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 Road Trip – Searching in Spragge

I haven’t posted a road trip story in a little bit, so today I wanted to share my adventure of finding a cemetery via railroad tracks!

It was back in 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Social bubbles were very much in place and almost everything was shut down. There was not a lot to do that summer. BUT visiting cemeteries is always a viable option! My fiancé and I, and our close friends whom we had been bubbling with (that’s an odd to say), decided to go on a little adventure to try and find two cemeteries in Spragge, Ontario. 

The little town of Spragge found its beginnings in 1882 but was originally named Cook’s Mills. It was a self-sufficient town of about 350 residents all built around the sawmill. In 1895 the whole operation was sold, and the village was renamed Spragge, after the township. When the depression hit, the mill closed in 1932. That same year, there was a devastating fire that burned almost the entire village to the ground. This caused a lot of folks to leave town, although a few remained and tried to rebuild. The mill never did re-open, and now there only sit about a dozen homes within the small village limits of Spragge.1 Two cemeteries remain, the Spragge Catholic cemetery and the Spragge Protestant cemetery.

This adventure would take us a little over an hour and a half on the road to get to Spragge. Our little group made a day trip out of it. We stopped at a diner and safely had lunch outside on the patio. We asked some of the locals about the cemetery. The stories we heard were pretty interesting. We were told that the owners of the property where the cemetery sits, do not like visitors and consider them trespassers. They talked about how this causes some tension between the townsfolk who want to visit their relatives, but are barred from doing so. The community was trying to get free access to the cemeteries. We were also told that the property owner was known to brandish a shotgun! We were a little put-off by the stories, but we were determined to take a look for ourselves.

After our slightly uncomfortable lunch, we continued on our way with directions by Google Maps. We turned off the main road onto a side road and what looked like a parking area. My fiancé was completely put-off by the stories we were told, he was also not as enthusiastic about visiting the cemeteries as we were, so he waited in the car and played look-out. 

The rest of us began tentatively walking down the dirt road. When it opened up and we could see it was a driveway leading directly to a house, we decided to turn around and try a different approach. We had crossed a set of train tracks, that ran parallel with the main highway. After consulting Google Maps, it looked like we might be able to access the cemetery at a clearing just off the train tracks. We decided to try that. We chose a hot day to walk along the train tracks, but it ended up only being a short walk. On our left, a little clearing opened up which lead into the cemetery.

We had found the Spragge Protestant cemetery! We took some time to wander the grounds and look at the beautiful stones. It was a smaller cemetery and looked to be well-maintained. Not at all what we had pictured in our minds. We had been under the impression that the cemetery was abandoned and in disrepair. Some of the stones were too worn to be read, but some others were still in great condition. Some of the common cemetery symbols we found were clasped hands, obelisks, and little lambs.

After we explored a little bit, we tried to find the Spragge Catholic cemetery. According to my friend’s research, it should have been very close to where we were. We branched out a little, exploring the oddly well-kept lawn that snaked in between clumps of trees. We were nervous about getting too close to the house or going in full view of it. After a little more wandering, with no luck, we decided to turn back and reunite with my fiancé, who was patiently waiting in the car. 

We were very happy to have at least found one of the cemeteries, and we vowed to do a little more digging and return in the future to find the elusive cemetery. It was still a fun adventure, after all exploring is half the fun.

But that’s not the end of the story!

This past winter I was busy uploading photos to Find a Grave and uploaded some of my photos from Spragge. A woman reached out to me, looking for coordinates for the Spragge Catholic cemetery, as she has family there. I passed on all I knew, and let her know we were not able to find it. She had also heard about the access issues, but since she was a relative was hoping the property owner would be understanding. She later contacted me and gave me an update. She was able to locate both cemeteries and visit her family. It turns out the town of Spragge did not want the expense of maintaining the cemeteries, and a private owner requested to take it over and purchased the property. When he is not in town, he has entrusted maintenance and upkeep to another property owner in the immediate area—who also happens to have loved ones buried in the cemeteries.

I also had another person reach out about these cemeteries. They have turned out to be pretty popular locations. This time, the person who reached out was searching for the location of the Spragge Protestant cemetery. He had visited the Spragge Catholic cemetery but did not find the other. We exchanged information. I shared everything I knew about the one I had visited. In return, he shared the exact coordinates of the Spragge Catholic cemetery and the contact information of the property owners. If we had searched closer to the water’s edge when we were there, we would have found it. So close! 

I’m still a little confused about the stories that the folks at the diner told us, about the owners brandishing shotguns. From what I heard from both people who reached out, the owners seem very kind and willing to allow visitors into the cemetery. Although one had also heard about the access issues. Were there issues at one time? A misunderstanding maybe? Or maybe it was just some locals trying to scare away visitors? That mystery still remains…

Armed with all this new information, I will have to make another trip out to Spragge to visit the elusive Catholic cemetery. I love how this little adventure turned out because it showcases how interesting cemeteries can be. Cemetery mysteries are very much a part of the fun, and the fact that the cemetery community is so willing to share information and come together to solve these little mysteries is heartwarming.

Have you ever visited the cemeteries in Spragge? Do you have a cemetery mystery you would like to share? I would love to read about it in the comments. 

Thanks for reading!


References

  1. Spragge | Ontario Ghost Towns

Find a Grave Photography Tips

A little while ago, I wrote a post about Find a Grave, and how I have been more active as a contributor. I have been going through my photos and doing some photo editing as I go. It’s been a great way to use my photography to help others, creating memorials that don’t exist yet, and contributing to existing memorials.

Find a Grave is a hub of burial information, that includes photos, burial information, biographies and so much more. It’s volunteer-run, as its members claim and fulfill photo requests to aid in genealogy research, transcribing gravestone photos, and creating memorials. It’s a great resource. When receiving a photo request, you will be given all the information available; cemetery name and location, deceased’s full name, and birth and death date if known. You may also be given the location of the grave, such as the lot or section. It’s up to you to claim this request and fulfill it. I would recommend only claiming requests that you know you can fulfill. 

While looking through my photos I picked up on two very different styles of photography I have developed over the years; my personal style and my contributor style. They are both very different. One reflects what I see when visiting graveyards, and the other is the result of wanting to achieve the best photo for transcribing and reflecting what a person would see when visiting their loved one. 

I thought it might be helpful to share some tips on how to get the best photos as a volunteer photographer for Find a Grave. If you are just getting started or looking for some new ideas, here are some tips to help you get great photos:

Once you have claimed your photo request, the fun can begin! 

  • Always take a photo of the cemetery sign when you first enter. Not only can this photo be added to Find a Grave, but it will also make it much easier when looking back at your photos to determine which photos were taken in which cemetery. This is especially helpful when visiting multiple cemeteries in a day. I would also suggest taking photos of any other signs that may be at the entrance. Sometimes you can find plaques describing when the cemetery was established and its history. These are always interesting to find.
  • Visit the cemetery office, if there is one. Sometimes, they carry cemetery maps to some of the more notable graves, and also show the layout of the cemetery. This is most often the case in larger cemeteries.
  • Keep the grave information you are looking for handy, so you can refer to it easily when needed. Find a Grave now has an app that makes this super easy to do. The app is available for both Android and Apple OS. Before the app, I would take a screenshot on my phone and refer to that photo.

When you have found your stone:

  • For headstones flush to the ground, it does not hurt to brush away any debris like leaves or grass to make sure the stone is legible.
  • Take photos of the headstone face on, this makes reading the inscriptions easier. 
  • Make sure to check the back of the headstone for any additional inscriptions. This is important for obelisk stones as they often have multiple family members inscribed on each side. 
  • Take a wide-angle shot to show placement or unique features of the grave, such as footstones.
  • Take a close-up shot of ceramic portraits if they are present.

Blezard Valley Cemetery, Blezard Valley ON ©2021

Are you excited to get out there and take some photos? Let me know if you found my tips helpful. Do you have some tips you would like to share? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

Find a Grave

I have been spending more and more time on Find a Grave lately. I have been a member for years now, but just recently started being a more active member. This winter, I have been spending a lot of my free time going through my digital files and thought it would be a great opportunity to add some of them to this great website.

Find a Grave, if you are not familiar (if you are a taphophile, I’m sure it needs no explanation) is a great resource for burial information from all over the world. It’s a great tool for those looking for genealogical information, as well as those curious about famous graves. It’s filled with cemetery information, burial details, photos, biographies, and more. It’s also a great community of volunteers, all brought together by this online tool, helping others complete family tree details, sharing a hobby, but also creating an online memorial space to remember lost loved ones. 

“Find a Grave got its start in 1995 when founder Jim Tipton built a website to share his hobby of visiting the graves of famous people. He found that many people shared his interest and quickly opened the site for all individuals (famous and non-famous) with a mission for finding, recording, and presenting burial and final disposition information worldwide. Since then, millions of contributors have been entering memorials, photos, GPS locations, biographies, and other rich content to the site. As the site grew, the community grew also. Find a Grave houses the largest international graving community in the world. In 2013, Find a Grave became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ancestry® and launched a new iOS mobile app. The Android app was released in 2014. Ancestry redesigned the website and released it in August 2018. The community continues to add and update memorials every day. We look forward to an exciting future for the site and the community!” – findagrave.com

I’ve been a member for almost 8 years, and often use Find a Grave when researching road trips for famous graves to visit. As I mentioned above, I recently have started being more active on the site, uploading photos to existing memorials and creating new ones that have not yet been listed. It is also possible to take on photo requests. These are requests submitted by anyone, to photograph a specific grave. The requests include all the details that are available; like cemetery location, full name, and birth and death date if known. As a Find a Grave member you can claim these requests and take photos to fulfill them. It’s a great way to contribute. Did I mention, it’s free to become a member?

Find a Grave also has other features such as their News & Announcements page that lists new website features, tips on how to use the site to its full potential, features on volunteers of the month, and all sorts of cemetery related articles. One of my favorite little touches is the On this day feature on the main page, showcasing famous deaths. There is also a forum to connect members. It features threads on all sorts of different discussions on cemetery research, famous graves, translations, and site support among other things. They also have an online store where you can purchase a small selection of merchandise. I wish they offered a Find a Grave button or stickers. I would love a button to add to my camera bag. 

To learn more about Find a Grave or become a member, you can visit their website at findagrave.com, or find them on Facebook and Instagram.

Are you a contributor to Find a Grave? Feel free to share you experience in the comments.

Thanks for reading! 

Cemetery Appreciation Month

I just found out today that May is Cemetery Appreciation Month!

It’s not an official declaration by any means, but those in cemetery circles have been celebrating; and that is good enough for me! Cemeteries are often seen as taboo, so seeing them celebrated makes me very happy. 

Cemeteries are a beautiful place to visit and right now with COVID-19 ravaging the world, cemeteries are a great place to social distance as they are not often bustling with people. 

So in honour of Cemetery Appreciation Month, I have created a little bucket list for myself.

Volunteer some time to fulfill some photo requests in my area for Find A Grave.com – This is a great way to explore, take some photos and help others. Using Find a Grave, anyone can request photos of a particular grave. This is usually used in research, most commonly genealogy.

Visit a cemetery I have not visited before – This is a great opportunity to take a little road trip.

Visit my favourite local cemetery – It’s been at least a year since I have been to Eyre cemetery, here in Sudbury. This is a great opportunity to pay another visit.

Have a picnic in a cemetery – I am taking a cue from a new Instagram account I follow for this one – cemeterylunches “Promoting death positivity one meal at a time”.

Happy Cemetery Appreciation Month!