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! 

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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 | DouglasKeister.com

Symbolism and Iconography

Cemeteries are full of symbolism.

I find it fascinating and love trying to decipher the symbols and iconography I find. Symbolism can be found adorning tombstones and mausoleums. These symbols can range from simple designs to very elaborate ones. The meaning of symbols is a language in itself, and you can tell a lot about a person by what is on their tombstone. Religion, hobbies, clubs, and organizations can all be found represented, among other things, by symbols and icons within a cemetery.

Whenever I spot a symbol I have not seen before, I always turn to my handy reference books. If I can’t find what I am looking for there, the internet is the next best place to look. My go-to reference book is Stories in Stone: A field guide to cemetery symbolism and iconography by Douglas Keister. I have had this book forever, and always go back to it when I see something new. It’s a very in-depth look at what can be found in a cemetery. It covers architecture, sculpture, symbols, as well as acronyms and initials. I highly recommend it!

I recently added another reference book to my library, Understanding Cemetery Symbols: A field guide for historic graveyards by Tui Snider. I have just started getting into this one and I can tell right away it will be a great resource. It has some really in-depth sections on hand symbolism as will as crosses and even statuary.

So what kind of symbols and iconography can you find in your local cemeteries? For the most part religious symbolism is very common. Below are some examples of some common and not-so-common symbols you can find in Canadian cemeteries:

I love finding hands on a tombstone. Hands are shown in many different forms; pointing downward, pointing up, shaking hands, etc. the list goes on! And all of these different positions have different meanings. One of my favorite examples of hands was found in Terrace Lawn Cemetery in North Bay. These stones have weathered beautifully. This hand is pointed downward, with a finger extended which can symbolize God reaching down to collect a soul. The extended finger can mean a sudden or unexpected death. This hand below, is also holding a chain. A broken link in the chain can represent a family or marriage broken by death.

Lambs are a very common sight in cemeteries. These are sometimes accompanied by a tree stump, implying a life cut short. The Lamb itself represents “the lamb of God” and innocence. Sadly, lambs are most often found at the grave of a young child or infant.

Skulls are very rare to come by in my local Canadian cemeteries. I have only found two in all of my local travels, but I am always on the look out for them. They are more commonly found in other places of the world, like the United States and Europe. Most obviously a skull represents death. A skull found at the base of a cross is thought to be symbolic of the skull of Adam.

I have many great examples of symbols and iconography in my photography. If you are interested in seeing more and learning about their meanings, I share them every Friday on Instagram and Facebook.

I would also love to hear about the symbols you have found on your cemetery travels. Do you have a favorite? I would love to read about them in the comments.

Thanks for reading!


References:

  1. Understanding Cemetery Symbols: A field guide to historic cemeteries by Tui Snider
  2. Storie in Stone: A field guide to cemetery symbolism and iconography by Douglas Keister