27 September 2013

Flashback Friday: Sardis Sunflowers

(From November 2008) - I love sunflowers. So when I found some blooming in Sardis Cemetery, I had to photograph them. One particular plot -- Charles H. and Mary Ann Jones Johnson -- was covered with them. Here's a question: were they put there for a reason? Are these sunflowers symbolism? Let's start with the photos:




Now, as much as I love cemeteries, I don't have a large library on the subject. I do have a few books, though, dealing with symbolism and southern cemetery symbolism. In only one book, Douglas Keister's Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography, did I find mention of sunflowers in cemeteries. He was referring to a sunflower carved into a gravestone. They signify devotion to the Catholic Church.

This would seem to strike down the theory of symbolism in this case. Sardis Cemetery is attached to a Primitive Baptist Church. I did go looking online as well, and come across "Gravestone Symbolism" at Grave Addiction. The meaning there was given as devotion to God. OK. So symbolism might be back in play.

Keep in mind, these meanings were referring to sunflowers carved on gravestones. I found no mention of sunflowers when looking for information about cemetery landscaping and symbolism there.

I guess, in the end, I can't say for sure. It might just be the planter liked sunflowers and thought they would beautify the plot. Or, maybe Mr. and Mrs. Johnson were fond of sunflowers.

I think Joel Gazis-Sax says it best on his site, City of the Silent:
Here lies the problem of symbol interpretation. Just as with a work of literature, we must understand the point of view of the reader as well as of the author. Cemeteries exist in societies. When we walk in them, we are walking amongst members of our own community. What it all means depends as much on us as on what the stonecutter or the patron wanted to convey.
Maybe the fondness for sunflowers is more about me than about the Johnsons.

20 September 2013

Flashback Friday: God Forbids Her Longer Stay

Clara Emma Dunlap (1852-1854)
(From June 2011) - Yesterday brought you a touching Tombstone Tuesday post about the five DUNLAP children resting in Fairview Presbyterian Church Cemetery at Lawrenceville, GA. Two of the little girls have epitaphs that I was able to pinpoint as being from a hymn written by Charles Wesley, entitled On the Death of a Child:

WHEREFORE should I make my moan,
Now the darling child is dead?
He to early rest is gone,
He to paradise is fled:
I shall go to him, but he
Never shall return to me.

God forbids his longer stay,
God recalls the precious loan,
God hath taken him away,
From my bosom to His own;
Surely what He wills is best,
Happy in His will I rest.

Faith cries out, It is the Lord!
Let Him do as seems Him good:
Be Thy holy name adored,
Take the gift awhile bestow’d,
Take the child, no longer mine,
Thine he is, for ever Thine.

13 September 2013

Flashback Friday: In Hoc Signo Vinces

(From March 2010) - I came across this emblem during a recent visit to Evergreen Cemetery in Fitzgerald, Georgia. It is one of the most detailed symbol of the Knights Templar I have seen. At the top is a knight's helmet. A cross in crown is on top of a Maltese cross with crossed swords behind it. Included is the motto In Hoc Signo Vinces, a Latin rendition of a Greek phrase meaning "in this you will conquer."

According to Wikipedia.org, the Knights Templar were among the most famous of the Western Christian military orders. The organization existed for approximately two centuries in the Middle Ages. It was officially endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church around 1129, became a favoured charity, and grew rapidly in membership and power. Templar knights, in their distinctive white mantles with a red cross, were among the most skilled fighting units of the Crusades.

Today, the Knights Templar is "an international philanthropic chivalric order affiliated with Freemasonry." Predominantly in the United States the Knights Templar is the final order joined in the York Rite. Unlike other Masonic bodies which only require a belief in a Supreme Being regardless of religion, membership in the Knights Templar is open only to Christian Masons who have completed their Royal Arch and in some jurisdictions their Cryptic Degrees.

From KnightsTemplar.org:
The Knights Templar is a Christian-oriented fraternal organization that was founded in the 11th century. Originally, the Knights Templar were laymen who protected and defended Christians travelling to Jerusalem. These men took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and were renowned for their fierceness and courage in battle.

Today, the Knights Templar display their courage and goodwill in other ways. They organize fund-raising activities such as breakfasts, dinners, dances, and flea markets. They support Masonic-related youth groups and they raise millions of dollars for medical research and educational assistance.
Note: I saw this emblem on three gravestones in Evergreen Cemetery. The first two granite markers were in the same plot. The third was a ledger marker in another part of the cemetery.

Elmer L. Waits
1899-1949
John T. Cass, M.D.
1851-1937
John C. Boney
July 30, 1850
Sept 9, 1930

06 September 2013

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.
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