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

Cemetery recipes – Connie’s Date & Nut Bread

I had such a fun time trying out Kay’s Fudge recipe a couple of months ago, that I wondered what other cemetery recipes were out there. I was pleasantly surprised at the handful of recipes I found.

Today I wanted to try my hand at making Connie’s Date & Nut bread. 100% Good stuff – 0% Bad Stuff. Sounds delicious to me! 

This tombstone can be found in the Cemetery of the Highlands in Highland Mills, NY. Instead of the recipe being engraved on the stone, it’s printed on a small white plaque that is attached to the stone. The headstone belongs to Constance Galberd.

From reading Connie’s obituary, she was a very busy woman. Constance was a retired Registered Nurse at Cornwall Hospital in New York, a member of the Woodbury Community Ambulance Corps, and a member and Trustee of the Woodbury Historical Society. She has three children, a daughter, two sons, and four grandchildren. I think it’s safe to say she was also a great baker with a great sense of humor. Constance passed away in September 2008, at the age of 80. 

You can view her memorial page on Find a Grave.

I love the idea of putting a well-loved family recipe on a tombstone. It ensures the recipe will be passed down through the generations, and that a piece of them will be remembered.

The recipe reads:

Connie’s Date & Nut Bread | 100% Good stuff – 0% Bad Stuff

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. dates cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts

Directions:

  • Pour boiling water (where 2 tsp. of baking soda have been dissolved) over dates and raisins. Cool.
  • Add 1 1/2 c. sugar and mix well.
  • Add 2 eggs, well beaten.
  • Gradually mix in 4 c. of flour and 2 tsp. of baking powder. Beat thoroughly.
  • Add 1/2 c. of chopped nuts. Beat thoroughly.
  • Bake at 350 for 3/4 – 1 hr.
  • Bake in tin cans.
  • One batch = 13 small cans.

This recipe is pretty easy to follow. I have made banana bread before and found the process very similar. The directions are very clear, although I was a little uncertain of how long to let the boiling water over the dates & raisins cool. I spoke out loud to Connie while I mixed my ingredients and waited for the water to cool. When the water was no longer steaming, I mixed in the sugar and continued with the recipe.

I was a little thrown off by the last 2 directions, about baking in tin cans. I had to look that up. I found out that baking in tins cans, like vegetable or soup cans, was used for baking during the depression. The end result would be little round cakes or loaves of bread. I would have loved to be authentic to the recipe, but I didn’t have any empty tin cans to wash out and recycle for baking. It is something I would like to try in the future though. For this recipe, I used 2 loaf pans and split the batter between the two.

My kitchen smelled amazing while these were baking! I had to have a piece when it came out of the oven, and I was not disappointed. It’s a dense bread, similar to a fruit cake. Connie is absolutely right when she says “100% Good stuff – 0% Bad Stuff“. I am really happy with how they came out. After letting them cool on a cooling rack, I popped them out of the pans and wrapped them up. I always love to share my baking, and being able to share Connie’s recipe too feels like a sweet way to remember her.

Will you be trying Connie’s Date & Nut bread? Or have you found another tombstone recipe I should try? Tell me about it in the comments.

Thanks for reading!


If You Love a Recipe Enough, You Can Put It on Your Grave

The Recipe Headstone

Baking Brown Bread in Tin Cans

A Collection of Lambs

I love exploring cemeteries and looking at the different symbols used on tombstones. If you spend a lot of time in cemeteries, especially in Northern Ontario, you will start to notice the repetition of certain symbols and motifs. One of the most common symbols I find, is the lamb.

Lambs represent innocence and sacrifice, as they were often used in sacrificial ceremonies in ancient times1. Most often you will find lambs on the gravestones of infants and children, as Jesus is often depicted as a Shepherd, and also known as the “lamb of God”. Some variations can be found with lamb symbolism. A robed figure with a standing lamb beside it most often represents John the Baptist, who had called Jesus the “lamb of God”1. A lamb with a cross is known to represent the Lamb of God or Agnus Dei2, symbolizing the suffering of Christ as he sacrificed himself for the sins of mankind. Several other symbols may be found with a lamb to symbolize the lamb of God – such as a banner, halo, shepherds crook, and alpha and/or omega symbols2. A single seated lamb symbolizes an innocent soul. A seated lamb can sometimes be found sitting in front of a tree stump, this often symbolizes a life cut short. 

Finding lambs is often sad, but they are a beautiful symbol. I have photographed many over the years and wanted to share some of them with you today. 


  1. Snider, Tui. Understanding Cemetery Symbols: A Field Guide for Historic Graveyards. 1st ed., Castle Azle Press, 2017. 
  2. Keister, Douglas. Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography. 1st ed., Gibbs Smith, 2004. 

A Collection of Handmade Stones

If you spend a lot of time in cemeteries, especially in Northern Ontario, you will start to notice the repetition of certain symbols and motifs. In Ontario and Quebec, something I have come across frequently is handmade stones.

These stones have been lovingly hand-poured in cement, adorned with crucifixes, stones, and other baubles, and usually have hand lettering. They are beautiful representations of love for those who have passed. There could be many reasons why a handmade stone was created, and each one is unique and beautiful with its own charm.

I love finding handmade stones and have photographed many over the years. I wanted to share some of them with you.

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!

Introductions

Hello, My name is Chantal and I am a taphophile.

I have always had a deep love of cemeteries and graveyards. It may sound a bit morbid, but I have always found beauty and peace in a cemetery. The combination of nature, art and history is what I find really appealing. A cemetery is a great place to go for a quiet walk, to learn about the history of a place, or to learn about your ancestors. Over the years I have visited many cemeteries and love to take pictures of what I see. I like to focus on details of gravestones, iconography, interesting epitaphs and mementos left behind by loved ones.

After realizing I had folders upon folders of photos, I wanted to do something with them—not just keep them to myself. So I decided a website would be a great place to showcase them. I’m still working out the details on how I want to organize them, but I’m sure that will evolve over time.

I choose WordPress because it looked like a great way to showcase my portfolio but also include a blog option. I am in no way an avid blogger, but I do get the urge to write sometimes. So please do not expect a perfectly kept up-to-date blog! I’m hoping to write about my favourite cemeteries, road trips, newly explored cemeteries, cemeteries in the news and other cemetery related things.

I will also be slowly adding photos as I go!

If you are interested, I can also be found other places around the web; Facebook, Instagram and ViewBug.

Thanks for reading!