Tablets & Headstones This type is the most popular and frequently encountered grave memorial found in old cemeteries. A variety of materials have been used for this type of memorial, ranging from wood to stone. While there are many shapes and sizes of tablets and headstones, most exhibit a few common features. First, most are not enormous monuments. They tend to be 80 to 100 centimeters in height and vary in thickness from 8 to 20 centimeters. The headstone may be placed by itself in the ground or may be set on a base or on top of another grave structure such as a ground ledger. The term "headstone" derives from the position of the stone above the interred corpse’s head. Once it was common to use a headstone and a smaller stone a short distance away called the footstone. Footstones were usually made of the same material as the headstone but were much smaller. The footstone was usually inscribed with the initials of the deceased.
Simple tablet Tends to be rectangular and the same thickness throughout; no curves, angles or tapering features. Faces may be polished or plain. Simple lines of construction.
Domed tablet Tends to have more angles and may be the same thickness throughout or thicker at the base. Tapers to a domed top having a convex shape or sloping angles.
Shouldered tablet Tends to have far more intricate angles and cuts on the top portion of the headstone. There is much variation in this type of tablet.
Gothic tablet Similar to the domed tablet, but the angles along the top of the headstone and the shoulders are steeper. Same styling as the Gothic arches popular in European churches. Rustic tablet/headstone Tends to be thicker and more robust than other designs. It is common to see these memorials with a pattern that looks almost like a stone wall. The main inscription face is usually polished and the polished section may be in the shape of a large arrow pointing upward (direct line to heaven). The hymn "Rock of Ages" is said to have inspired the popularity of rustic tablets in the 1920s and 1930s.
Markers This type of grave memorial is also common in old cemeteries, and they can be found set into a base, on a ground ledger or just by themselves. Most markers tend to be thicker than headstones/tablets and lower to the ground. The one exception is the plaque, which is quite thin. Where tablets/headstones are made of almost any material, markers tend to be made from stone, cement or bronze. There are great variations in the sizes of markers, from tiny ones on children’s graves to huge monumental ones on prominent family grave sites. Because markers are lower to the ground, much bulkier and constructed of more durable material, little damage has occurred to them over the years.
The following are some of the most common types of markers:
Ledger Groung Ledgers are rectangular in shape, taking the dimensions of the grave itself. They are usually made of granite, sandstone or marble. They are bulkier and constructed low to the ground. All of these factors contribute to the long life expendancy of these markers.
Simple block Rectangular block that tends to be quite thick. Usually made of marble or granite.
Flat marker Tends to be thinner than other markers and lies flat along the ground. May be set into a base or just by itself. Usually these markers have only enough room for a very simple inscription such as name, years of birth and death and a three- or four-word epitaph.
Plaque Tends to be very thin and made of either bronze or brass. Can also be found on a slanting, raised foundation. Bronze is cast and shows very little deterioration over time. Lettering is usually in relief. Brass develops a patina with its reaction to the environment and leaves a green-coloured residue when in contact with water. Lettering is usually incised
Slant-faced marker Comes in a variety of sizes and styles. Main characteristic is the slant of the inscription face, usually at a 40 to 45 degree angle, allowing the inscription to face a certain direction (usually east). This slant in the stone’s face allows for a greater surface area for inscriptions. Most often these markers are made of granite, marble or cement.
Scroll-faced marker Tends to lie flat and is fashioned in the shape of a scroll, seen easily from the sides of the marker. The inscription is always placed on the scroll. The symbolic reference is to "divine law." Most scroll-faced markers are made of granite but there are some examples in marble.
Open-book marker Tends to lie flat and take on the dimensions of an open book (religious symbolism referring to the Bible or the word of God). This type of marker was very popular in the 1920s and 1930s. Almost all open-book markers are made of granite or marble. Very common on husband and wife burials with the husband’s inscription on the left, as in the marriage ceremony.
Vertical-face marker with slant-top A flat vertical face with inscription on one side and the top of the marker has a sloping cut usually at a 45-degree angle. Generally no inscription is placed on the top. Although these stones are not common in larger city cemeteries, they do exist in moderate numbers in small older cemeteries in rural areas. This type of marker is usually made of white marble or granite.
Tree-Stump Tombstones Tree-stump tombstones depict a lifelike tree and is traditionally carved out of limestone or marble. This tombstone first appeared in the 1870's and was popular for approximately sixty years. Seen in Europe and the United States, these carvings qualify as folk art. The tree-stump design shows a living tree that has been cut down, suggesting that the individual was also cut down in the prime of life. Branches are also seen to be cut-off close to the stump, symbolising other family members who have died before their time. In some instances the initials of these family members appear to be carved into these cut-off limbs.
Inscriptions are cut into the "wood" where the bark has been cut away, or more often, a scroll appears to nailed to the stump, or suspended from a rope hanger. Various flowers and ivy are often carved as offerings at the base, or growing around the stump. An assortment of items are often seen on top of the stump, ranging from a cross, bible, anchor, flowers, or even the name and dates for the individual buried.
Obelisks, pedestals, & columns The obelisk is, to quote McDowell and Meyer in The Revival Styles in American Memorial Art, one of the "most pervasive of all the revival forms" of cemetery art. There is hardly a cemetery founded in the 1840s and 50s without some form of Egyptian influence in the public buildings, gates, and tomb art. Napoleon's 1798-99 Egyptian campaigns, the discoveries at the tombs of the Pharaohs, and our new Republic's need to borrow the best of the ancient cultures (Greek revival, classic revival, the prominence of classical studies and dress, etc.) led to a resurgence of interest in the ancient Egyptian culture. Obelisks were considered to be tasteful, with pure uplifting lines, associated with ancient greatness, patriotic, able to be used in relatively small spaces, and, perhaps most importantly, obelisks were less costly than large and elaborate sculpted monuments. Many of the largest, and most spectacular monuments fall into this category. All obelisks and columns borrow heavily from Egyptian, Greek and Roman architectural styles. The original obelisk was square in section, tapering up to a pyramidal capital. During the 1800s, stonemasons used a variety of obelisk types, some with straight shafts and different tops from blunt (truncated Roman influence) to cross-vaulted on the top. Obelisks and columns have three distinct sections: the base (bottom support), the shaft (center column piece) and the capital (the top structure).
The one great advantage of obelisks, pilaster columns and pedestals is the available space for inscriptions. Where headstones and markers only have one inscription face, obelisks, columns and pedestals provide at least four inscription faces. These types of monuments are usually found on family burials or those of people of high social status. Because obelisks, columns and pedestals are higher, they also tend to stand out more in the cemetery and are easily located.
The following are some subtypes in this type:
Standard obelisk Shaped like a finger or ray from the sun. Egyptian in origin to represent "Ra" the giver of all life. Usually made of granite, sandstone or marble. One variation is the white bronze obelisk made of cast zinc that appeared in the late 1800s, but had disappeared by the 1920s.
Truncated or blunt obelisk Similar shape to the standard obelisk but with a rounded capital (top). Roman in origin, it appears to be a modification of the Egyptian obelisk. Usually made of sandstone, marble or granite.
Vaulted obelisks Shaft is similar to the other obelisk styles but the capital (top) is distinctive. The most common variation is the cross-vaulted obelisk. The cross-vaulted obelisk’s capital peaks cross over, which gives a "+" or cross-vaulted pattern. On some of these vaulted obelisk styles, the capital is designed to look like the vaulted ceilings in churches.
Columns come in a variety of shapes and sizes similar to obelisks.
Gateway/bi-columnar monument Usually appears as two columns supporting an arch. The columns can be Egyptian, Greek or Roman in styling. The columns and arch represent a gateway or entrance or what is referred to as "The portal to eternity." Gateway columns are commonly found where the husband and wife are buried side by side. This monument type is also very common on Masonic graves. Usually gateway columns are free-standing, but can be found on top of ground ledgers. They also appear in a great variety of sizes and usually are made of either granite or marble.
Broken column Usually in the classical Greek style or with a tapering shaft. Originated in England about 1815. Denotes the burial spot of a child or young person whose life was cut short.
Classical Greek column Tends to have a straight shaft with flutes; shaft can taper slightly or be straight. Column may have an urn at the top. Usually made of marble or gray granite.
Standard column Tends to have a rounded shaft that does not taper and has no flutes, but a smooth surface running up to the capital, usually with an urn on top. This type of column is usually made of marble, sandstone or granite.
Pilaster columns Pilaster columns are a type of column, but are a combination of the obelisk and the column monument. The pilaster column has a square or rectangular shaft and is either flat topped or topped with an urn. The term "pilaster" can also be used to describe a support column protruding from a wall. The terminology is confusing because "pilasters" have been used both in descriptions of single free-standing columns and of eclectic monuments.
Romans appear to have first used this type of column, which was elaborately decorated with acanthus and garlands. The most famous historical pilaster is the "Pilaster from the Severan Basilica" in Italy, which is a rectangular column dating from the 3rd century A.D. and is elaborately carved out of marble. Because of the confusion, it is better to refer to pilasters as either "pilaster columns" (free-standing) or "pilasters" (eclectic memorials). Cemetery pilaster columns tend to be smaller than most other column memorials.
Sometimes pilaster columns are referred to as pedestals. Pedestal monuments are generally much thicker in the shaft and larger.
Stele Greek, small column or pillar terminating in a cresting ornament and used as a monument.
Pedestal monument Tends to be large, have four faces for inscriptions and flat vertical sides (tapering or straight) topped either with a flat capital or pediment (triangular roof-like structure). There may also be an urn above the pediment or the capital. The styling is adapted from architectural styles found in ancient Pompeii and usually is enriched with inscriptions, motifs and ornamental styling on four faces. Most often, these monuments are large and made of either granite or marble.
Eclectic monument Tends to be large and incorporate two or three styles in one structure. This type of monument is commonly a large flat screen (for inscriptions) topped by either support pilasters or round or standard columns supporting a pediment capital. These monuments are generally massive and made of granite.
Crosses The cross can take many forms and the symbolic meanings and history of each type is very complex and elaborate. Many types of crosses are used as cemetery monuments, but
The four most often encountered as grave memorials are:
Latin cross The Latin cross is common in Roman Catholic cemeteries or Catholic sections of cemeteries. Standard flat cross made of wood, granite, marble or granite. Very susceptible to damage because the cross bar or shoulders can be easily broken. Calvary cross This is a Latin cross mounted on a three-tiered base. The three-block base stands for the Trinity or faith, hope and charity (Protestant) or faith, hope and love (Roman Catholic). A Calvary cross can be made of any material, ranging from wood to stone.
Celtic cross The Celtic cross dates back to the Celtic cultures of England, as early as the 5th century. Very elaborate decoration, highly ornate in styling. The center of the cross has a circular design that represents eternity. Almost always in granite or marble.
Rustic cross This cross was a popular grave memorial in the 1920s and 1930s. The rustic appearance takes a form almost resembling wood. Almost always made of granite or marble, it may have a rough granite base.