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What do you expect to read on a headstone? Usually, I would imagine, you will see names, dates, and brief tributes from family. But how would you feel if you could come back from the beyond and see people creasing up in laughter as they read the marker on your grave? Most people probably wouldn't be exactly thrilled. Some would - because they composed the funny inscriptions themselves. But others obviously had their inscriptions written by people who either didn't know them or knew them all too well and clearly didn't like them! Consider whether you would like any of the examples shown below to be used on your tombstone one day.
Death is no joke to most of us. However, if you are professional entertainer or comedian, you might wish your fans to remember why they liked you when they visit your grave. Instead of feeling depressed because you've gone, they know you kept your sense of humor to the end.
Talk show host Merv Griffin left this sentence on his gravestone:
I will not be right back after this message.
W.C. Fields showed his well-known acerbic wit in his inscription:
On the whole, I would rather be living in Philadelphia.
Mel Blanc, voice of Bugs Bunny, will be most remembered for the phrase he chose to place on his headstone:
That's all folks!
Spike Milligan, creator of the Goon Show, has a cryptic phrase in Gaelic on his headstone in a quiet churchyard in Winchelsea, West Sussex, England. It says:
Duirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite
This means "I told you I was ill."
If the late Mexican Tomas Jimoteo Chinchilla was around in spirit, he might not have been too pleased about what he saw inscribed in Spanish on his gravestone (pictured right) The English translation is:
Tomas Jimoteo Chinchilla
Rest in peace - now you are in the Lord's arms.
Lord - watch your wallet.
They say never speak ill of the dead, but those arranging burials don't seem to have heard it. Tomas is far from being the only victim of post-mortal slander. What about poor old Anna Wallace, whose headstone in Ribblesford, England, damns her for posterity with this rhyme:
The children of Israel prayed for bread
And the Good Lord sent them manna
Old clerk Wallace wanted a wife
And the devil sent him Anna.
The criticism was a little more subtle on the grave of Ezekial Aikle in East Dalhousie Cemetery in Nova Scotia:
Ezekial Aikle - Aged 102
"The good die young"
Not all such inscriptions were so judgmental, however. Consider this one in Death Valley Cemetery, California.
Here lies the body of poor Aunt Charlotte
Born a virgin, died a harlot
For 16 years she kept her virginity
A damn'd long time for this vicinity.
Telling the Whole Story
Many tombstone inscription writers in the past had a narrative bent. Perhaps they were frustrated novelists. When the deceased had no relatives able or willing to pay for the burial, it must have been a challenge to fit the story of a person's death in just the few words the parish was willing to pay the stonemason to carve. They deserve credit for some of the most succinct story telling in the English language. Here are a few of their efforts:
First, from a Uniontown, Pennsylvania cemetery, we have an example of the simple and straightforward modern style:
Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake
Stepped on the gas instead of the brake.
An inscription on an older tombstone in Death Valley, Nevada, leaves a little more to the reader's imagination:
Here lays Butch, we planted him raw
He was quick on the trigger, but slow on the draw.
Passers-by can create their own story based on this concise inscription on a Mexican gravestone (pictured right):
Here rests Pancrazio Juvenales
He was a good husband, a good father, but a lousy electrician.
Wouldn't it be the last straw - if you were around to see it - if the person entrusted with composing your gravestone epitaph thought it was cool to make puns on your name? The ghost of Londoner Ann Mann would have been fully justified if she decided to haunt whoever composed this in her memory:
Here lies Ann Mann
Who lived an old maid
And died an old Mann.
Dec 8, 1767
Someone in Ruidoso, New Mexico, thought they were pretty smart when they composed this next little play on words:
Here lies Johnny Yeast
Pardon me for not rising
In Battersea, London, a punning wag rather unkindly revealed to the world the state of a man's finances when he couldn't resist inscribing:
Owen Moore, gone away
Owin' more than he could pay
Is nothing private?
The prize for the slickest punning grave epitaph, however, goes to the unknown poet who composed this first class example found in Boot Hill cemetery in Tombstone, Arizona. Wells Fargo agent Lester Moore had met his demise in the 1880's in typical cowboy-movie fashion. His gravestone is pictured right.
A Shortage of Poets?
Whilst many humorous tombstone inscriptions are mini-works of mini-genius, some have been created by people who thought they were good with words, but were clearly mistaken. In fact, the composers of these were not trying to be funny at all. They were the poetic equivalent of many of the early auditionees on "American Idol."
Margaret Kent's grave is in Winterborn Steepleton Cemetery in Dorset, England. Reading this verse, I can't imagine what she died of:
Here lies the body of Margaret Kent
She kicked up her heels and away she went.
Or how about this poetic gem in Schenectady, New York, U.S.A.:
He got a fishbone in his throat
And then he sang an angel note.
And who cannot shed a tear at the tragic story of a nineteenth century lady in Burleigh, New Jersey?
Here lies the body of Mary Ann Lowder
She burst while drinking a seidlitz powder
Called from this world to her heavenly rest
She should have waited til it effervesced.
Finally, a non-poetic but extremely succinct and to-the-point inscription in an Albany, New York, cemetery deserves some kind of recognition.
Harry Edsel Smith of Albany, New York
Born 1903 - died 1942
Looked up the elevator shaft to see if
the car was on the way down.