Sunday, October 12, 2014

Epitaphs & a 1912 Ghost Story

On Epitaphs by Stephanie Grace Whitson

For some reason, Halloween seems to be a time when folks develop a somewhat macabre interest in mourning customs, cemeteries, and tombstones. My interest in such things isn't seasonal. As a historical fiction author who seeks out pioneer cemeteries, marveling at the sculptures often found there and thinking about the stories hidden behind the names and dates, I've collected quite a number of fascinating epitaphs over the years. My fascination even led to my developing a program called "Stories in Stone."

In 1904, this epitaph was cast into a bronze plaque mounted on a granite boulder. 
Warm summer sun, shine kindly here,
Warm southern wind, blow softly here,
Green sod above, lie light, lie light,
Good night, dear heart,
Good night, Good night.

In 1876, this epitaph tossed a bit of realism at anyone who happened to visit the grave.
Dear companion remember me,
As I am now so you must be.
Prepare for death and follow me.

This epitaph from 1893 made me think of the poignant monument I photographed years ago in the San Miniato al Monte cemetery above Florence, Italy:

There a beautiful region above the skies,
And we long to reach its shore,
For we know we shall find our Mother there,
The tender eyes and silvery hair of our loved one gone before

And there's the rather ascerbic one from 1895:

She hath done what she could.

A sense of humor is not automatically negated when it comes to epitaphs. In Maplelawn Cemetery in Kentucky, the wife's monument reads, "Do not stand at my grave and cry. I am not here; I did not die." The husband's epitaph? "If we did not die, what are we doing here?" Now don't you think they would have been great fun at a dinner party?

In Kent, England: "Fear God, keep the commandments, and don't attempt to climb a tree, for that's what caused the death of me."

And hope springs eternal:

From 1858: "While on earth I lived a single life. In death, I shall hope for a Husband."

One of my favorites simply states: "Born to die, August 4, 1840 ... Died to live, May 30, 1878." There's an eternity of beautiful spiritual truth hidden in those few words. 

One day, I hope to have this bit of verse by Calvin Miller added to my tombstone (yes, it's already there in Wyuka Cemetery in Lincoln, NE, just awaiting the date of death to be added):

"Graves are only doorways cut in sod,
And dying is but getting dressed for God."

Do you enjoy wandering old cemeteries? What's the most interesting tombstone you've ever found? Does it suggest a story just waiting to be told?


Not long ago, I was reading a 1912 book and came across a fascinating ghost story written by a pioneer from Oregon Trail days. If you'd like a free copy, just subscribe to my newsletter at Everyone who subscribes between now and October 31 will receive a copy. Happy Halloween! 

Stephanie Grace Whitson has been a full time author since 1994. Her most recent release, A Captain for Laura Rose, tells the story of a woman steamboat pilot on the Missouri River in the 1860s. To learn more, visit her at or

1 comment:

  1. Yes, Stephanie, I do enjoy walking through cemeteries. Research into character names brought me there, and now family research for our genealogy keeps me going back. I've even joined Find-A-Grave as a volunteer and whenever I get a lead on a relative's cemetery, I always see if there are any online photo requests from people who would like to see their family's headstone but are unable to make the trip themselves. Good post.