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10 Fascinating Stories Behind the Grave

Updated on July 6, 2014

Gravestones are your last words to the world. Sometimes you get to dictate what those will be, other times it gets left to those you left behind. For better or worse. These are the stories behind some of the world's most fascinating gravestone and memorials.

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1. Archibald Yates's Naked Woman in Bondage (1911 to 1966)

Key West has always been known for being a little odd, but a look into the old town cemetery may have you calling it Key Weird. Take Archibald Yates's gravestone. Atop where his ole head rests, there sits a strategically squatting woman with her head thrown back in ecstasy and hands delicately tied at the wrists. Local rumors recount Yates as being some sort of church leader with an interesting sense of humor. The known facts are that the statue, nicknamed " The Bound Woman ", is a stone representation of Yates's wife, Magdalena Yates. Author Joy Williams writes, "She's no angel certainly and her posture seem to suggest something other than grief, but Archibald John Sheldon Yates really, really wanted her on his grave".

2. Laurence Matheson's Sleeping Widow (1930 to 1987)

Located in Mount Macedon Cemetery, Victoria, Australia, this gravestone features an epic female sculpture entitled "Asleep" . Laurence "Laurie" Matheson's widow, Christina Matheson, commissioned Peter Schipperheyn to design this life-size memorial in a loving tribute to an eternal and undying love. Laurie was an early sponsor of Schipperheyn's artwork. The Australian stone carver describes the process as coming "about as a result of knowing a remarkable individual who in many ways changed my life".

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3. The Final Words of Leonard Matlovich (1943 to 1988)

Matlovich's grave is located in Washington DC's Congressional Cemetery as befits a war veteran. He was not only a highly decorated soldier, but also an early gay rights activist and the first to go before the Supreme Court to challenge the exclusion of gays and lesbians from the military. Matlovich's grave uniquely does not bear his name, but rather the simple title of "A Gay Vietnam Veteran". Beneath this is the chilling phrase, "When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one." He designed the stone himself to " serve as a memorial to all gay veterans ". Matlovich even incorporated the pink triangle symbol, having it point down to commemorate his birth and up to indicate his death.

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4. Sarah Davis's Opulent Memorial (1860 to 1930)

The Davis Memorial is the biggest attraction in Hiawatha, Kansas, and one of the state's most popular sites. Sarah Davis died in 1930, leaving her husband, John Davis, of 50 years with an excessive fortune accumulated from their prosperous farm. Sarah's grave began as a simple "Davis" headstone in Mt. Hope Cemetery, but would grow in subsequent years to become an opulent memorial monument consisting of 11 life-size marble statues of the married couple. The total cost is estimated to have been anywhere between $50,000 and over $1 million . Because this was during the Depression era, many of John's neighbors grew to resent what they saw as an eccentric waste of money. Especially, when the man repeatedly ignored community requests to underwrite major public work projects. Davis reportedly replied with, "They hate me… But it's my money and I spent it the way I pleased." Today, the Davis Memorial attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year, arguably turning it into a most profitable private-turned-public project.

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5. Lily E. Gray's Eery Epithet (1881 to 1958)

Amidst the 250-acre Salt Lake City Cemetery there is a simple headstone with Lily's name, birth and death dates, and the following provocative epithet: " Victim of the Beast 666 ". The number "666" and "The Beast" are terms frequently linked with Satan and the Antichrist due to the New Testament's Book of Revelation Chapter 13 . When many people choose to cite loving inscriptions such as "beloved wife" or "devoted mother", what could make someone want to leave this devilish statement? Lily's primary surviving relative upon her death was her disturbed husband, Elmer L. Gray. Elmer had been incarcerated before her death and gave some interesting anti-government answers on his pardons and parole application . The most likely answer behind Lily's devilish epithet is an allegory to what he saw as an evil and persecuting government.

6. Barbara Sue Manire's Comic Addition (1941 to 2005)

A much less ominous gravestone accompanies Barabara Sue Manire's grave in Okemah, OK's Highland Cemetery. Erected next to a stone listing the normal information, there is a parking meter with a special sticker reading "Time Expired". The unusual idea was all Barbara Sue's, and her headstone epithet is aptly inscribed: "Our Mom… Her Humor Lives On".

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7. A Protestant Man and his Catholic Wife (1809 to 1880) and (1820 to 1888)

In 1842, Dutch calvary colonel van J.W.C van Gorkum married a woman by name of J.C.P.H van Aefferden. Their marriage sparked controversy as she was a Catholic noble and he came from a Protestant family with no connections to nobility. Because the Roermond cemetery in Netherlands separates graveyards by faith, van Gorkum and van Aefferden were destined to be parted in death. When the colonel died in 1880, he was buried in the farthest part of 'his' side of the cemetery, against the Catholic wall. Before van Aefferden passed away eight years later, she ensured that her burial plot would about her husband's at the wall, over which two clasped stone hands would forever connect them.

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8. Salvador Maria del Carril's Silent Wife (1798 to 1883)

Whereas the previous couple was loving beyond their death, the famed Recoelta Cemetery 's Salvador Maria del Carril and Tiburcia Dominguez gravestones depict a much less agreeable couple. Del Carril is most notably remembered as being Argentina's first Vice President. He became very wealthy later in life, but was encumbered by his wife's, Tiburcia Dominguez, expensive spending habits. The two would reportedly spend the last 30 years of their marriage never talking to each other. Upon del Carril's death, his family constructed a sculpture of him sitting atop a sofa and pensively staring across the horizon. Dominguez wasn't happy with leaving her resentment at the grave. Her testament asked that her image be placed in way to represent those last 30 years. And so they sit, forever back-to-back .

9. David Alleno's Last Stance (1854 to 1910)

Another fascinating grave in the Recoleta Cemetery is one of its own, the Italian gravedigger David Alleno. Alleno worked for thirty years in this cemetery, during which he became obsessed with creating his own elaborate gravestone. Over the course of a lifetime, he saved enough money to commission an Italian architect to sculpt an elegant marble statue of his image at work. Rumor has it that once the final finishing touches were made, Alleno went home and committed suicide. However, one source claimed he lived until 1915, ultimately dying of " trauma and cerebral contusion ". Either way, the beautiful sculpture has attracted grave-obsessed visitors from around the world.

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10. Oscar Wilde's Sphinx (1854 to 1900)

Famed playwright, poet, and novelist, Oscar Wilde is as well known for his exuberant and engaging personality as for his literary endeavors. His extravagant spending habits unfortunately couldn't keep up with his selling works. He died penniless and alone in Paris, and was initially interred in a small grave outside the city. However, devout fan Helen Carew wasn't satisfied with such a quiet grave. She wrote a $2000 check dictating that the young sculptor Mr. Jacob Epstein be charged with crafting a more suitable monument. Wilde's remains were then transferred to Pere Lachaise, the French National Cemetery, where they would later lay beneath a 22-ton block of English stone into which is chiseled a fantastical male Sphinx . Epstein cites Wilde's poem " The Sphnix " and its sexually voracious character as his inspiration.


Which do you think is most fascinating?

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    • jlpark profile image

      Jacqui 2 years ago from New Zealand

      Interesting hub. I really liked the Expired Meter one - awesome idea.

      The Protestant/Catholic one was both sad and enlightening - sad that even in death people judged their relationship, but enlightening in that, even when other's would like to take away what you had - even in death you can be together despite the odds.

    • no body profile image

      Robert E Smith 3 years ago from Rochester, New York

      I have loved cemeteries and looking at the monuments all my life. Often I would go to my city's old cemetery and picnic, studying the art there in an atmosphere of an open air art museum. I see the grave markers as representing genealogies, the lives of men and women and not their deaths. It is, after all, a testament to the person's living and not a reminder of how they died (generally).

      So that being said, sometimes incredible sadness can be found there with the hints of a life spent in pain or in futility. I was saddened to see the husband and wife who must have loved each other but had too much pride to even talk to each other for 30 years. What a wasted time together. So sad. The two graves with the stone hands connected was sweet and an opposite to the thirty silent years of the other couple you mentioned, one declaring to all that they would be together and in harmony, the other declaring no harmony but an obstinacy to peace that went far beyond the grave.

      I understand, in some ways, the sentiment of the gay rights soldier too. All people long to stand for something. A life seems wasted without a cause, without making a difference to someone or someone(s). He wished to let everyone know that in his mind loving a man was just as important, if not more important than killing two men. His life became his cause. He wished everyone to see what he saw as hypocrisy in society that sanctioned one and not the other.

      I wish to be known for something too. I want my life to be a statement to all as well. When I die I would like it to be truly said of me, "The Lord was his treasure in life, and he shared his treasure with everyone he met." Voted up and funny and interesting. Bob.

    • JaneA profile image

      JaneA 3 years ago from California

      Best hub I have read in a long time - many thanks!

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      sailorcherri 3 years ago

      Thank you @CyberShelley!

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 3 years ago

      What an interesting and unusual read - I loved it. Thank you for sharing.