Skip to main content

What I've Been Doing, and a Flashback Friday About Rocks

Some of you may have noticed I've been a little MIA lately. I haven't abandoned you, dear reader, I promise! What started out as an innocent attempt to rid myself of some paper clutter has turned into a much larger task. Though it is not really represented on the blog, I've been doing a lot of compilation work on Macon, Georgia's historic Rose Hill Cemetery. Transcribing obituaries, cataloguing photos, and the like. I'm up to more than 520 individuals in my Family Tree program. Rose Hill Cemetery contains thousands of graves, so I have a long way to go. What's exciting, though, is the number of obituaries that I have found regarding individuals that are not in the major databases, including Rose Hill's records online. I suspect these may belong to the many unmarked graves in the cemetery.

Since I'm still working on a pile of printed articles and obituaries, I thought I would at least throw in a Flashback Friday post here at Southern Graves. If you haven't read it before, it's one of the most popular posts in my almost six years of blogging.

Rocks, Rocks, and More Rocks

Why do people put rocks on grave stones? Some time ago, I learned that the rocks signified a visitor. That is true enough, but I decided to learn a little more about the custom and share my findings with you.

Putting rocks on tombstones is most often described as a Jewish custom. There are many "Ask a Rabbi" columns out there, but I did not find one that knew for sure where the custom originated. They all agreed, however, that a rock symbolized a visitor and when put on a tombstone said, "I remember you." I also read that some people pick up a rock wherever they are when they think of a person that has passed. Then, the next time they visit the grave, they place the rock to say, "I wish you were here."

Rabbi Shraga Simmons offers a deeper meaning: "We are taught that it is an act of ultimate kindness and respect to bury someone and place a marker at the site. After a person is buried, of course, we can no longer participate in burying them. However, even if a tombstone has been erected, we can participate in the mitzvah of making a marker at a grave, by adding to the stone. Therefore, customarily, we place stones on top of a gravestone whenever we visit to indicate our participation in the mitzvah of erecting a tombstone, even if only in a more symbolic way."

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef says this, "In former days one did not mark a grave with marble or granite with a fancy inscription, but one made a cairn of stones over it. Each mourner coming and adding a stone was effectively taking part in the Mitzvah of matzevah ("setting a stone") as well as or instead of levayat ha-meyt ("accompany the dead"). Of course, the dead were often buried where they had fallen, before urbanization and specialization of planning-use demanded formal cemeteries...Therefore in our day one tends to stick a pebble on top of the tombstone as a relic of this ancient custom, and it is still clear that the more stones a grave has, the more the deceased is being visited and is therefore being honored. Each small pebble adds to the cairn - a nice moral message. This has become slightly spoiled by the cemetery authorities clearing accumulated pebbles off when they wash down the gravestones and cut the grass."

Finally, Rabbi Andrew Straus offers the following: "Ritual is a way of expressing our emotions and spiritual needs. We need physical acts to express these things for us, to make them concrete. Placing a stone on a grave does just that...(1) It is a sign to others who come to the grave when I am not there that they and I are not the only ones who remember. The stones I see on the grave when I come are a reminder to me that others have come to visit the grave. My loved one is remembered by many others and his/her life continues to have an impact on others, even if I do not see them. (2) When I pick up the stone it sends a message to me. I can still feel my loved one. I can still touch and be touched by him/her. I can still feel the impact that has been made on my life. Their life, love, teachings, values, and morals still make an impression on me. When I put the stone down, it is a reminder to me that I can no longer take this person with me physically. I can only take him/her with me in my heart and my mind and the actions I do because he/she taught me to do them. Their values, morals, ideals live on and continue to impress me - just as the stone has made an impression on my hands - so too their life has made an impression on me that continues."

So do all these explanations mean placing a rock on a tombstone is only a Jewish custom? While I would consider it likely when visiting a gravestone with rocks placed on it, it may not always be the case.

Cemetery symbolism author Douglas Keister reminds us, "In Christian lore, rocks are a powerful symbol of the Lord." There are many places in the Old Testament Bible that compare God to a rock. One being Psalm 18:2 -- "The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my strength, in whom I will trust, my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower."

So the placing of a rock on a tombstone could represent a belief that the deceased is with God.

Keister further states, "In almost all cultures, rocks represent permanence, stability, reliability, and strength."

All in all, placing and finding rocks on a tombstone is a nice tradition. Whatever the culture or religious faith, the rocks represent an honorable memory of the deceased.

Note: the photo above (© 2009 S. Lincecum) is of the gravestone for Robert H. Sanders (28 Apr 1920 - 8 July 1998) & Mary A. Sanders (24 July 1919 - 14 Jan 2006) at Roberta City Cemetery in Crawford County, Georgia.

One last item; a little link love. When researching this article, I came across a website that offers paintings on river rocks to be placed on the gravestones of loved ones. I thought it was a neat idea, so here's a link to Judaic Stones.

Comments

I forgive you for being MIA...It sounds like you've been hard at work on other projects. So much to do, so little time. Glad to have you back!
Taphophile said…
I envy your time at Rose Hill. It's a truly beautiful cemetery.

Popular posts from this blog

Rocks, Rocks, and More Rocks

Why do people put rocks on grave stones? Some time ago, I learned that the rocks signified a visitor. That is true enough, but I decided to learn a little more about the custom and share my findings with you.

Putting rocks on tombstones is most often described as a Jewish custom. There are many "Ask a Rabbi" columns out there, but I did not find one that knew for sure where the custom originated. They all agreed, however, that a rock symbolized a visitor and when put on a tombstone said, "I remember you." I also read that some people pick up a rock wherever they are when they think of a person that has passed. Then, the next time they visit the grave, they place the rock to say, "I wish you were here."

Rabbi Shraga Simmons offers a deeper meaning: "We are taught that it is an act of ultimate kindness and respect to bury someone and place a marker at the site. After a person is buried, of course, we can no longer participate in burying them. Howe…

Southern Cross of Honor

I'm late to this discussion, but it's one I'd like to join. :-) Terry Thornton at The Graveyard Rabbit of the Hill Country started with Grave Marker Symbols: The Southern Cross of Honor and UCV (link no longer available). Judith Shubert at The Graveyard Rabbit of the Covered Bridges continued with Hood County Texas: C.S.A. Veterans & Southern Cross of Honor Symbol. [UPDATE, 1 June 2009: Judith has moved this post to the blog, Cemeteries with Texas Ties. The link has been corrected to reflect this move. You may also link to her article via her nice comment on this post.]

Wikipedia states:
The Southern Cross of Honor was a military decoration meant to honor the officers, noncommissioned officers, and privates for their valor in the armed forces of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. It was formally approved by the Congress of the Confederate States on October 13, 1862, and was originally intended to be on par with the Union Army's Me…

Thursday Link Love: EyeWitness To History

Yesterday, a link was added to the Genealogy Research Resources Group at Diigo. The link was to the website titled EyeWitness to History.com: History through the eyes of those who lived it. It's a great site, and I encourage all to visit it.

Here are several items I found while snooping around.

- Inside a Nazi Death Camp, 1944: "Hitler established the first concentration camp soon after he came to power in 1933. The system grew to include about 100 camps divided into two types: concentration camps for slave labor in nearby factories and death camps for the systematic extermination of "undesirables" including Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally retarded and others."

- Crash of the Hindenburg, 1937: "Radio reporter Herbert Morrison, sent to cover the airship's arrival, watched in horror. His eye witness description of the disaster was the first coast-to-coast radio broadcast and has become a classic piece of audio history." [You can really …


blog.SouthernGraves.net

The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?"

So I answered, "O Lord God, You know."

Again He said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!' Thus says the Lord God to these bones: 'Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live...'" (Ezekiel 37:1-5, NKJV)