While I was in Texas May-July, my cousins on mother’s side of the family came up for a week. We went out to the family cemeteries for Sis and me to show them the family gravesites. I have found cemeteries fascinating since I was a child and often went to them with both of my grandmothers–the official gravetenders. As most folks know, women have always been designated the caretakers, and apparently, that is whether those needing care are dead or alive.
We were fascinated by the designs on the headstone of our great-great-great-great grandmother, Susan Brogdon Timmons. Susan died in 1892. The design on the top of one side seems to be a ribbon linking two palm leafs. At the base of the stone is a series of 3 “comma-like” designs and a series of half-circles segmented into triangular pie-shapes with two half circle rays above each half-circle. The University of Georgia Wilson Center DigiLab on gravestones and symbolism indicates 3 of anything usually represents the Trinity. The half-circles may be a stylized rising sun, which was often depicted with “rays” above it, indicated rising. Egyptian-like designs were also found in the Rural Cemetery Movement, although this was more of an extension of the use in Europe’s Egyptian Revival/Classical styles than directly from Egypt.
It is also of interest that graves are often marked with verse, which originated in the early Puritan and Colonial burial yards (Jessie Lie Farber, Early American Gravestones, 2003). The example above is on an unmarked grave in the Tonk Valley Cemetery.
If tears could build a stairway, and memories a lane, I’d walk right up to heaven, and bring you home again.
There are numerous references to the poem’s first four lines in “memorial stones” but I could find nothing else about it. This example seems to be a vernacular version, possible home-made.
Finally, the John L. Bias vernacular concrete marker intrigued me. A folk grave marker is one
…having been created by hand who normally does not make grave markers as a profession. (Gordon Bond & Stephanie M. Hoagland, Made from My Own Hand: An Introduction to Concrete Grave Markers, 2014)
Bond and Hoagland’s research identified the majority of concrete vernacular markers dated between 1900 and 1950. Economics often were behind the choice, and indeed, I have found a variety of vernacular concrete grave markers in African American cemeteries in Mississippi, and Hispanic grave markers in Texas. John Bias was the son of Gideon Sylvester Bias and was born in Springfield, Greene County, Missouri. Records indicate Gideon Sylvester Bias had Cherokee heritage, and indeed, 7 half-siblings of John Bias were living in Oklahoma at the time of their deaths and one half-sister’s married name was Five Killer. Bias also had 8 full-siblings.
How interesting! I made many pilgrimages to family cemeteries while growing up. I still do today, even to my ex’s family graves. I’ve always enjoyed the verses, but will be looking for more details from now on!
I think this verse must be relatively recent since I could not find any information about it other than on commercial sites selling stones with those 4 lines. I did find one site that replicated the poem–several stanzas long–but it is attributed to “Anon.”
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It’s really interesting to learn about the meaning of 3 symbols on a gravestone.
I never knew that either, but I suppose it makes sense in that context.