A Collection of Obelisks

I am in the midst of working on a blog post about my adventures searching for the grave of Tom Thomson in Algonquin Park. I’m hoping to have it up in the next week or two. In the meantime, I thought I would take a look at some Egyptian revival architecture that can sometimes be found in cemeteries, more specifically—obelisks.

Obelisks are Egyptian in origin, but became a popular Christian funerary symbol. They are now a common sight in most cemeteries. I have found quite a few in my cemetery travels and wanted to share some of them with you today. 

In Understanding Cemetery Symbols, Tui Snider notes that obelisks became popular symbols after Napoleon invaded Egypt in the late 1700s. An obelisk is thought to represent a ray of light, but it can also symbolize focused spiritual goals, with the wide base narrowing to a point, symbolizing the deceased reuniting with God at death, and the two becoming one. 

Different variations of obelisks can be found throughout a cemetery. For example, Truncated obelisks do not come to a sharp point at the top, but are flat or topped with another symbol like a cross, urn or an orb. 

Obelisks can sometimes be found at the center of a family plot, representing the family’s connection to God. They are particularly well suited for this, as there is generally a lot of room on all four sides of the stone to inscribe the names of family members. 

You might also find vaulted obelisks. These stones have points on all four sides at the top instead of coming to one point.


References:

  1. Understanding Cemetery Symbols: A Field Guide for Historic Graveyards by Tui Snider
  2. Stories in Stone: The Complete Guide to Cemetery Symbolism by Douglas Keister

Cemetery Road Trip – Pet Cemetery

During my two-week vacation, something unexpected happened. While touring around the winding roads of St. Joseph’s Island, I found a Pet Cemetery.

I had researched the area before my trip and had marked off every cemetery on the island, with the hopes of visiting them all. I had not read anything about a pet cemetery, so I was very surprised when I noticed a large stone with the words “WM. Wright Memorial Pet Cemetery” engraved on it. I quickly pulled over to the side of the road and made a three-point turn. My mother, who was traveling with me, was just as surprised as I was when she saw the cemetery sign.

The William Wright Memorial Pet Cemetery sits on land that was once the site of a Presbyterian Church. The Church suffered a fire, and from my understanding, the cemetery behind this church was moved to a cemetery further down the road. The land was inherited by William’s great-grandson, David Wright, who started the Pet Cemetery and named it after his Great Grandfather, in 1985. Today, the cemetery is cared for by the St. Joseph Lions Club.1

This beautiful cemetery is surrounded by large maple trees. It has a little chapel and even its own little receiving vault, also known as a dead house. When the Lions Club took over the care of the cemetery, they converted a shed to accommodate two freezers for winter storage.1

This was my first time visiting a pet cemetery. There is a mix of flat grave markers, homemade crosses, and other types of homemade gravestones that looked to be laid out in sections. I was affected immediately by the love and care that was taken to memorialize these animals. They were not just animals, but furry family members and beloved pets. 

Some of the markers only bared names, while others had etched portraits or had loving epitaphs inscribed on them. The epitaphs got to me the most —things like “My Buddy” and “Forever loved”. Seeing these kinds of things inscribed on a tombstone for a pet, some of which were only in this world for a short time, was incredibly heartbreaking. I don’t usually have this sort of response in cemeteries and was a little surprised at how hard it was for me to read each stone.

Although it was an emotional experience for me, I was thrilled to be able to visit a pet cemetery. I think that they are growing in popularity, but they are still a fairly rare thing. After a little research, I only found information for eleven of them in Ontario, including the one I visited. I did try to visit a pet cemetery a few years ago, in Sault Ste Marie. But, we were unable to find it, and I have since been able to find out very little more about it. I would love to be able to visit more in the future. They are incredibly beautiful places. 

Have you been to a pet cemetery before? What was your experience like? I would love to read about your experiences in the comments!

Thanks for reading! 


References:

  1. WM Wright Memorial Pet Cemetery

Stories in the Stones: An online course by Atlas Obscura 

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.

Thanks for reading! 


References:

  1. Stories in the Stones: How to Read a Gravestone With Dr. Elise M. Ciregna

A Collection of Books

I love books! I am a big reader and have a large book collection at home, but I love finding stone books among the tombstones while wandering a cemetery. I find them very interesting and love trying to interpret what they mean.

Books can be both decorative or a representation of something. You can sometimes find a book being used as a decorative device to display the name of the deceased along with the birth and death dates. An open book can sometimes represent the human heart, as in it’s emotions are open to the world. An open book may also symbolize a life that has been cut short, before getting to the last page. Another variation of this is an open book with a cloth draped across it. This also represents a life cut short, the veil of death having bookmarked the person’s last chapter before the book is finished being written. A closed book might represent a long life, lived to the last chapter.

Any book found in a cemetery may represent the bible. Sometimes you may even find the words “Holy Bible” engraved on the book.

In my experience, books are not as common as some other funerary symbols, like hands and lambs. I love to photograph them when I do find them. I wanted to share some of my favorites with you today.


References:

  1. Understanding Cemetery Symbols: A Field Guide for Historic Graveyards by Tui Snider
  2. Stories in Stone: The Complete Guide to Cemetery Symbolism by Douglas Keister

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.

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!

A collection of hands

One of my favorite cemetery symbols are hands. They can represent so many things from only how they are positioned. I also find them beautifully detailed, and they have a lot to say. Hands are a very common symbol in funerary art and can be found in almost any cemetery.

I have photographed many over the years, ranging from very simple to very detailed, and wanted to share some of them with you today.

A hand pointing upward often represents going up to heaven. You may also find a hand pointing down, which can look a little odd, but it does not mean what you may have first thought. A hand pointing down usually represents a sudden or unexpected death. Clasped hands or praying hands often represent devotion but can also be seen as a plea for eternal life.

Handshakes are a very common variation and also can have a few different meanings. When the handshake depicts limp fingers held by a firm handshake, this often represents the deceased being welcomed to heaven by loved ones or maybe even God. When one finger is extended, it is a masonic handshake, meaning the deceased was a member of the Freemasons. You may also find a double masonic handshake, where one finger is extended on each of the hands. This is meant to resemble the square & compass, the emblem of the Freemasons. You should also look closely at the wrists of the hands, this can also give more clues. If both hands look masculine, this could represent fraternal brotherhood. If one of the cuffs is more feminine and one more masculine, this is most likely a marital handshake, to indicate the deceased was married.

When you find a hand holding a book, that book is often meant to be the bible. Sometimes it is more obvious, as it may have “holy bible” inscribed on it.


Snider, Tui. Understanding Cemetery Symbols: A Field Guide for Historic Graveyards. 1st ed., Castle Azle Press, 2017. 

Keister, Douglas. Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography. 1st ed., Gibbs Smith, 2004. 

A tombstone by any other name…

When we hear the words tombstone, headstone, or gravestone, they all bring the same image to mind; a stone marked with a name, birth date, death date, and maybe some funerary art and an epitaph. It is a stone representing a person laid to rest.

While working on some blog posts recently, I noticed I used the term tombstone very often. To avoid repetition, I found myself using some other words synonymously like headstone, gravestone, and grave marker. It got me thinking, ARE these words interchangeable, or is there a subtle difference? I decided to look into it a little deeper.

My term of preference seems to be tombstone, so that is where I started in my search. The dictionary defines a tombstone as “a stone marker, usually inscribed, on a tomb or grave”.1 The first known use of the word in print was in 1565.2 According to Merriam-Webster, a tombstone is also defined as a gravestone.2

So tombstone and gravestone can be used interchangeably. After a little more reading I found that a gravestone is a Middle English word dating back to 1175–1225.3 It has a similar definition to tombstone, but I read that the term gravestone comes from the practice of covering whole graves in stones, to mark the grave as well as “keep the occupants in the ground”.4

A headstone, according to dictionary.com is “a stone marker set at the head of a grave.5 This term was first recorded in 1525-35.5 It is interesting to note that this definition specifies the location of the stone, similar to a footstone, which is a smaller stone laid at the foot of a grave. The first known use of the word headstone was in the 15th century.6

Grave markers, also known as cemetery markers, are smaller and sit flat to the ground. They can sometimes be angled like a wedgestone, to make them easier to read. They may be small, but they still carry the same information, such as name, birth, and death date.7

Two other possible terms are monument and cenotaph. These are a little different as they are not as interchangeable. A monument refers specifically to a very large -monumental- stone.7 A cenotaph may seem similar to a tombstone or monument as it sometimes has names and dates engraved on it, but there are no bodies buried beneath it. Cenotaph means “empty tomb”.8 They are often used to memorialize and commemorate those buried elsewhere, such as soldiers who died in war.

All that being said, tombstone, gravestone and headstone can be used interchangeably. Although at one point in time they may have looked different than what we think of today. It’s interesting to look at how language has changed over time and how these words have all become synonymous with each other. After doing so much reading on the subject, I think tombstone is still my favourite term.

Do you have a preference? Or maybe you use a different term? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading!


1https://www.dictionary.com/browse/tombstone

2https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tombstone#synonyms

3https://www.dictionary.com/browse/gravestone

4https://classroom.synonym.com/origin-gravestone-21957.html

5https://www.dictionary.com/browse/headstone

6https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/headstone

7https://www.headstonehub.com/blog/the-difference-between-headstones-monuments-markers-and-urns

8https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/tombstone-gravestone-or-headstone-whats-the-difference

Finding the abandoned Happy Valley cemetery

In August of 2020, a friend and I set out to find an abandoned cemetery. She had been to it before, having stumbled upon it while out and about on four-wheelers. She was excited to share it with me. She and I have been on many cemetery adventures, but this one was a bit different for us. Normally we would jump in the car and head for a destination while stopping at all the cemeteries we found along the way. This one was a bit closer to home and would need to be reached on foot. So with the camera in hand, we started walking. Have you ever seen the movie Stand by me? It sort of had that feeling, except we weren’t going to see a dead body, we were off to see a cemetery. 

Happy Valley is considered a ghost town. According to Ontario Abandoned Places, it never really was considered a town at all. 

“…more of a settlement which belonged to Falconbridge. Happy Valley consisted of residents who wanted to be separate and independent from the residents of Falconbridge…The residents were mainly farmers and mill-workers who worked at the sawmills by the lake. The children would have to endure a three-mile walk every morning to the nearest school (established in 1907) located in Garson…Other than the mills and homes, there were no stores or a post office to be found. Residents had to travel to Falconbridge Township for amenities…By 1970, the town was abandoned…almost. The last resident, “Gizzy”, left the town in the late ’80s.” – Ontario Abandoned Places

For more formation on the Happy Valley ghost town, visit Ontario Abandoned Places.

Our trip began by taking us into a more industrial part of the town. There were dunes everywhere and an old abandoned railway track. Small trees and bushes were growing from in between the railway ties. Those tracks had not seen much use in a while. We walked the train tracks for a little bit, but then found a dirt trail that took us more into the surrounding wilderness. We passed old culverts and a few small lakes. It was a beautiful day for a walk! 

The way to this cemetery wasn’t a straight shot, or well marked. We had a general direction and were using landmarks to help find our way. We referenced old photos from the first time my friend had been there. We seemed to have made our way into some backcountry, where there were sandy trails and lots of sandy hills, that would be great for four-wheeling. After climbing up into a rocky area we reached a plateau where it levelled off and there was a two-lane sandy road. It was nice to not have to watch our footing anymore for fear of catching a toe on a rock.

My friend felt we were getting close. We walked on, enjoying each other’s company and chatting about life. Now and then we would stop to assess how far we had gone. We were alone in the woods, having not seen anyone else out on the trails. After a while, we started to question if we had gone too far. We checked a side trail, but no, it was going off in the wrong direction. We took a small break to rest and re-evaluate. Luckily, we still were getting cell service in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. She was able to look at satellite photos on Google and find what looked to be our cemetery. We had gone too far! We had to backtrack a little way and take a dirt road that forked to the right. Our goal should be right around that corner. 

We found it! It’s a small cemetery, having been recently surrounded by a chain-link fence. We theorized that the fence was put up to protect the cemetery from people unintentionally running through it on quads and snowmobiles. There are about a handful of headstones, some up-right and a few flat to the earth. There seem to be more pioneers buried there than there are headstones.

Having found the cemetery and being able to visit it was well worth the hike. It was super satisfying! Almost more rewarding than if we would have driven straight there. After spending some time among the tombstones, we made our way back the way we came. Through the woods, along the dirt paths, and along the train tracks, ending by having to climb back up a massive dune that we had first scaled down at the beginning of our journey. It was a great adventure! I am grateful that I have good friends who want to share these kinds of experiences with me! 

More recently, I was doing some pre-emptive cemetery road trip research, getting ready for this spring. I was going through all the cemeteries listed in my hometown, there are 25 in total. I have been to all but 3 of them, or so I thought. Based on my archived photos I had not visited Ruff Pioneer Cemetery, Chelmsford Protestant Cemetery, and St. Joseph Cemetery. As I did a bit more research into where these cemeteries are located, I got stuck on Ruff Pioneer Cemetery. It’s listed as being off of Goodwill Road, in Garson. As I searched Google Maps, it just was not making sense. I was able to zero in on its location using satellite photos. Low and behold—Ruff Pioneer Cemetery is our Abandoned Happy Valley cemetery!

Looking back at my photos, though, it all makes sense!

Goodwill road was most likely named after those pioneers buried in this cemetery.

Looking back at this cemetery adventure has me pining for summer and the opportunity to visit new cemeteries. I have a few road trips already planned and mapped out, but I may take a look for more abandoned cemeteries that are harder to find. Do you have a story about an abandoned cemetery? Share it in the comments!

Thanks for reading! 

Cemetery Recipes – Kay’s Fudge

Last year I posted a news article on my Facebook page about an interesting tombstone. What makes Kathryn Andrew’s stone so unique is that it features her go-to fudge recipe. Kay had asked for her recipe to be engraved on her tombstone as a way to share her delicious recipe with others. According to Janice, Kay’s daughter, Kay would often share her fudge with friends and family1

Kay passed away in 2019, at the age of 97. She was laid to rest beside her husband Wade. Her now-famous tombstone has been circulating on the internet, with many folks trying out her famous fudge recipe. 

To learn more about Kay and see more photos of her tombstone, visit her memorial page at findagrave.com.

Here is the recipe, as listed on Kay’s tombstone:

  • 2 SQ. CHOCOLATE
  • 2 TBS. BUTTER
  • MELT ON LOW HEAT
  • STIR IN 1 CUP MILK
  • BRING TO BOIL
  • 3 CUPS SUGAR
  • 1 TSP. VANILLA
  • PINCH OF SALT
  • COOK TO SOFTBALL STAGE
  • POUR ON MARBLE SLAB
  • COOL & BEAT & EAT

Interestingly, when the recipe was first engraved, there was a typo. It originally called for a tablespoon of vanilla. I’m told that that would make for some very runny fudge. The tombstone was updated to read a teaspoon of vanilla. I wonder if this correction was made while Kay was still around, and how she would have felt about it?

Of course, I couldn’t write about this unique tombstone without trying my hand at making Kay’s fudge recipe myself. I have dabbled in the past with making candy but never had much success, so I was a bit worried about ruining it. I made sure to take my time and follow the instructions, although I did need to take some time to Google a few things. I used a candy thermometer to make sure I didn’t overcook the ingredients. I did have a little trouble at first as I was not reading my thermometer properly. I started talking to Kay out loud as I poured out the mixture into a bowl. It looked too runny to me. Talking it out with Kay, I put the mixture back on the stove and took a closer look at the thermometer. A Google search clarified that the softball stage is reached between 112 to 115 Celsius. You don’t need a candy thermometer though.

To tell when you have reached the softball stage you can use a spoon to drop a little bit of the mixture into a cold glass of water. If the mixture forms small malleable balls in the water, you have reached the softball stage. After getting that sorted, I watched it carefully to get to the right temperature.

I don’t have a marble slab so I opted to pour the mixture into a bowl to let it cool. I did another Google search to see how long it should cool for. After 15 minutes, it was time to beat the mixture. Again I had to do a little bit of research to see how long to beat the fudge. Traditionally it would be beaten on a marble slab, but I read that you can beat it in a bowl with just a spoon. The trick is to beat it until it is no longer glossy. I was a little unsure about this step as it did not seem to be losing its shine but after a few minutes it did, and it started to firm up. I then poured the mixture into an 8×8 square dish and let it set.

I am very happy with how it turned out! It’s sweet and chocolatey with a lovely texture. It also made a decent size batch. In the spirit of Kay’s generosity, I brought my batch of Kays fudge to a small gathering to share with my friends.

Thank you so much, Kay, for sharing your recipe with us!

To read more about Kathryn’s unique tombstone, visit: Headstone for woman who died at 97 includes her signature fudge recipe | ABC Action News

After all the fun of making this recipe, I started to wonder if there were other tombstone treats I could try? If you know of other cemetery recipes out there, please share! I would also love to hear how your fudge turned out, if you attempted Kay’s recipe.

Thanks for reading!


  1. We tried the famous fudge recipe engraved on a late grandmother’s gravestone | Today.com | June 2, 2021

White bronze, also known as Zinkys

Have you ever heard of Zinkys? You may have come across one or two in your cemetery travels. I know I have, but it has only been until recently that I discovered what these beautiful gravestones are. That is one of the many things I love about my cemetery community, I am always learning new things from my fellow taphophiles.

Zinkys as they are lovingly referred to, is also known as white bronze. They look very similar to carved stone headstones, but they are made from a zinc alloy and are hollow. These monuments were generally less expensive than carved stone, and are a lot more durable. You will often find intricate designs on white bronze headstones, that are still perfectly legible. You can recognize a white bronze headstone by its bluish-grey color, and giving it a gentle tap should produce a hollow sound.

According to Understanding Cemetery Symbols by Tui Snider, in the United States during the prohibition era, it was claimed that bootleggers would sometimes pry the panels off of these metal monuments to hide their booze.

Here in Canada, the White Bronze Company of St. Thomas, Ontario produced zinkys from 1883 to 1900. It was a child company of Monumental Bronze Co. of Bridgeport, Connecticut.1 According to Connecticuthistory.org, Monumental Bronze Co. only produced white bronze between 1874 and 1914. In 1914, World War I saw the facilities turn from creating pure zinc tombstones to creating gun mounts and munitions.2 After the war, it seemed that tastes had changed, and public demand shifted to other natural materials for grave markers.

These blue-grey markers are truly beautiful in person. They range in size and detail, but I always find myself fascinated by how perfectly intact they are. I have come across a couple of broken ones, where a cross or spire has been broken off, but the names of the deceased are always legible.

Since learning about them, I have kept an eye out for them in my cemetery travels, and have been rewarded a few times this summer. I look forward to finding more in my travels.

Have you come across and zinkys in your cemetery travels? I would love to read about it in the comments.

Thanks for reading!


  1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/313349405_The_St_Thomas_White_Bronze_Company_A_Diffusion_of_Innovations_Perspective
  2. https://connecticuthistory.org/monumental-bronze-company/