A Project Sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy and the Southern Memorial Association
Special thanks to the following people, who contributed to the research and design of this exhibit:
James Deetz · Gertrude Fraser · Bill Henika & Steven Turpin · Nancy Marion & The Design Group · Nancy Loving Rice · Darlene Richardson · Constance Walters Swartz · Jane B. WhiteWhat is a gravemarker?
A gravemarker is literally anything that marks a gravesite and that was put in place for that purpose by human activity. The landscape of the cemetery is a complex fabric of gravemarkers, representing every period of cemetery history, from its opening in 1806 to the present day. Unfortunately, most of the cemetery's original gravemarkers either were removed in various "clean-up" efforts this century, or have been lost to time and weather. Below are some of the different of gravemarkers found throughout the cemetery today:
Plantings & Floral Decorations
Flowers are the most timeless and universal gravemarkers. They have been found in the graves of some of the earliest humans, and are used in funeral or burial by most cultures of the world today.
Since the 1880s, artificial ﬂowers, made of wax, silk, or plastic, have become popular alternatives to freshly cut flowers. Artificial flowers are longer-lasting and are not limited by season or climate.
Perennial flowers, shrubs, and trees, planted on graves or in plots, also provide long-lasting beauty and shade. The evergreen ground cover, periwinkle, illustrated above, is one of the most common plantings found in the cemetery today.
Plot enclosures are structures or objects that surround an individual grave or family plot. They include stone walls and corner-markers, concrete curbing, and fencing made of ironwork, wood, or pipe.
Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, people built walls and fences around their family plots to define private burial space, deter vandals, and prevent roaming livestock from grazing on heirloom plantings or knocking over gravestones.
The ironwork enclosure of the Tucker family plot, illustrated above, was erected in the 1830s.
A "grave good" is an object intentionally placed at a gravesite, as a memento of the deceased or as part of a religious ceremony. A grave good may be a child's favorite doll or toy, or a photograph of a loved one.
Grave goods are perhaps most strongly identified with African-American gravesites. African-American grave goods have been known to include ceramic jars, glass bottles, pieces of mirror, clocks, silverware, marbles, and tin cans. This tradition of covering graves with everyday housewares and personal originated in West African mortuary ritual.
Gravestones & Headmarkers
Gravestones and headmarkers (made of wood or metal) are the most familiar types of gravemarkers in the cemetery. They include simple wooden crosses, tall marble obelisks, and metal markers provided by funeral homes.
Please see the exhibit panels beside each window to learn more about the stone gravemarkers in the cemetery. The sand-ﬁlled carving table, seen inside the building on the right, was used to secure gravestones while they were chiseled by hand. By 1950 the ease and popularity of sandblasting made this method of gravestone carving obsolete.