participate in this year’s Cemetery Scavenger hunt, put on by TalkDeath. I wrote a bit about TalkDeath and their annual event last week. You can read it here, in case you missed it. This cemetery scavenger hunt takes place globally, so you can participate from anywhere. All you have to do is visit a local cemetery. In some areas, you can participate with TalkDeath members in person. This year there were members at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal, and General Protestant Cemetery in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

My mother and I joined in from Park Lawn Cemetery in Sudbury, Ontario. It was so much fun! Although we were the only ones in the cemetery searching for clues, it was still a nice way to spend some time on a Sunday afternoon. Park Lawn Cemetery is not the oldest cemetery in the city, as it was established in 1924. But it is a large one, which I thought would be an advantage to searching for clues. I may have been half right. We started strong, finding a few clues pretty quickly, but we started getting stumped. We fanned out and as I searched I fell into my normal cemetery photography mode, which is a little bit slower-paced. I did eventually manage to find 12 of the 20 clues, but it was way too late to place in the top 5. I think the fastest time may have been 12 minutes!

I was no where close to that time, but that’s ok! It was a great opportunity to get outside, enjoy one of the last beautiful weekends of October, visit a cemetery and spend some time with my mother. We spent about an hour in the cemetery. After I submitted my photos, we wandered around a little bit, enjoying the weather and looking at the beautiful stones. We also found some interesting epitaphs that I think will require some research, later on, to learn their story.

I think this years Scavenger Hunt was a success! I can’t wait to participate again next year! It was a really fun way to close the cemetery season for me. 

If you are not aware, November usually brings with it some pretty cold weather here in Northern Ontario, and that means lots of snow. I’m not fond of winter, so I tend to stay indoors during the colder months. That means my cemetery visits are pretty much done for this year.

That doesn’t mean that you will stop seeing content from me! 

In the colder months, I focus on editing the monstrous number of photos taken over the summer. I’ll be doing portfolio updates in the coming months, adding to what’s currently on the website. I’ll also be doing more work uploading memorials to Find a Grave, helping clean up their cemetery map information for Ontario, and transcribing photos. I’ll also be sharing more cemetery road trip stories from over the summer, and cemetery book reviews. I’ll also be taking some time to bake and share some more tombstone recipes. I don’t think I have made one since the spring!

That being said, I hope that you have had a wonderful October, were able to enjoy some fun activities throughout the month, and got to visit a cemetery or two! I would love to hear about your October adventures in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

Cemetery Book Review: In the Land of Long Fingernails: A Gravedigger’s Memoir

For this month’s cemetery book review, I wanted to share an old favourite of mine. I first found out about Charles Wilkins’s book In the Land of Long Fingernails: A Gravedigger’s Memoir, in the book section of Rue Morgue MagazineRue Morgue has always been a great resource for discovering new authors. 

This book, first published in 2008, is a coming-of-age memoir set in a Toronto cemetery in 1969. It’s filled with weird-but-true events, that could only happen while working in a cemetery.

Here is the full book synopsis: “During the hazy summer of 1969, Charles Wilkins, then a student at the University of Toronto, took a job as a gravedigger. The bizarre-but-true events of that time, including a midsummer gravediggers’ strike, the unearthing of a victim of an unsolved murder, and a little illegal bone-shifting, play out amongst a Barnum-esque parade of mavericks and misfits in this macabre and hilarious memoir of mortality, materialism, and the gradual coming-of-age of an impressionable young man.” – Goodreads.com, In the Land of Long Fingernails

I enjoyed this book immensely, I couldn’t put it down! It’s a very easy read with great pacing. I found I devoured it quickly. I think it also helped that I felt a connection to this story because it takes place so close to me, in Toronto, Ontario. The specific Toronto cemetery is never named in the book, but being that I live about 4 hours away, I know I can visit it someday. There are some incredibly funny moments, but also some somber ones, creating a balance between the anecdotal stories. It’s a fascinating memoir but also a great insight into the everyday work life of a gravedigger in the late 60s.

I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for a light read, that could also fall into the feel-good read category. It’s also a quick read, which would make it a perfect choice if you need a break from heavier or academic content.  

I am always on the hunt for cemetery-related book recommendations. Please feel free to share yours in the comments. If you are an author and have a cemetery-related book you would like me to review, please reach out at hello@chantallarochelle.ca. I would love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading!

Cemetery Book Review: Going out in Style

Have you heard of #mausoleummonday?

It’s a trend on social media in the cemetery community that uses that hashtag, to showcase the beauty of mausoleums. Unfortunately, mausoleums are not a common sight here in Northern Ontario, so I have not had the chance to visit or photograph very many. This is one of the reasons I found Doug Keister’s book Going out in Style: The Architecture of Eternity so interesting. For this month’s book review, I wanted to share it with you. 

Douglas Keister is a photographer, author, and co-author of forty-five critically acclaimed books, twenty-five of which are on architecture.1 Going out in Style, published in 1997, showcases some of America’s most beautiful and unusual mausoleums. This coffee-table book is filled with gorgeous full-color, glossy photos, each accompanied by short descriptions that give a small taste of their stories and histories.

“From a nationally renowned photographer and author team, Going Out in Style: The Architecture of Eternity provides an engaging and at times surprising look at America’s forgotten architecture: the mausoleum.

Elegant, full-color photographs display the grandeur of the mausoleum, documenting the work of some of America’s most noted architects and in some cases the only remaining examples of a particular architect’s work. Additionally, photographs of the interiors of some mausoleums show rarely seen Tiffany stained-glass windows.

Going Out in Style takes readers into beautiful and historic cemeteries in such cities as New York, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and many others.” – Synopsis from Amazon.ca

This is a beautiful book! I was lucky enough to find a first edition hardcover copy, with glossy pages. All the photos are beautifully shot, really showcasing what makes each mausoleum unique. I loved that they took advantage of the book’s large size by including full-page images. There is also a paperback edition available, that is printed on uncoated paper. I have been told the uncoated paper dulls and muddies the photography. That just seems wrong for a photography book! 

I enjoyed exploring the histories of all the beautiful mausoleums presented, but it did feel like much more could have been written about them. Sometimes I found the descriptions to be just too short! I’m sure whole books could be written on some of them. Because I am not very familiar with mausoleums and their architecture, I did enjoy learning more about the different styles and periods and found myself trying to figure them out before it was noted in the description. 

One of my favorite aspects of the book, was when we were given a look inside the mausoleums. That was by far my favorite chapter. Some of them are just as ornate on the inside, as they are on the outside, while others are very plain compared to their exterior. Some mausoleums hold amazing pieces of art, like Tiffany stained glass windows. It was lovely to peek inside, into what we often don’t get a chance to explore.

I would highly recommend this book and think it would make a great addition to any taphophile’s library. I would especially recommend it to those who love mausoleums or those interested in learning more about architecture. My only note would be to make sure you get the hardcover edition! 

__

I am always on the hunt for cemetery-related book recommendations. Please feel free to share any in the comments. If you are an author and have a cemetery-related book you would like me to review, please reach out at hello@chantallarochelle.ca. I would love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading!

References

  1. About Douglas Keister

Cemetery Book Review: Sacred Ground Loyalist Cemeteries of Eastern Ontario

Last month, I was pleasantly surprised when an author reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in reading and reviewing his new book. Based on the title alone, I was very interested!

The book is called Sacred Ground: Loyalist Cemeteries of Eastern Ontario, Volume One by Stuart Lyall Manson. This book, published in 2021, focuses on Loyalist cemeteries in Eastern Ontario, and the stories behind the Loyalists buried there. 

For the book review this month, I wanted to share my thoughts about Sacred Ground. Canadian cemeteries and history is something I am always interested in reading about. I will also admit that while I read along, I created a map of all the cemeteries explored in this book. I would love to visit them all one day! So who or what are loyalists, you may be asking. Loyalists were American colonists who supported and fought for the British cause in the American Revolutionary war. Thousands of these Loyalists settled in British North America during and after the war. They left an indelible mark on Canada.

From Global Genealogy:
“This book describes six notable loyalist cemeteries situated in the Eastern Ontario counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry. They are: Trinity Anglican (Cornwall); St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic (St. Andrew’s West); Iroquois Point (Iroquois); Knox-St. Andrew’s United (Bainsville); Maple Grove (Cornwall), and the Pioneer Memorial (South Dundas). 

In each chapter the author discusses in depth, an individual cemetery containing United Empire Loyalist mortal remains. Numerous cemeteries in this region contain many such burials… all of the sites described in this book also contain non-loyalist burials. An historical overview of each of these burial grounds, along with biographical information on specific loyalists with particularly-remarkable stories. The locations chosen for this volume are based on geographic distribution, religious diversity, and other factors. The book is based on rigorous primary and secondary source research.

Sacred Ground: Loyalist Cemeteries of Eastern Ontario complements other publications that list burials or transcribe tombstone inscriptions. Those publications are important resources. This book supplements that basic data with greater historical context and additional research into the lives and experiences of these men, women and children who laid the foundations of modern Ontario.” 

As mentioned above, the book is broken down into six chapters, each focusing on one loyalist cemetery. Each chapter provides an interesting look at the cemetery itself, and it’s history, along with the history of the notable loyalists buried within it. The stories of the cemeteries themselves are fascinating, and made me want to visit them to experience them for myself. The history of the cemeteries are deeply explored, delving into the history of the Loyalists laid to rest within them. In the life stories of the loyalists, we also get a look at broader historical aspects, such as slavery and colonialism. This book is extensively researched and it shows; it’s filled with old illustrated maps, letter samples, and many lovely gravestone photographs. 

I enjoyed this book immensely, and found it very engaging. There are some incredibly interesting histories and stories in this book, like the Pioneer Memorial in South Dundas. It isn’t a cemetery per say, but a memorial made from bricks collected from the buildings demolished before the flooding for the Seaway project. This memorial is the new home for the tombstones of those who are buried in the now sunken cemeteries. They moved the headstones, but didn’t move the bodies! There are quite a few historical gems like that to be found in this book. I am looking forward to the next volume. I would highly recommend this book to those interested in Canadian and Loyalist history, as well as genealogists and those interested in tombstone mysteries. 

I am always searching for cemetery-related book recommendations. Please feel free to share in the comments. If you are an author and have a cemetery-related book you would like me to review, please reach out at hello@chantallarochelle.ca. I would love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading!

Cemetery Book Review: Tales and Tombstones of Sunset Cemetery

I haven’t posted a book review in a little while, so I thought I would review this month’s AGS book club pick: Tales and Tombstones of Sunset Cemetery: Tracing Lives and Memorial Customs in a Southern Graveyard by June Hadden Hobbs and Joe DePriest. Having just come out this year, 2022, this book takes a look specifically at the stories and tombstones of those buried in Sunset Cemetery in Shelby, North Carolina. Here is the book synopsis:

“This book relates the stories of the people buried in Shelby, North Carolina’s historic Sunset Cemetery, a microcosm of the Southeastern United States. The authors, an academic and a journalist, detail the lives and memories of people who are buried here, from Civil War soldiers to those who created the Jim Crow South and promoted the narrative of the Lost Cause. Featured are authors W.J. Cash and Thomas Dixon, whose racist novel was the basis for The Birth of a Nation. Drawn from historical research and local memory, it includes the tales of musicians Don Gibson and Bobby Pepper Head London, as well as a paratrooper who died in the Battle of the Bulge and other ordinary folks who rest in the cemetery. A bigger responsibility is to give a voice to the silenced, enslaved people of color buried in unmarked graves. Cemeteries are sacred places where artistry and memory meet–to understand, we need both the tales and the tombstones.” – Goodreads 

I enjoyed this book. Although I have never visited this cemetery in person, I feel like I have spent many hours walking among its stones. This book is very well written and the photos by Hal Bryant that accompany the stories are beautiful. What I found really interesting about this book is that it’s almost like 2 books in one. One is a journalistic look at the stories of the people behind, or should I say beneath the tombstones. This storytelling dives deep into the history of Shelby and its residents, painting a bright and sometimes dark picture of life there and its community members. The second is a look through the lens of gravestone studies, examining the tombstones themselves; looking at the different types of monuments, the symbolism chosen for the stones, and how different time periods would reflect those choices. When visiting a cemetery we often don’t know who the people are, that the tombstones represent. This book sheds light on the diverse cross-section of stories that are buried beneath the tombstones. 

I read this book in early April when my local cemeteries were still covered in snow. I loved being able to “walk” around Sunset Cemetery via this book. This would be a great read for those looking to cemetery travel, without actually traveling. This book touches on many interesting facets of history, accompanied by beautiful tombstone photos that accent the storytelling. Because of this, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in gravestones, history, or good storytelling.  

Have you read this book? Have you visited Sunset Cemetery? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Thanks for reading!