Things I Learned From a Cemetery Tour

Mission On Halloween, my husband and I went on a historical tour of the oldest cemetery in the town that we lived in. This is the first one we have gone on together, and the first I’ve attended in years. I learned so many things!

The town I live in has a Mission. The Mission Cemetery wasn’t located near the Mission itself. I learned that where it currently stands was not the original location of the cemetery. It had been moved several times before it arrived at its permanent location.

Sometimes, the reason for moving the cemetery was financial. The real estate it was located on had gone up in value and a buyer wanted to turn the land into something that he could make money from. When this happened, the graves were exhumed and moved to a new location.

There was a time when a flood made it clear that the location for the cemetery was not a good choice. The caskets rose from the flooded ground, floated down the streets, and into the river. They would have been washed out to sea had it not been for tree limbs and other debris that blocked them.

The cemetery is old enough to have several large tombstones. Carved angels were watching over the graves of children. A huge, fat, heavy tombstone had a cross with an odd looking symbol carved on it. It looks like a dollar sign, with an extra line through it.

The tour guide confirmed what I’d learned about the symbol. It has nothing to do with money. Instead, it indicates that the person buried beneath the gravestone was a Christian. The letters stand for the first three letters of Jesus’ name in the Greek alphabet.

The sheer size and weight of the tombstone itself was a representation of money. The bigger, and more ornate, the gravestone, the more money it cost. The town I live in didn’t have a granite or marble deposit, so tombstones made from those materials had to be shipped into town by railroad, (which added to the expense).

I learned that the graveyard was the final resting place of people who had Irish, Scottish, Portuguese, French, or Chinese heritage. This was a result of different waves of immigrants who came to the town, or the county, over the years.

In the Irish section, many of the graves read “Native of Ireland”. Others noted the exact county in Ireland that the person originated from. I’d learned that this was a common practice of Irish families, but this was the first time I’d had the opportunity to see actual gravestones that included this information in person!

Image by SD Dirk on Flickr