Rock of Ages 2: Social Influences

Social Influences
During the 17th and 18th Centuries, graveyards and cemeteries looked like dark, gloomy cities of silence. Stones were poorly clustered in disarray — tilted, sunken or broken with tall trees and grasses, brambles and other flora growing between or around them. Some headstones faced west, matching footstones (if they were affordable and survived the environments) faced east and the mounded graves lay between the stone pairs. [14]

Inscriptions on headstones faced west, away from the deceased’s head; and if there was a footstone, its inscription faced east, away from the deceased’s feet. This was done to avoid walking on someone’s grave. [15]

Grave location during this time was tightly crowded and haphazard like a minefield; where the tallest tablets reflected the importance of certain individuals, the smaller ones — their children, and the odd stones in between represented the rest of the family. [16] Occasionally, burials in the adjoining plots were of the in-laws, provided you knew the maiden names that married into the main family. [17]

Cemetery maintenance was definitely a problem, but it was not until 1847 that the first rural garden cemetery layout, with its winding drives through spacious park-like landscaping, designed around gentle hills and tranquil man-made lakes — was introduced [18] in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio. [19] City leaders approved the new layouts because it addressed their concerns about crowding and public health by relocating the cemeteries outside city limits. Romantic thinkers and religious leaders, who described death as a natural rest and a universal salvation, had their views visually reflected with pleasing natural settings of peace and serenity. [20]

It was at this time, tombstone was becoming very unpopular, and although the word gravestone was bring used more often, it too was replaced with the term “monument.”

Another free expression introduced during the Victorian Era was the extravagant sums of money paid out for funerals and gravestones. The higher social circles expected it from you, especially if you wanted to maintain your respectability and retain your status position in the social order. Families were also loyal to certain funeral parlours, [21] but if they were thinking to save on these expenses the family was considered gauche and shunned.[22]

If you observe the different varieties of grandiose expressions of memorials found in any large cemetery, you will find that Society was very fickle. Choices made, following fashionable customs and influences of the time, were quickly criticized and rebuked [23] within a few years.

[14] Farber, Jessie Lie. Early American Gravestones: Introduction to the Farber Gravestone Collection.  American Antiquarian Society
[15] ibid.
[16] ibid.
[17] Morton, Sunny McClellan. “Tombstone Tales,” Family Tree Magazine (July 2010, Cincinnati, OH: F&W Media Inc.)
[18] Farber, Jessie Lie. Early American Gravestones: Introduction to the Farber Gravestone Collection.  American Antiquarian Society
[19] Haddad, Diane. “History Haven,” Family Tree Magazine (September 2010, Cincinnati, OH: F&W Media Inc.)
[20] Morton, Sunny McClellan. “Tombstone Tales,” Family Tree Magazine (July 2010, Cincinnati, OH: F&W Media Inc.)
[21] Krout, Lavonda. “Maiden Voyage,” Family Tree Magazine (July 2010, Cincinnati, OH: F&W Media Inc.)
[22] Milk Row Cemetery Guide, Somerville, Massachusetts (2002, Somerville Historic Preservation Commission) [Internet] http://www.somervillema.com
[23] Sinan, Alma. Symbols in Stone: White Bronze Monuments, The Raven’s Call (Winter 2010, Toronto, ON) [Internet] http://www.the-dark-place.org/images/ravencall/raven’s_call_10.pdf

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