Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Emma Gene Wensel Venn

Emma Gene Wensel Venn

Born 1884

Died 1918

She served as a Red Cross worker in France during World War I and was killed in the line of duty in 1918.
She was the daughter of Theodore V. Wensel, a Confederate Veteran, who conducted a general store named Rumble & Wensel at Natchez Under-The-Hill.

Emma's headstone is located at The Natchez City Cemetery.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

EarthTrek Gravestone Project

I came across this article while searching cemetery projects, I thought it sounded interesting and thought I would share it with you. If you or your paranormal research group has an interest in cemetery preservation as well as scientific data collection ,  then this might be of interest to you. As well as the animal lovers who can get involved in the hummingbird project mentioned as well.
If you have an interest in the project please click the link at the bottom of the article to find out how you can participate with this scientific cemetery project that is open free to the public.

Gravestones Hold Secrets to Earth's Climate Past

By Charles Q. Choi,
Special to LiveScience
posted: 09 December 2009 04:24 pm ET

EarthTrek draws upon the local citizenry to build global information databases.
Gravestones may hold secrets of how the Earth's atmosphere has changed over the centuries, and scientists are now asking for the public's help to read these stones.

Little by little, atmospheric gases dissolved in raindrops cause the marble in gravestones to erode. As such, headstones can serve as diaries of changes in atmospheric chemistry over the years due to pollution and other factors.

By gathering data from marble gravestones of different ages across the globe, scientists hope to produce a world map of the weathering rates of these stones. They are asking volunteers to take measurements using simple calipers and GPS, following a set of scientific protocols that are explained online at the Gravestone Project. They can also log data into the scientific database at the site.

Naturally, volunteers are asked to follow local regulations, laws and customs when visiting graveyards, and they may need to seek permission from land managers before collecting data from these sites. Also, graves are sacred places for many in the community, and volunteers are asked to not walk on, disturb or damage a grave or gravestone in any way.

This project is part of a new global citizen science program called EarthTrek, which is administered by The Geological Society of America in partnership with organizations across the country and around the globe. Other scientific research projects currently underway through EarthTrek involve spotting hummingbirds and investigating invasive plant species.

"Being involved in EarthTrek provides people with the opportunity to be involved in real scientific research," said EarthTrek director Gary Lewis. "The data they collect while participating in a wonderful outdoor activity may make a real difference in the way we manage our environment. And it's free to participate."

More projects are soon to be added. "We are working with scientists on new projects involving hail, natural springs, animal and plant inventories, and much more," Lewis said.

Spnsored by:


and many others

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Are Cemetaries Haunted ?

by Angela L Burke

This is a common question and a topic often debated among ghost hunters and paranormal researchers. Skeptics and critics will say that ghosts are figments of our imagination brought on by too much television and over active imaginations. But if you know anything at all about history or the Bible for that matter, you will find that there have been reports of ghosts and spirits in cemeteries for hundreds of years. Before there was such a thing as the syfy channel or scooby doo cartoons. Movie makers and screen play writers didn't invent the idea of ghosts, they borrowed those ideas from historical accounts, legends and stories,Biblical accounts and even works of great poetry from the likes of Poe and Dickens. Many would say, what reason would a ghost have for hanging out with his decaying bones? Why would a ghost want to stay in a cemetery?

Well, I can think of a few reasons right off the top of my head and while I don't believe that all cemeteries are haunted , I do believe that some of them are.

And I will tell you why.

First, cemeteries are filled with sad and lonely emotions that I personally believe can leave, as potent of an imprint on the surroundings, as the emotions that linger in homes, hospitals and other reported haunted places.
It is the place where the body is laid to rest or in some cases is laid in unrest. A place where family members come to visit and grieve, bring flowers and trinkets and spend time talking to their departed loved ones and friends.
I like the way author & paranormal investigator Kenneth Biddle of PIRA put it when he wrote "

" this is not a science with clear-cut rules. The habits and traits of ghosts can change with every case, with every sighting. Cases differ from residual haunting to interactive spirits, all the way to footsteps that go from the second floor to the third but then one night they are heard going from the third to the second. Who knows why that ghost changed its mind? My point here is that ghosts are absolutely the hardest things to predict. The cemetery is also the place we go to visit them, leave flowers or little reminders, to talk to them and to show kids and grandkids that this is where we remember them. We still follow our religious beliefs and say that they are in a better place, but we still associate that grave with the deceased. Well, while we're there, we're putting out emotional energy. Tons of it! Remembering the good times, wishing they could've been hear for some event, missing them. That's a lot of energy, and I would think that that might draw the spirits to us. It would be like a family reunion. Assuming that they can see each other, I would expect grandparents that have passed on to act just as they did while they were alive, showing off their grandkids to other spirits! "

I have to agree that these are valid reasons why a ghost or spirit might choose to hang around the cemetery. Another reason might be that the headstone is the only thing that the deceased has left to tie him to this realm, maybe he doesn't want to let go, out of fear, anger or some other unfinished business. They say that a spirit will likely act the same in death as they did in their earthly life, so is it so hard to fathom, that maybe the spirit just isn't ready to accept his fate and maybe doesn't have anywhere else to go? Or that he has his own reasons for hanging around, be it to protect the bodies of those he loves, possessions or material wealth he may have been interred with, or possibly he was sleeping and some noisy people just woke him up from his rest?

I also think, that it is possible, that spirits can move around wherever they prefer to be. So it is also a possibility that they come and go or appear to just stop in for a visit as some would say, when ever they feel like it. It is also a possibility that they don't understand or don't want to accept their death and by surrendering to the grave they have to admit defeat. I also have a theory that I have never heard anyone mention. Being from a religious upbringing, I have heard many stories about where the spirit supposedly goes after death, some say heaven, some say hell, some say purgatory, some say they sleep until Christ returns in the rapture. Well, I don't know about you , but if you look at my insomniac sleeping patterns, I do little sleeping here in this life and I think it is a possibility that some of them are just plain restless from waiting. Many are also buried near their loved ones, so who is to say they aren't visiting with them while they wait? Not to mention, if you really look at the whole picture, century after century of people have lived, and died on this planet and some have been buried century after century on top of each other. In reality, your house could be sitting on a lost cemetery and you don't even know it. Many of the places that we think of as big cities and subdivisions, were once, farmlands, wood lands, Native American homesteads as well as battlefields and places of skirmishes and places where people may have been buried while migrating to the west or pitching their cabin . So who is to say there aren't bodies buried in your backyard. It is possible. And could be the cause of why some houses are haunted in my opinion.

I have had many personal experiences in cemeteries. I have loved visiting them since I was a child. My grandparents use to take me to the family cemetery all the time when I was little, I would walk around and explore while I waited for them to put out the flowers and clean up the grave sites. I had one experience there when I was a child, I saw a small girl sitting alone under a huge tree, she appeared to be picking clover and humming. She looked up at me and smiled and then vanished into thin air. I have revisited this area of our family cemetery many times over the years and have recorded EVP of a little girl humming on at least two occasions under that same tree.

EVP stands for Electronic Voice Phenomena - the recording of a voice or sound  on a digital or tape recorder not heard by the human ear at the time of recording but is audible on playback. It is theorized that EVP are the disembodied voices of the dead. while there is no scientific proof that they are spirits of the dead, there is so much evidence to support the possibility, that it is widely accepted among many paranormal researchers as scientific data worth including.

I have seen and photographed images that appear to be apparitions, and recorded over 100 EVP or Electronic Voice Phenomena in cemeteries. So I believe that as paranormal investigators, if we are going to include evp as possible evidence of hauntings in homes and other places, why would we exclude those EVP recorded in cemeteries?

Yes, sometimes they are harder to record due to external noises and audio contaminates, which is why cemetery recordings are excellent training for EVP techs and investigators, after many hours of listening to them, you become familiar with the sounds that natural things make, such as leaves crunching, wind,walking in grass, birds, passing cars, airplanes and voices that carry, but when a voice speaks into your recorder clear and plain, or answers your questions directly and you know that you were alone....well, then you might have a different opinion of the possibility of ghosts in cemeteries.The argument that there is too much daytime noise contamination might be true depending on the location, but if you have ever been on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere in the middle of a summer night at a cemetery, you will realize that the night time is not as quiet as you might think and comes with its own set of noises to be logged and identified. Exp, crickets, frogs, owls, critters, etc... I personally believe that if you are experienced with EVP and the documenting of sounds you do hear during the session, that you will be able to pick out what is natural and what is unexplainable. I have been on many home and indoor invewstigations where external traffic noise and voices from the outside have been audible. Working with recordings from cemeteries is an excellent way to train the ear to recognize external noise. A good , clear EVP is usually hard to discredit especially if you are a good note taker and are paying attention to your surroundings..

I have recorded voices telling me their names without my asking and then I stop and read their headstone, not knowing that they had whispered it to me, just prior. I have heard angry voices, telling me to leave, recorded voices asking me to take their picture and I have heard recordings of voices telling me how they died as well as asking for specific members of their families or items they are looking for. I have been told that I'm stepping on their grave as well as being told that they are standing right behind me and don't seem to understand why I can't see them.

I think it is important when investigating cemeteries or any other areas presumed to have spirit activity, that investigators show respect for the dead and speak to them as you would want to be spoken to. I am not very impressed by researchers who provoke in cemeteries, or any other places for that matter except maybe the jail house or a place where hard core spirits might loom such as pubs and saloons. I think that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, but that is my own personal opinion, but, I do make it known to those who I investigate with, that I do not approve of provoking spirits for the sake of a reaction in the cemetery. I have the utmost respect for burial grounds and those who are interred there. Cemeteries are sacred , hallow ground in my opinion and should be treated as such.

I also do not discredit the theory that cemeteries could hold portals, where spirits can possibly enter and leave our realm at certain times. One Sunday morning several hours before church, at the family cemetery I spoke of earlier, my fiance' Tony and I  went to investigate on a beautiful sunny morning, no wind, no noise other than an occasional bird or cow from a nearby pasture and out of 2 hours of audio we recorded 19 minutes of the strangest sounding EVPs I had ever heard. Increasing weird static mixed with voices of men and women some talking, some crying, some screaming. the static escalated the farther into the old section we walked. The clip was taken apart and analyzed by a retired Navy Radio Specialist and he sent it back to me in disbelief, he claimed to have counted over 23 unexplained voices all recorded on decibel levels that cannot be heard by the human ear,so many in fact he could not separate them all. At this same time, Tony and I both had experiences of hearing footsteps, having cold chills, static charge on the hair of the neck,  feeling dizzy and nauseated, difficulty breathing and the general feeling of being rushed out of the cemetery. We never heard any of the sounds at the time. We ruled out external utility wires and radio contamination due to the decibel levels of the recordings, the lack of visible electrical lines, and the rural location and we have been back on numerous occasions to the same area and have not been successful in recreating this noise which ended as abruptly as it started as soon as we left the old section of the cemetery. the recording returned to normal for the remainder of our time there. we could find nothing wrong with our equipment.

One tip I would suggest to new investigators is that they don't limit themselves to doing just night time visits. The majority of paranormal activity I have experienced in cemeteries has occurred in the daytime.In fact I can probably count on both hands the EVP I have recorded at a night time investigation. I do not believe that ghosts only come out at night. Not to mention, it is a lot safer to go in the daytime. Cemeteries, especially rural ones are filled with sinking holes, uneven ground and obstacles that can be dangerous to your physical well being, even if there are no ghost, not to mention random sometimes deadly critters and creepy humans that like to come out at night. The last night time investigation I went on, was cut short, due to the very ,scary screeching/screaming sounds of what my dad describes as, a wild cat or a panther. So I would suggest that until you have been there several times in the daylight and know your way around the area very well, that you avoid concentrating on night time investigations. In fact, in some states, such as our Great State of Mississippi, it is illegal to be in the cemetery after dusk especially if gated, without specific permission from the cemetery owners. On daytime investigations, there usually, is not a problem with permissions, unless it is private owned. If you are unsure about the laws in your area, contact the local authorities who will be more than happy to tell you.

I would also recommend that if you are able to record an EVP in a cemetery, that you visit that area frequently, so that if there is a presence there, that it has a chance to get to know you. I have found it to be most helpful when visiting ethnic cemeteries or places where I have no personal family or friends interred. I can only imagine what the spirits present must think of a white girl they have never seen before,walking into their territoryand  asking them all sorts of questions. I frequently bring flowers and spend a great deal of time just sitting and talking at the headstones where I have recorded EVP on previous visits. One cemetery in particular that I visit often , I feel a strong attachment to several particular headstones and on the last visit, I recorded a woman's voice announcing my arrival by saying my name. It sounds very much like the same voice I have had the privilege of recording in that same area.

The study of the paranormal and the subject of ghost has no clear cut answers, only theories and questions, which is why I do not think cemeteries should be discounted. Just because it might not be our own first choice of places we think, we would haunt. There are many places I can't imagine being stuck in, that are presumed haunted. So what better place to start than at the sites that hold the dead. I think too many paranormal investigators think it is silly to pursue them, and that's fine with me, it just means it will be a little quieter in the places I record and investigate. So in closing, are cemeteries haunted? There is only one way to find out, and that is by investigating them with the same dedication we would give a house or any other place that has reported activity. Visit and investigate one yourself and draw your own conclusions.

If you are interested in hearing some of the cemetery EVP we have recorded, visit our paranormal web site at there are numerous cemetery EVP posted on our cemetery pages.

If you have thoughts or comments or stories about cemetery hauntings, please feel free to share them with me in the form of a comment.

Until Next Time............

Graveyard Glossary


  • Altar tomb -A solid, rectangular, raised tomb or gravemarker resembling ceremonial altars of classical antiquity and Judeo-Christian ritual.

  • Bevel marker -A rectangular gravemarker, set low to the ground, having straight sides and uppermost, inscribed surface raked at a low angle.

  • Burial ground -Also "burying ground;" same as "graveyard" (see below).

  • Burial cache- A place of concealment for burial remains and objects.

  • Burial mound -A mass of earth, and sometimes stone or timber, erected to protect burial chambers for the dead.

  • Burial site -A place for disposal of burial remains, including various forms of encasement and platform burials that are not excavated in the ground or enclosed by mounded earth.

  • Cairn- A mound of stones marking a burial place.

  • Cemetery -An area set aside for burial of the dead; in Latin American culture known as "campo santo," or holy field.

  • Cenotaph -A monument, usually of imposing scale, erected to commemorate one whose burial remains are at a separate location; literally "empty tomb."

  • Chapel -A place of worship or meditation in a cemetery or mausoleum, either a freestanding building or a room set apart for commemorative services.

  • Chest marker A solid, rectangular, raised gravemarker resembling a chest or box-like sarcophagus.

  • Cinerary urn A receptacle for cremation remains, or ashes, in the shape of a vase.

  • Columbarium A vault or structure for storage of cinerary urns.

  • Crematorium A furnace for incineration of the dead; also crematory.

  • Cremation area An area where ashes of the cremated dead are scattered or contained.

  • Crypt An enclosure for a casket in a mausoleum or underground chamber, as beneath a church.

  • Epitaph An inscription on a gravemarker identifying and/or commemorating the dead.

  • Exedra A permanent open air masonry bench with high back, usually semicircular in plan, patterned after the porches or alcoves of classical antiquity where philosophical discussions were held; in cemeteries, used as an element of landscape design and as a type of tomb monument.

  • Family cemetery A small, private burial place for members of the immediate or extended family; typically found in rural areas, and often, but not always, near a residence; different from a family plot, which is an area reserved for family members within a larger cemetery.

  • Flush marker A flat, rectangular gravemarker set flush with the lawn or surface of the ground.

  • Gatehouse A building at the main entrance to a cemetery that is controlled by a gate; a shelter or habitation for the gate keeper.

  • Grave A place or receptacle for burial.

  • Gravemarker A sign or marker of a burial place, variously inscribed and decorated in commemoration of the dead.

  • Graveyard An area set aside for burial of the dead; a common burying ground of a church or community.

  • Grave shelter A rectangular, roofed structure usually of wood, covering a gravesite, enclosed by boards or slats or supported by poles; in tribal custom used to contain burial offerings and shelter the spirit of the dead; also grave house.

  • Headstone An upright stone marker placed at the head of the deceased; usually inscribed with demographic information, epitaphs, or both; sometimes decorated with a carved motif.

  • Interment A burial; the act of committing the dead to a grave.

  • Ledger A large rectangular gravemarker usually of stone, set parallel with the ground to cover the grave opening or grave surface.

  • Lych gate Traditionally, a roofed gateway to a church graveyard under which a funeral casket was placed before burial; also lich gate; commonly, an ornamental cemetery gateway.

  • Mausoleum A monumental building or structure for burial of the dead above ground; a "community" mausoleum is one that accommodates a great number of burials.

  • Memorial park A cemetery of the 20th century cared for in perpetuity by a business or nonprofit corporation; generally characterized by open expanses of greensward with either flush or other regulated gravemarkers; in the last half of the 19th century, those with flush markers were called "lawn" cemeteries.

  • Military cemetery A burial ground established for war casualties, veterans, and eligible dependents. Those established by the Federal government include national cemeteries, post cemeteries, soldiers' lots, Confederate and Union plots, and American cemeteries in foreign countries. Many States also have established cemeteries for veterans.

  • Monument A structure or substantial gravemarker erected as a memorial at a place of burial.

  • Monolith A large, vertical stone gravemarker having no base or cap.

  • Mortuary A place for preparation of the dead prior to burial or cremation.

  • National cemetery One of 130 burial grounds established by the Congress of the United States since 1862 for interment of armed forces servicemen and women whose last service ended honorably. Presently, the Department of Veterans Affairs maintains 114, the National Park Service (Department of the Interior) administers 14, and the Department of the Army has responsibility for two.

  • Obelisk A four-sided, tapering shaft having a pyramidal point; a gravemarker type popularized by romantic taste for classical imagery.

  • Ossuary A receptacle for the bones of the dead.

  • Peristyle A colonnade surrounding the exterior of a building, such as a mausoleum, or a range of columns supporting an entablature (a beam) that stands free to define an outdoor alcove or open space.

  • Pet cemetery An area set aside for burial of cherished animals.

  • Potter's field A place for the burial of indigent or anonymous persons. The term comes from a Biblical reference: Matthew 27.7.

  • Receiving tomb A vault where the dead may be held until a final burial place is prepared; also receiving vault.

  • Rostrum A permanent open air masonry stage used for memorial services in cemeteries of the modern period, patterned after the platform for public orators used in ancient Rome.

  • "Rural" cemetery A burial place characterized by spacious landscaped grounds and romantic commemorative monuments established in a rural setting in the period of the young republic and at the dawn of the Victoria era; so called for the movement inspired by the American model, Mount Auburn Cemetery (1831) in the environs of Boston; a cemetery developed in this tradition.

  • Sarcophagus A stone coffin or monumental chamber for a casket.

  • Screen memorial A vertically-set gravemarker consisting of a tablet with wing elements resting on a continuous base.

  • Sepulcher A burial vault or crypt.

  • Sexton Traditionally, a digger of graves and supervisor of burials in the churchyard; commonly, a cemetery superintendent.

  • Shelter house A pavilion or roofed structure, frequently open at the sides, containing seats or benches for the convenience of those seeking a place to rest; erected in rustic and classical styles to beautify a cemetery landscape.

  • Slant marker A rectangular gravemarker having straight sides and inscribed surface raked at an acute angle.

  • Stele An upright stone or commemorative slab, commonly inscribed or embellished on one of the broader vertical surfaces; a gravemarker type revived from classical antiquity.

  • Table marker A rectangular grave covering consisting of a horizontal stone slab raised on legs, which sometimes are highly elaborate; also "table stone."

  • Tablet A rectangular gravemarker set at a right angle to the ground, having inscriptions, raised lettering or carved decoration predominantly on vertical planes, and top surface finished in straight, pedimented, round, oval, or serpentine fashion.

  • Tomb A burial place for the dead.

  • Tomb recess A niche or hollow in a wall that shelters a tomb.

  • Tumulus A mound of earth protecting a tomb chamber; in the ancient world, important tumuli were encircled by drum-like constructions of stone.

  • Vault A burial chamber, commonly underground.

All Photos by Angela L MSSPI
Glossary definitions courtesy of: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service

Friday, January 1, 2010

Cemetery Headstone Symbols

Cemeteries can tell us much about our ancestors. Information can be gleaned from the words carved on headstones. We can learn a great deal concerning family relationships from the placement of a grave within the cemetery itself.

As more and more researchers venture into cemeteries to seek out ancestral graves, questions arise about the meanings of the artwork and symbols found on the tombstones. The researcher wants to know what a symbol might mean and if the meaning of the symbol might provide more clues about this ancestor and his life, ideals, associations, etc. Can reading and understanding these symbols help us gauge and unravel some quintessential element of this ancestor’s life?

Understanding the Symbols
The task of interpreting the symbols on a tombstone is a daunting one. Though most symbols engraved on a stone have a textbook meaning, it is possible that the particular item you find engraved on the tombstone is there simply because someone liked the look of it. Therefore, it will have no meaning beyond the taste of the deceased (if that person requested what was on the stone) or the preferences of those who choose the stone’s appearance. The point is, many people who choose grave motifs have no idea that the ornamentation they select has meaning. What they do know is that they like the design and feel it is just somehow right. Also, the ideas of the person designing the monument cannot be known to us, so the true representation may never be ascertained.

At the same time, symbols can express ethnic identity, religious affiliation, association membership, or simply the predilection of the time or community. A symbol that was commonly used in one area might mean something completely different in another area. Therefore, it is important to understand the history of the area or of the time.

During your visit to the cemetery, you may or may not be able to interpret the meaning of the symbol on gravestones. Either way, you will enjoy the inherent beauty and workmanship involved in carving these intricate designs. Cemetery engravings are art in the truest sense of the word. The stonecutter was an artist, and some of the sculptures you’ll find in cemeteries are as beautiful as art found in the finest museums. I have only provided photos of a few of the hundreds of symbols you might encounter, I will attempt to add some new photos this spring when I return to the cemetery for more researching and documenting.

Alpha and Omega

The first and the last letters of the greek alphabet, and a biblical reference to Christ, in Revelation, being "the beginning and the end."


Hope, steadfastness



Bird, flying

Indicates the flight of the soul to God.


Often, represents the Bible, but, it can simply mean knowledge. An open book might signify an open heart or mind, open to the word of God. A closed book usually indicates a completed life.

Child, sleeping

A typical Victorian signifier of a child's grave.


The Columbine is the Colorado state flower, and is common on grave markers in the state, even if it is not found much outside of the state, it is said to indicate gentleness.

Column, broken

Sorrow, broken life


A symbol of the Eucharist, this example also has grapes and a vine, reinforcing the meaning.


Often associated with Christ, with early Christian imagery and part of its coded language, it also indicates bounty, or plentifulness.

Gates, Portals

The entrance to the world beyond the earth, the entrance to heaven.

Hand, pointing up

Usually indicates that the deceased has ascended into the heavenly realm.


This monogram represents the first 3 letters for "Jesus" in the Greek alphabet. In some cases, the letters are overlaid, to create the icon seen to the right. Not to be mistaken for a dollar sign.


Often a symbol of Christ, also, innocence. This is the most common Victorian marker for a child's tombstone.


A Lily is an image of purity, but can also be a symbol of Easter, or the resurrection. Lilies were often used for funerals due to their strong scent which tended to help disguise less pleasant aromas. Note in the example, there are three lilies. Three of anything is usually an allusion to the Trinity.

Lily of the Valley

Lilies of the Valley, in cemeteries, tend to represent renewal and resurrection, as they are among the first flowers to bloom in the spring. They can also be a symbol of submitting to God's will, innocence and purity.


A lyre is the instrument of Apollo. It could also be referencing the harp, which is a symbol of heavenly music, or hopes of heaven. These types of stringed instruments are often seen as the root of divine music. A harp could also indicate someone of Irish heritage.

Oak Leaves

Oaks are symbols of many things. Strength, endurance, faith and virtue are but a few of these. The oak speaks to the steadfastness of belief, even through tough times. Some believers think that Christ's cross was made of oak. The oak tree is considered sacred to many cultures.

Olive Branch

Most people understand an olive branch as a symbol of peace. It can also be meant as fruitfulness, purification, and victory.


A rooster usually indicates vigilance. Roosters were put on weather vanes to "watch" against evil.


Roses are known for their fragrance and their beauty. Often they are emblems of the brevity of life or sorrow. In Christian iconography white roses indicate purity, red roses can signify martyrdom.


A ship is sometimes a representation of the church. It can also simply indicate a life on the sea, as a fisherman or other sailor.


The thistle is a reminder of the inevitability of death, or remembrance. It is also commonly used to indicate a person of Scottish descent.


A torch, as something which illuminates the darkness, represents enlightenment. It can also indicate zeal, liberty or immortality.

Torch, inverted

If the inverted torch has a flame, it indicates that life is continuing after death. If there is no flame, it means the extinction of life and mourning.

Tree Trunk, usually broken

Premature death

Urn, draped

Anything draped indicates mourning. An urn typically represents the soul, or mortality. The drape can also be an allusion to the "veil" between this world and the next.

Weeping Willow

It may be obvious, but, this tree is an image of mourning. In some cultures, it also indicates immortality.

Wheat Sheaves

An emblem of the divine harvest. If paired with grapes, it's a symbol of the Eucharist.


Victory in death. In Christian imagery, it is an indestructible crown worn by the triumphant believer.

Fraternal Organizations

Symbol, Meaning Picture

Independent Order of Oddfellows

The Independent Order of Oddfellows are primarily associated with the three links of a chain. Each "link" in their chain represents their motto "Friendship, Love and Truth," and often the letters "F, L, T" are inscribed within a link each. The order is sometimes referred to as "the poor man's Freemasonry," as the organization shares many of the symbols, such as the all-seeing eye, with the Freemasons. In this example, note the palm fronds flanking each side of the image. Palm fronds represent victory, and, in Christian contexts and cemeteries, it carries the idea of "Victory in Death."

Knights of Pythias

A heraldic shield with a suit of armor, or any of these with the letter F C B indicate a member of the Knights of Pythias. The letters stand for "Friendship, Charity and Benevolence The Knights of Pythias were fond of symbols, and commonly used more than 20,000 different ones within their organization.

Knights Templar

It is said that the original Knights Templar founded the Freemasons. The symbol, a Maltese cross with the cross and the crown, includes the latin phrase "In Hoc Signo Vinces," which translates to "In This Sign, Conquer"


The Shriners are an organization only open to 32nd Degree Master Masons and Knights Templar. Their icons often include the scimitar and other appropriated middle eastern designs.

Woodman of the World

The latin motto of the Woodman of the World, "Dum Tacet Clamat" translates as "Though silent, he speaks," a particularly fitting statement for cemetery art. The Woodman of the World is an insurance company, that originally insured men in particularly dangerous occupations. In the 1920s, an insurance policy with the Woodman also included a grave marker. Most of these came in the form of trees. While not every tree-shaped monument a cemetery belongs to a Woodman of the World, many do. To the Woodman, the tree stump indicated equality. Note that the example also includes a dove with an olive branch, representing peace, and an axe and wedge, indicating woodcraft/craftsmanship.

Art and Meanings



Broken column–decay, loss of family head

Broken ring–severed family circle

Candle being snuffed–loss of life


Figure with dart–mortality

Grim reaper–death personified

Hourglass–time has run out

Scythe–death cuts us down

Skull, crossed bones–death

Spade, crossed spade and shovel–death


Angels–spirituality and tomb guarding

Holy books (1)–Christianity


Cherub–angelic innocence


Crown–glory of life after death

Cross–faith (There are many different types of crosses, and each may represent something different. For a good explanation of the various types of crosses, see a part of the City of the Silent web site.

Heart (sacred)–suffering of Christ


Star of David–Judaism


Fruits–eternal plenty

Full rose–death in the prime of life

Ivy–friendship and immortality

Laurel–worldly accomplishment and heroism

Lily–innocence and purity, the virgins’ flower

Morning glory–beginning of life

Oak, oak leaves, and acorn–power, authority, or victory (Often seen on military tombs.)

Palm branch–victory and rejoicing

Poppy–eternal sleep

Roses–completion, brevity of earthly existence


Thistle–remembrance, or Scottish descent



Sprouting tree–life everlasting

Tree trunk–brevity of life

Stones shaped liked tree stumps–Woodman of the World

Weeping willow–perpetual mourning, grief

Wheat strands or sheaves–divine harvest

Hand, pointing upward–pathway to heaven

Hands, clasped–farewells or the bond of marriage

Hands, praying–asking God for eternal life

Hands, blessing–blessing for those left behind

Harp–praise to God


Joined hearts–marriage

Rod or staff–comfort for the bereaved

Stars and stripes around eagle–eternal vigilance and liberty (Often seen on military tombs.)

Urn with flame–undying remembrance


Birds–eternal life, resurrection

Butterfly–short life

Dog–good master worthy of love

Dove–innocence, peace

Lamb–innocence, usually a child’s grave

Lion–courage, eternal guarding

Rooster–awakening, resurrection

Resurrection, Eternal Life, Immortality

Angel, flying or trumpeting–rebirth, resurrection

Bird (dove) or bird flying–eternal life, resurrection


Flame, light, lamp, torch–immortality of the spirit, resurrection

Garland or wreath–saintliness, glory, victory in death



Star–death could not overpower the light

Sun–light, warmth, renewed life, life everlasting

Trumpeters–harbingers of the resurrection

Urn–immortality (The storing of the vital organs was of extreme importance to the ancient Egyptians who believed that life would be restored through the vital organs placed in the urn.)

Trade and Occupation

Anchor, sextant, or cross staff–mariner

Axe, steel knife, or cleaver–butcher


Bowl and razor–barber


Coulter (hoe), flail (threshing implement)–farmer

Crossed swords–military, high rank

Crown, hammer, anvil–blacksmith

Leather cutter’s knife, nippers, or awl–shoemaker

Loom, shuttle, or stretchers–weaver

Open book–teacher

Rake and spade–gardener


Stalk of corn–farmer

Swingletree (rod for beating flax)–farmer

Wedge and level–mason


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