Time for part IV of our Graveyard Art series.  This is Debbi here, and I wanted to thank all of you and especially Claudia for the interest and comments!  Its been such a fun series, and I have enjoyed sharing with all of you! And now for a question directly to Claudia.  Your pictures have come from some very old and historically interesting cemeteries.  Can you share some information about them?

Whippany Burying Yard, Whippany, NJ.  Oldest established cemetery in New Jersey, dates back to 1718.  Features burials going back to the French & Indian War, Revolutionary War, Civil War and was added to the Historic Register in 2009.  Here is a link that shows some of the inscriptions 20121228-059found on the stones. *click the link*

Greenwood Cemetery, Boonton, NJ.  Active open cemetery, created as a “park-style” cemetery during the 1800s.  Notable burials include several New Jersey politicians serving during the Civil War years and a silent movie era screenwriter. There must be quite a German population here, because I saw several headstones with very typical German names and also this one here with an inscription in German. Fascinating!

 First Presbyterian Churchyard, Morristown, NJ. First burial of record in 1731.  Excellent example of burial grounds directly adjacent to a church.  Church established 1733, was used as a Revolutionary War hospital.

Saint Marys Cemetery, Whippany, NJ.  Catholic cemetery, established 1860, still active. Example of park-style cemetery and has Catholic iconography on stones.

Recommended Reading (all links are to Amazon.com – excellent starting point with book reviews):

Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Inconography. Keister. *click the link*

Beautiful Death: The Art of the Cemetery. Penguin Books. *click the link*

Your Guide to Cemetery Research. Carmack. *click the link*

And this book is of particular interest for the history behind burials, customs, etc.  A very intensive book but well worth the read.  The Hour of Our Death: The Classic History of Western Attitudes Toward Death over the Last One Thousand Years.  Aries. *click the link*

A search by state on Amazon will bring up many books that cover cemeteries in your own localities.

Google Links for cemetery symbolism (these are excellent!):

Grave Addiction

Vintage Views

The Cemetery Club


While many cemeteries are safe, it is never a good idea to venture into any cemetery without knowing something about the area, and never after dark unless you are with a tour group or someone in an official capacity.  For example, cemeteries in New Orleans are notorious for their danger and you are advised not to go alone or if you are alone try to stay near a tour group or in plain site of one.  Wear comfortable walking shoes and be aware of the weather as you will be exposed to the elements for a period of time.  Do not try to open or enter any tombs or mausoleums.   And always always trust your inner intuition.  If it does not feel right, leave immediately.  Cemeteries in any city can harbor more that just the ghost of its inhabitants!


20130105-02120130105-042Just a few more questions, Debbi 🙂

What are these two? The one on the left I have never seen before.  I cannot make out what it is supposed to be.  Very unusual and interesting.  Perhaps something was in those spaces and now gone?  The right stone features lotus blossoms and you will notice one stem appears broken.  Lotus represents creation and rebirth, but the broken stem evokes a life cut short.  I see no dates on this one so I cannot say for sure that this person died young.  It also looks as if the stone has sunk into the earth as the lower inscription is partially obscured by earth.


 Interpreting graveyard symbols:


Ivy:  friendship and also immortality as the ivy is an evergreen plant.

Clover:  possible reference to Irish ancestry.20121231-021


Sun (stylized):  Depends on the style.  General suns that look like actual suns means ascension into heaven.  If there are other details, they could be Masonic symbols, or references to a member of the police force.

Angel (skull):  reference to mortality, soul guardians, soul keepers or guides


Monograms: depends on the actual monogram or letters represented.  Most are Christian-based symbols usually Catholic in nature and there are numerous types out there.  And, there are stones that have the actual monogram for the deceased on them.

Common simple i.e. non-symbolic ornaments?  I have not run across many of those.  There are stones that have pretty floral or geometric carvings on them that at first glance seem to be simply decorative.  I would venture to say, however, that these are placed on the particular stone for definite reasons and research would probably bear out some reference to a symbolic meaning.  As an aside, there are such things like pictures of the deceased that can be inserted into the stones.  Some stones have a niche that might look like something is missing, but these niches were for placing vases of flowers or candles during visitation with the dead.  There are stones in the shapes of cars, musical instruments, etc. that are representative of the actual interests of the persons buried with that stone.

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self portrait, Claudia Willison, ImagesByCW

Claudia is founder, owner and soul of ImagesByCW Photography. Born in Germany, traveled though Europe and Australia, she currently lives with her American husband in New Jersey, USA. She blogs about what she loves: Photography, art, internet and computers in general, as well as cooking and windsurfing. When not working she enjoys reading, music, windsurfing and listening to the sound of waves and the wind, preferably together with her husband.

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