Some Grave Thoughts

A little gravestone humor: “Joke’s Over, Let Me Out Now” or “Re-incarnating: I’ll be Right Back. (So Don’t Touch My Stuff)” or maybe “I Told You I Was Sick.” This post is a little different than the Ranger’s usual offerings. Unlike some people, I have no fear of wandering around cemeteries. I am always amazed at the different grave stones and what they have to say. Some are very plain and simple and others are very elaborate but all have a wealth of history to tell the observers who take the time to read the epitaphs carved on them. The following post contains information on some local burial grounds and the unusual and artistic markers found in them.

Photos below are from the Presbyterian Cemetery and St. Paul’s Anglican Cemetery in Millbrook.

My favorite grave stone is that of Gordon McIvor. In 1850, McIvor built a famous oat mill in Millbrook. When he died in 1909, he was buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery. He composed his own epitaph and carved it himself on the millstone he had originally cut for his mill. His epitaph read “Beneath this stone lies the bones of him who did it dress. His work is done he has gone home. And now he is at rest.”

Gravestones are also known as grave markers, headstones and tombstones. In the early days before cemeteries, the early settlers used to have burial plots near the family homes. These graves were usually marked with rough stones, rocks or wood, apparently as a way to keep the deceased from rising. The early stones contained only basic information such as the deceased’s name, age and the year of their death. As public cemeteries evolved in the 19th century more importance was given to stones to memorialize the dead. Stones now appeared with a small epitaph or a few words about the deceased and might be written by the individual or someone else.

Photos below are from the Bowmanton Cemetery, 761 Bowmanton Rd. Baltimore, Ontario.

Bowmanton cemetery’s most famous resident is William Gummow a.k.a. “Weird Willie.” His epitaph reads: “Young people as you pass by, O think of me for you must die. Repent in time nor time delay, for I in my prime was called away.” William Gummow did not burn down his home with his family trapped inside. He did not commit any crimes and did not die by hanging himself from a tree in the cemetery over a lost love. As a labourer on the family farm, his early death in 1901 at the age of twenty followed two weeks of fighting pneumonia. Halloween night was party night for the local teens to hang out at the Bowmanton Cemetery to drink, vandalize and make up scary stories for many years.

The great advantage of the epitaph tradition is that by reading the inscription on a gravestone, one can derive much information about the deceased and can trace much of his or her family history. The Victorian era (1837-1901) greatly paved the way for the more elaborate tombstones and head stones. Cemeteries began to appear more like parks as they had lavish decorated graves sites. The term gravestone began from a Jewish custom in which visitors to a grave once used to place stones at the head as a way to honor the deceased.

Photos below are from the Red Cloud Cemetery, Red Cloud School Road, Warkworth, Ontario.

Because of the increased popularity of cremation today, gravestones are used now for cremation burials as well. A cremation burial refers to the burial or internment of the cremated remains of a deceased, often buried in the family plot saving the need for a separate and often expensive site.

One is often asked the question “why do the early gravestones face east or why do they face west?” The most accepted story says that bodies were laid head to the west, feet to the east so that “at the sound of the cock’s crow on the day- of- judgment, the resurrected would arise to face the dawn.” Or by the same logic “that when the Lord comes the second time, he’ll come from the east. So the dead will rise correctly in greeting.”

Joseph Scriven and Eliza were buried “feet to feet” so that when resurrected, they would stand “face to face.” Eliza Catherine Roche, Scriven’s young fiancé died of consumption just prior to their wedding day and was buried in the Pengelley Family Cemetery south-east of Bailieboro, Ontario. While living in England Joseph’s first fiancé fell from her horse while crossing a bridge to join him on the other side. She drowned in the river Bann the day before they were to be married. A later love was taken away from him by a rival. See post: What A Friend We Have – Joseph Scriven.

Photos below are from the Precious Cemetery, Lot 21, Concession 3, Dale Road. (West of Cty. Rd. 18)

To facilitate the visitors reading the gravestone inscriptions without actually walking on the grave, the head and footstones were set with their carved surfaces facing away from the grave. That is why the inscribed faces of old headstones tend to face west and those on footstones east. A famous quote once said “Death is a debt that I have paid and so must you.”

Regards, Ranger.

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