By John Morgan
Picture a dark, windy night, you hear the crack of distant thunder, leaves crunch as you approach the cemetery, as you open the creaky cast iron gate to the cemetery, a cat lets out a banshee-like shriek and bolts past you…You get the picture, besides, we were running out of clichés.
Few things are spookier than cemeteries, gravestones, and our bad creative writing.
And you thought math was hard
Death is a tough subject. It is like looking at your bills to pay pile, eventually you will have to deal with it –but there are so many others things you would prefer to be doing first. One epithet put it this way:
Great, so even in death, we are still haunted by debts! Hopefully you have the mettle to stay with us as we step through the cemetery gates and enter the world of gravestones, headstones, and crypts.
This is one Halloween symbol that will make our traditional ancient Greek, Roman, and Celtic friends look like the “New Kids on the Halloween Block.”
Stones in the Stone-Age
Neanderthals and early man left indicators of memorializing those who passed away by performing various burial rituals. It appears, they frequently took great pains to ensure that their fellows were buried in deep caves and pits.
There were some very practical, as well as spiritual, reasons for memorializing the dead. Clearly people need to show respect and remembrance for the departed, but proper inurnment (is also theorized) reduced the spread of disease and kept scavengers from, well, scavenging.
What good are you?
The first headstones and markers were not much more than heavy stones placed over the burial site. The conjecture here has been twofold:
1. Reduces scavengers success rate
2. The dead stay put!
Which will it be…the Carrot or the Stick?
It is fascinating to see the evolution of headstones. Designs moved from a simple rock, to frightening winged death head figures and skulls. This symbolism was not lost on the people of the day: “Better start living a virtuous life or there will – literally – be hell to pay!”
The Victorian era designs incorporated sweet pudgy cherubs, elaborate majestic crosses, billowy white lambs, and large sorrowful angels.
Of course, people did try to “dress to impress,” individuals and families with power would – and still do – build elaborate “I love me” shrines (think Facebook but with a lot more marble) as tributes to their greatness and success.
OK, OK, we hear you…we will try to stay focused on how this all relates to Halloween!
People are dying to see your Halloween decorations
Today, as we rapidly approach Halloween, people are in their garages and workshops preparing to build their own Halloween graveyards. Check out this video on how realistic you can get!
And what would a tombstone be like if it failed to have personalized witty inscriptions. Such as, “Here Lies The Pillsbury Dough Boy. He will rise again.”
What will future Halloween decorations look like? We recently spoke with a Director with the Northern California Neptune Society and he indicated that in California approximately 50% of people are opting for cremation over a traditional burial. So perhaps in the coming years, people will be “urning” for a different type of lawn decoration.
The ceremonies and rituals associated with memorializing are thought to strengthened the bounds of family and community. Grieving is a very natural part of how humans (and some animal species) cope with death. Look at this amazing article: Chimpanzee’s grieving.
Till the bitter end
Even though designs and materials have changed through the years and are still evolving, one thing hasn’t changed – our desire to memorialize, grieve and reflect on those who “assume room temperature.” As someone put it, “Death must be great, because no one has come back from it yet!”…well at least that is until we run out of rocks!
Jack & Charmian London’s Grave
Glen Ellen, CA