This week, I had originally planned on posting a cemetery recipe for Red Lantern Cheese dip, from the gravestone of Debra Ann Nelson. But, I had some issues finding the correct ingredients and the recipe didn’t turn out as expected. So I will continue my hunt for the elusive ingredients.
Instead, this week I will share a collection of Dove’s. If you have been following this blog for a little while, you may have noticed that I sometimes like to share collections of my favorite photos of some of the cemetery symbols I find on my cemetery walks. I have been photographing cemeteries for over 15 years, and in that time I have noticed some repetition of certain symbols and motifs. I find cemetery symbolism so interesting and love looking at what the different variations of a symbol mean.
Doves are not as common a symbol as lambs in Northern Ontario, but they represent similar ideas. Doves commonly are a symbol of peace, but when used in funerary art, they also represent innocence and the Holy Spirit. Doves may appear in many forms, such as sculpture or bas-relief. There are also different variations of doves, and each carries additional meaning.
Sometimes a dove may be depicted carrying something in its mouth. A dove with an olive branch in its mouth may represent peace. This symbolism also can be traced to Ancient Greece. A dove carrying a broken flower bud in its mouth often symbolizes a life cut short.
The position and angle of the dove may have some significance as well. A dove flying downward is thought to represent the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven.
Another variation of a dove you might find, is a dove that looks like it might be dead. A dead dove sadly represents a life cut short. This variation may also be found lying in front of, or on top of a tree stump; which is also a symbol of a life cut short.
Have you come across a different variation of this symbol? I would love to hear about it in the comments.
Thanks for reading!
Understanding Cemetery Symbols: A Field Guide for Historic Graveyards by Tui Snider
Stories in Stone: The Complete Guide to Cemetery Symbolism by Douglas Keister
For the last two weeks, I have been virtually attending the 2022 AGS conference. This was my first time attending this annual conference and I wanted to share a little about my experience. I am kicking myself for waiting so long to attend one!
If you’re not familiar with the Association for Gravestone Studies (AGS), they are an international organization that was created to further the study and preservation of gravestones. They promote the study of gravestones, expand public awareness and encourage gravestone preservation. AGS offers many cemetery-related publications, like Markers and the AGS Quarterly, as well as holding numerous workshops, exhibits, and the annual AGS conference. I wrote about AGS earlier this year, you can read more about them here.
The annual AGS conference takes place in a different location each year. It features events like field trips, conservation workshops, hands-on sessions, panels, evening lectures, and late-night presentations. It’s often referred to as Cemetery Camp. Last year’s conference was held entirely virtually, due to the pandemic. This year, the conference was a hybrid of virtual and in-person attendance. The in-person portion was held at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts. The in-person portion was also broadcast live and recorded where possible for those attending virtually. The virtual portions were all done over Zoom and Slack.
Fun fact: This year’s AGS conference logo (above) is from the gravestone of Josiah E. Woodberry in Central Cemetery in Beverly, Massachusetts. The heart-in-hand symbol represents “charity given with an open heart”. You can also see the three rings of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows on the cuff.
I enjoyed this year’s conference, and hope to attend in person, in the future. I regret not attending previous conferences! Everyone I met and chatted with was very welcoming and friendly. It was a great experience meeting like-minded people. There was a great variety of topics presented, along with opportunities spread throughout for attendees to mingle and connect. The topics ranged from histories and overviews of specific cemeteries and cemetery mysteries to how to use Kickstarter and similar platforms to fund cemetery-related projects. Some workshops went into detail on how to preserve gravestones. That’s something that has piqued my interest lately, so I was very interested in that session.
In addition to the interesting presentations and workshops, there were also bus tours offered. I was not able to watch those live, but I am looking forward to watching the recordings. I was able to see some of the photos that attendees took on the tour, and I have to say I was a little jealous. Those tours look like so much fun! As someone who often visits cemeteries with only a friend or two, being able to visit with a large group of taphophiles looks like it would be so much fun! The cemeteries that they visited also looked beautiful. That is very much a bonus to having the conference in a new location every year—new and different cemetery tours!
A great aspect of the conference, especially for virtual attendees was the sessions that encouraged more open discussion and socializing, like the Gabbing at the Gravestone meet and greet and the Cemetery Swirl cocktail hour, which included cemetery-themed cocktails. I love that the cocktail recipes were provided, and they even had a mixologist join us to lead us in a mixology course of sorts. These kinds of opportunities are great to foster new relationships within the cemetery community—and they are super fun!
I hope that the AGS considers making the virtual aspect of the conference a mainstay, even though there were some technical difficulties. Unfortunately, there will always be technical difficulties. The benefit of the virtual component is that members from all over the world are given a more accessible avenue to attend. I know it’s not the same as being there in person though. I hope within the next few years I will be able to attend and meet everyone in person. That may be a little ways off, considering the state of travel at the moment, but I hope things will return to a more normal level soon.
Have you ever been to an AGS conference, or thought about attending? Do you know a good cemetery-themed cocktail? I would love to exchange recipes in the comments.
Last Sunday was my last session of Stories in the Stones with Dr. Elise Ciregna. I enjoyed this course so much and wanted to share my experience and thoughts with you. I met some interesting and like-minded people and learned some very interesting things about cemeteries and gravestones. The last four weeks have been filled with presentations, discussions, readings, and visiting cemeteries, so I thought writing about it would be a great way to cap off the experience.
Stories in the Stones is a four-part seminar with Dr. Elise Ciregna. Dr. Elise is a historian specializing in social, visual, and material culture. She has a master’s degree in the history of art and architecture from Harvard University.1 She has worked for historic cemeteries and is the former President of the Association for Gravestone Studies. Elise is a fountain of knowledge and shares it eagerly. I enjoyed getting to know her over these last four weeks. There were 14 people in my seminar, all connected by a love and interest in cemeteries, and all with varying backgrounds. It was great to meet other taphophiles.
The course is broken down into 4 sessions:
The Colonial and Early National Period: Stones and Crossbones
The Nineteenth Century The Rural Cemetery Movement and the Age of Marble
Cemeteries as Spaces for Specific Communities
The Twentieth Century to the Present + Genealogical Research.1
Everything was done over Zoom and Google Classroom. I have never used Google Classroom before but it didn’t take long to figure out its functionality. Dr. Elise posted all her slides there, as well as resources, suggested readings, and the optional homework. I didn’t get a chance to read all the suggested readings during the duration of the course, but I found the readings I did have a chance to read, helpful to follow along with the slides. I plan to finish the suggested readings, as well as follow up with the other resource links that were provided. I also enjoyed the homework assignments, although I didn’t share them with the class. We did have the opportunity to share, either before the class presentation or in Google Classroom. The optional homework was a great tool to further my understanding of the material.
As I mentioned before, I enjoyed this course immensely. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into it, being a Canadian in an American-based course, but I found all the information interesting and useful. Elise expertly walked us through the history and evolution of gravestone symbols, the background of stone carvers, as well as the evolution and distinctions between different types of cemeteries. Not only is Dr. Elise a repository of information and experience with historic cemeteries, but she also loves to share that knowledge. If you have a question that she doesn’t know the answer to, she will take the time to try and find the answers.
I feel that I truly learned a lot from this course. After just the first session, I visited some cemeteries with some friends and found myself putting the teachings into action, by explaining symbols and tombstone attributes to my friends. They joked that now they didn’t need to take the course. My only complaints are that it was too short! I feel like they could have added a couple of extra sessions to delve into some of the subjects, like specific community cemeteries. I also would have liked to get a certificate of completion at the end. I personally think it would have been fun to have and frame for my wall.
So, if you have been thinking about signing up for this course, here is your sign! Taphophiles, historians, and genealogists alike will find something interesting in this course. Regardless if you have a little or a lot of knowledge of gravestone studies, I think you would learn something new and love this course.
Have you taken this course? Did you enjoy it? I would love to read about your experience in the comments.
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.
I have always considered myself a lifelong learner, I love taking online courses. I have taken some interesting ones over the years, like Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s “The Walking Dead”. During the pandemic, online courses have become pretty popular, and you can find all sorts of online courses offered. The topics can vary, from more regular academic offerings to the more obscure. I remember once taking an online course on Stereoscopy: An Introduction to Victorian Stereo Photography. That was an interesting course. It got me wondering if there were cemetery-related courses available out there? That is something I feel like I can always learn more about.
“Have you ever wondered why certain gravestones and funerary monuments look the way they do? In this course, Dr. Elise M. Ciregna will explore how to decipher the stories in these stones, drawing from foundational knowledge of cemeteries and material culture. Over the course of four sessions, we’ll trace the history of burying grounds, cemeteries, and gravestones in the United States, focusing on a different period of American history each week. We’ll cover Puritan and Colonial practice and African American burying grounds through to the impact of cremation on contemporary American burial practice. In between, we’ll touch upon the advent of the garden cemetery movement, the 19th century romance of cemeteries, the cemetery beautiful movement of the early 20th century, and the 20th-century changes in cemetery management—looking at common motifs and stone cutting techniques as we go. By the end of this course, you’ll have the tools to engage with gravestones in a new way, the foundations for doing genealogical research, as well as a new lens through which to understand American society, culture, and values through time.” – Atlas Obscura
It sounds super interesting! There are currently 2 month-long sessions being offered, April (every Saturday) and May (every Sunday). I’ve registered for the May session and am looking forward to it. I’m hoping it will help fill the gap until I can regularly get out to visit cemeteries.
This next course I found is specifically for Clyde River & Area cemeteries in Prince Edward Island. It’s a free, self-directed course created by the Clyde River History Committee, called Cemetery Stories: Online Study Series. This course is not currently running, but since it’s self-directed and the materials are well laid out, I think it’s possible to work your way through the course. It looks like this online course was created to replace their regular lecture series during the COVID-19 pandemic. The course was held from November 2020 – to August 2021, but the course materials can still be found online. The materials include links to online resources, videos, and reading material. It also includes a breakdown of the activities. Some activities look to be specific to the Clyde River & Area cemeteries, but I think the resources they provide would be interesting to any taphophile.
The last course I found is called Cemetery Symbols, through the Brooklyn Brainery. This course is not currently running, but you can sign up for the mailing list to get notified the next time it’s offered. It sounds very interesting, as it focuses on one of my favorite subjects: symbolism, and iconography in cemeteries. I would love to take this course the next time it’s offered. Here is the course description from the website:
“Have you found some recent solace in visiting your local cemetery or ever wondered what those symbols etched in the tombstones say about the deceased? Sure, the skulls and winged hourglasses are ominously straightforward, but along with them are secret society emblems, carefully chosen flowers, gesturing hands, guardian animals, and other arcane symbols. This class will explore the meaning behind the symbols commonly found in cemeteries, along with their history in mortuary art, highlighting symbols found in NYC and beyond, so that the next time you go for a stroll in the necropolis you can decipher their hidden meanings.” – Brooklyn Brainery
It’s not a very long list, but that’s all I could find in my most recent search. I think I may revisit this in the future and share other courses I can find. I would love to see more courses become available. There are so many interesting cemetery-related topics that I think can be expanded upon, and would love to learn more about. I would love to see courses exploring the history of historic graveyards, notable graves, death and funerary practices through the ages, and even stone carvers and their materials. There is just so much that can be explored. For the moment I am looking forward to Atlas Obscura’s Stories in the Stones course, my first class is on May 1. I’m hoping it will be informative and that I will learn a new thing or two. I may write another post after the course is done, to share my thoughts, any AHA moments I have, and whether I would recommend the course or not.
Have you taken some interesting online courses? Or do you know of a cemetery-related course that I missed? I would love to hear about it in the comments.
I found out about The Association for Gravestone Studies years ago, while doing some online shopping. I was looking at gravestone rubbing kits at Pushin Daisies, the mortuary novelty shop. Each kit comes with information on becoming a member of AGS. I was curious. I didn’t end up purchasing a rubbing kit, but I did end up getting myself a membership for AGS. After being a member for a few years, I let my membership lapse due to financial reasons. I missed being part of the Association and missed receiving gravestone-related mail though.
When I decided to focus more on my cemetery photography a couple of years ago, one of the first things I did was renew my membership. I am very happy to be a member again!
“The Association for Gravestone Studies (AGS) was founded in 1977 for the purpose of furthering the study and preservation of gravestones. AGS is an international organization with an interest in grave markers of all periods and styles. Through its publications, conferences, workshops and exhibits, AGS promotes the study of gravestones from historical and artistic perspectives, expands public awareness of the significance of historic grave markers, and encourages individuals and groups to record and preserve gravestones. At every opportunity, AGS cooperates with groups that have similar interests.” – gravestonestudies.org
What drew me to the Association, was finding other like-minded individuals, and all the resources they offer. There are quite a few AGS chapters throughout the United States, and when I first joined there were a couple of Canadian chapters. Unfortunately, none were close to me, and those chapters have since closed. There are lots of opportunities to get to know your fellow members and taphophiles though, like the AGS Conference for example. This annual conference takes place in a different location each year and features events like field trips, conservation workshops, hands-on sessions as well as panels, evening lectures, and late-night presentations. Last year the conference went virtual! I think it was a great approach. It’s mindful of the current pandemic, and a great way for those of us that are far away, to attend. I do hope they continue to offer some virtual events for the conference.
In addition to that, there are a lot of publications available. The AGS Quarterly is the bulletin of the Association for Gravestone Studies. It’s published 4 times a year and is delivered right to your door if you are a member. The Quarterly features articles, and regular columns on conservation and International gravestone studies. I love the articles in the Quarterly, they are always fascinating. Another publication AGS offers is Markers, the annual journal of AGS. During the winter months, what I consider my off-season for cemetery photography, I have been diving into the back issues of Markers, reading them cover to cover. It’s a beautiful perfect-bound journal that features definitive illustrated articles on cemetery and gravestone topics. It’s very in-depth and very informative. It also features international content. A bonus of AGS membership is that now you can read and download past issues of Markers online. They offer a lot of other online resources as well, in their knowledge centre. There you can find information on symbolism and the archives of past Markers and AGS Quarterly issues, as well as past e-newsletters. They also have a database of websites that pertain to the preservation of gravestones.
New this year, AGS has added a virtual book club. Starting in January, the book club meets on the third Sunday of each month and focuses on books about cemeteries, gravestones, mourning customs, funerary practices, and death and dying. The book for January was 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die by Loren Rhoads. I attended the first meeting and had a great time. There were about 30 participants, including the books author. We were split up into 2 smaller groups for discussions. In virtual break-out rooms, the moderators inspired conversation by asking questions about elements of the book. There was a great range of participants from all over the world. It was really interesting to hear everyone’s thoughts. Having Loren in attendance was a pleasant surprise. It was really interesting to get some extra insights from her. I’m looking forward to February’s meeting, where we will be discussing City of Immortals: Père-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris by Carolyn Campbell.
I highly recommend joining the Association for Gravestone Studies if you have an interest in cemeteries, and gravestone preservation. It’s a great place to find others with a passion for cemeteries and a great resource to learn more about everything cemetery related.
To learn more about the Association for Gravestone Studies, please visit their website. You can also find AGS on Facebook and Instagram.