To Be Remembered – Some Thoughts About Inscriptions On TombstonesHenry Croatman Eddie Brewster Croatman Born January 17 1845 Died Dec. 2, 1878
Died June 4, 1876 Aged 19 Mo’s 26 Days
Come view the grave and drop a tear Budded on earth
O’er your kind brother once so dear To bloom in heaven
Who once delighted in your charms
But now he’s bound in deaths cold arms
When wandering around Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn I especially take note of monuments with epitaphs. Rather than gravitate towards the costly and grand monuments that abound in great numbers, I am drawn to those anonymous graves with no known fame attached to them. It is interesting to see how these people, buried long ago, are eulogized in stone.John F. Abbott Died Sept. 23rd, 1857 Aged 23 Years and 10 Months A Good Life Hath But Few Days But A Good Name Endureth Forever
Many of these monuments mark the last resting spots of common people with unextraordinary lives. But we all have a story to tell. Tombstones try to do that. How can you sum up a person’s life with a few sentences?A Tribute of Love to My Dear Wife ANN LEE Died Feb. 25, 1887 Aged 58 Years A fond and faithful wife, A dear devoted mother, And a kind friend to all
Without their simple marker and words engraved upon them, these people’s lives would go completely unrecognized. Today, it is hard to fathom that thought, considering all the information that is now collected and shared about us.C. Ella Ellison Wife of John T. Ellison Born March 22, 1846 Died December 20, 1900 A Loving Daughter, A Devoted Mother, A Faithful Wife
One thing I notice during my strolls, married women are often memorialized as being a “faithful wife.” You never see the words, “a faithful husband.”
I often wonder if the deceased chose the words for their grave marker. It does happen occasionally, as displayed here on the obelisk of prosperous businessman James H. Noe, who it turns out was murdered in one of New York’s most notorious criminal cases of the 19th century. Noe penned the following for his final words before he succumbed to his injuries at the age of 58 on August 26, 1875:Farewell loved wife and children For me shed not a tear I’m happy now with Jesus And there is no weeping here Though hard it seemed to tear me From your fond hearts away My saviour called me to him And I could no longer stay
Most of the time the deceased obviously did not write their own epitaphs, and the words were written by a spouse or family member. This is how their families wanted to have their loved ones remembered.CHARLES M. TITUS 1843 – 1906 Bury him deep in the meadow Drop on his grave a tear And sigh as you read the inscription A soldier and a friend is buried here
For some reason, I assume the words on old grave markers to be noble and true. But I remind myself that many times those words may not be an accurate portrayal of who these people were.
Cynics abound, especially in old books. This excerpt from The Great Metropolis; A Mirror Of New York by Junius Henri Browne; 1869 expresses deep skeptical thoughts on the tomstones and epitaphs found at Green-Wood:
When you read all the inscriptions and epitaphs, believe them true, and wonder not how it happens that the grave is the great saint-maker. You may think, when the predicted resurrection comes, that most of the risen, on reading their tombstones, will be convinced they were put into the wrong graves. But do not say so, lest you be deemed a cynic, or a truth-speaker, which is much the same.
Console yourself with the reflection that whatever life you lead, your virtues will blossom in the dust; that men who carve in marble are privileged to lie; and that, being fairly out of everybody’s way, and incapable of coming back, your worst enemies will hardly take the pains to remember they hated you.
But as for those who loved me, ask you? Never mind them. Sir Egotist, and they will not disturb themselves about you. Love has often done men more harm than good in this World; but in the tomb it will do you neither one nor the other; for the grave-grass heals the deepest wounds that love has ever made.
There are 79 people named Thomas Smith interred at Green-Wood. How do you distinguish one from the other? Add an initial, put up a plaque.Thomas B. Smith In appreciation of his counsel and general aid In commemoration of his benignity of character and exemplary life And in loving memory of an upright man and steadfast friend This tablet has been erected by his associates and friends
President Theodore Roosevelt is not buried next to his first wife, Alice Hathaway Lee who died at the age of 22. Alice resides at Green-Wood in the Roosevelt family circle next to Roosevelt’s mother who died the same day. The words on Alice’s white marble tombstone have been obliterated by acid rain. Theodore Roosevelt, like many others who lost a spouse at a young age, grieved and dealt with that painful loss by never discussing it or looking back.In Sacred Memory of My Beloved Wife Helfrid Sofia Youngren Born in Stockholm June 10, 1890 Died January 11, 1919 To my Helfrid: True and devoted, Faithful and kind, She was my all as through life we sailed Pure as a lily, in heart and mind: With a love supreme that never failed. O.A.Y. En Van Som Hon Ej Mer I Livet Fans Putte
Helfrid Youngren died at the age of 28. Even with that declaration of love, Mr. Youngren is not buried at Green-Wood. Like Theodore Roosevelt, he must have moved on with his life. Memento Mori.