Tombstone Styles & Symbolism

The term “grave marker” is pretty straightforward: it refers to an above-ground item or monument that indicates where a person is buried. The type of marker that a person plans to have marking his or her grave or that a family selects after a person has died can depend on many different things: financial resources, aesthetic preference, culture, religion, geographic location-just to name a few. I’m going to share some of the types of grave markers that I’ve encountered in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

This table tomb, or pedestal tomb, was in Raleigh, NC’s City Cemetery. This kind of marker was popular in England and in our country’s southeastern states.

Table tomb

Next to this grave was another table marker, which resembles a box marker but what differentiates the two is that a table marker can stand if one of the sides is removed. As you can see, part of this marker is missing on one side.


Raleigh-City Cemetery
A tablet marker is a slab of stone, metal, or wood that stands upright, either with or without a base. This example of a thin stone tablet has a gothic arch.


Mt. View, Danville, VA


Markers made to look like rustic boulders or field stones became popular in the mid-1900s. This is the back of one such monument. The front of the boulder on the left is more textured, but I neglected to photograph it.
Highland Burial Park, Danville, VA


Ledgers are very thin slabs of stone that sit very low to the ground, without a headstone or footstone. These ledgers are in All Saints Episcopal Church’s cemetery in Pawleys Island, SC.
This desk marker is in Danville’s Green Hill Cemetery. It has a slanted top and features a scroll on the top of the desk part. This particular desk top sits on a pedastal, but often they are found without the pedestal, just sitting on the ground.


All Saints, SC



Flower box markers are common for burials during the Victorian Era. In those days, graveyards were treated more as parks, where families gathered for picnics or to spend time at the gravesite, perhaps tending to the flowers that had been planted in the flower box piece of the marker. In addition to a headstone, flower boxes have a curb that sits a few inches above the ground with a stone bed several inches below. This is where the dirt is filled in to create the “box.”    Children’s flower box markers are often called cradles. The photo on the right was taken in Greensboro’s old First Presbyterian Church cemetery and shows the marker without dirt. These are often called bedstead markers because they resemble the headboard, footboard, and frame of a bed.
Pedestal marker contain a wide variety of shapes and architectural styles, including obelisks. An obelisk has four sides and the tops can be vaulted, unadorned, or have decorative items at the top point such as urns, lamps, or drapes. This vaulted obelisk is in Danville’s Oak Hill Cemetery.
This photo from Raleigh’s City Cemetery contains several pedestal markers.

Here’s a brick oven style grave from Danville’s Grove Street Cemetery. I’m not sure if the body is actually inside the bricks or underground. Many times this type of grave is called a “false crypt.”


This marker is from Danville’s Schoolfield Cemetery and has a double tympanum. Often these types of headstones, sometimes called “twin markers” are found on the graves of married couples or siblings.

I have only seen one tent grave; this one was in Raleigh’s City Cemetery. This style was probably introduced as a means to keep cattle or other animals from walking on the grave or to help shield the grave from the elements.


Open book markers are a nod to the Bible. They were frequently made of marble and used to mark the grave of a husband and wife.




*This entry was originally posted in December 2012.


A Return to Old City Cemetery

Before stopping by Spring Hill my first destination in Lynchburg last weekend was Old City Cemetery. Longtime readers here probably recall some of my previous excursions to OCC, which I consider to be one of Virginia’s loveliest burial grounds.


Continue reading “A Return to Old City Cemetery”

Agnes and Lizzie Langley: The Madams of Buzzard’s Roost

It amuses me that Lynchburg, Virginia is largely associated (in reputation) in some way, shape, or form with Jerry Falwell’s conservative Christian influence, but in 1804 the city was described by one evangelist as “the seat of Satan’s Kingdom.”

The two business-savvy women buried in the plot here at Old City Cemetery lived and worked in one of  Lynchburg’s seediest (and probably also one of the most interesting) neighborhoods: Buzzard’s Roost.

Continue reading “Agnes and Lizzie Langley: The Madams of Buzzard’s Roost”

Tombstone Tuesday – Eliza Jones Morris

Eliza Jones Morris’ grave marker still stands in Lynchburg’s Old City Cemetery, although over the decades it has seen its share of wear and tear. It appears as though it has been repaired in several places and the tablet had possibly cracked all the way through the middle at some point, which would have resulted in part of the marker spending some time on the ground.

Eliza was born in 1868, a daughter of Austin and Mollie Jones. Looking at census and Old City Cemetery’s burial records gives us some background information on this individual. Sometimes records conflict and it’s difficult to determine which one is more accurate. The burial records give a birth year of 1866, but the census lists Eliza as being born in 1868.  According to the 1900 census, Eliza and  her husband, William Henry Morris, were living with Eliza’s parents at 1301 Taylor Street along with two of her brothers and three of her sisters. The age range of Eliza’s siblings in the house then was from 10 to 25. Austin was a shoemaker and Eliza’s husband, who went by the name of Henry, was a day laborer. Everyone listed in the residence was classified as “black” and we’ll see another example of how census records can have discrepancies soon.

By the time the 1910 census was taken, only Henry, Eliza, and an adopted daughter, Emma Morris (18), were living together at 1311 Taylor Street. All of them were classified as “mulatto” (mixed) instead of African-American. This was most likely due to an error on the census worker’s part. No other records indicate that Eliza was of mixed heritage. What’s also puzzling is that on the census report for the same year at 1404 Polk Street, Henry, Eliza, and Emma are shown in the household with Austin, Mollie, and Eliza’s siblings. Could they have accidentally been double-counted?

Eliza died on October 11, 1918 of lobar pneumonia at her residence, 1311 Taylor Street in Lynchburg. Henry died in 1923 from the same illness at a house on Floyd Street. I was unable to find out what became of Emma or how she came to be adopted.

I was able to get a street-view of the house at 1311 Taylor Street where the family lived and where Eliza passed away. Of course, it probably looked much different then.

Old City Cemetery Burial Records

Old City Cemetery’s Scatter Garden for Pets

This is the statue of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecology which stands amidst the ashes of a number of pets in a special section of Lynchburg’s Old City Cemetery. From the hill where the scatter garden is located one has a lovely view of the pond and a dovecote. It’s a very serene spot  to be located so close to the downtown area.
view of the pond

Our trip to OCC was last minute, so I wasn’t even aware of the Scatter Garden for the Ashes of Beloved Animals but upon finding it I was especially moved. People who don’t live with animals probably roll their eyes at the notion of planning special send-offs for pets or for doing more than flushing the proverbial goldfish down the toilet, but for many people a pet is another member of the family. When such a family member passes away, the grieving process begins and for many people this process includes doing something to preserve and honor the memory of the dead.

While visiting the main part of the cemetery, an orange cat decided to give us the guided tour. It seems like at least of half of the cemeteries that I visit have cats roaming the grounds. Our guide reminded me of Ginger, my 20-year-old cat that died earlier in the year.

I’m not sure if this particular cat has a name. There is a black and white cat named Arthur that’s known as the cemetery’s resident cat.

Update-Feb. 2015: I’m reblogging this entry in light of the recent loss of my cat, B. She had an undiagnosed and untreatable heart condition that manifested following a freed blood clot. Requiescat In Pace, old friend.

 I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul. -Jean Cocteau

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Diana F+ Cemetery Pictures from the Past

Before I joined Find a Grave, my cemetery photos were more of landscapes rather than focused on individual markers. I found some older photos that I took around 2009 with a Diana F+ camera, back before the popularity of Instagram and Hipstamatic. I’m going on memory as to where these pictures were taken, so if you see a picture that doesn’t look like it came from the cemetery I listed, please let me know.

These were taken in Cedars Cemetery in Milton, NC.

These are from Lynchburg, VA’s historic Old City Cemetery. (You should really visit this cemetery if you’re in the area.)

These are from Green Hill Cemetery in Luray, Virginia. I had taken an additional roll of photos while here but when changing the film in the cemetery, I exposed it to light. You’ve gotta hate it when that happens.

Elizabeth Buracker Wheat