Final Words on Gravestones
Creativity abounds in memorials to the dead. Some folks rest beneath replicas of things that were important to them; a BMW, a Harley-Davidson, or pool table seem to be guy things. The ladies, if they are into showy declarations, choose more artistic devices such as books and pianos.
The epitaph itself runs a wide gamut from religious quotations and solemn messages of loss, to wisecracks. Some seek to warn us of the joys to come: “Sinners are never saved by putting their trust in self,” or “Be sure your sin will find you out.” Others are a tad more upbeat “I’ll be back,” is quite popular, and comedian John Belushi speaks from the great beyond, “I may be gone, but Rock and Roll lives on.”
Humour in the face of the grim reaper shows up on many memorials.
Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam, and many other cartoon characters, has “That’s all Folks” inscribed on his headstone.
Comedian, Spike Milligan, is one of several to have “I told you I was sick” engraved on their markers.
Talk show host Merv Griffin tells us “I will not be right back after this message.”
And, Kay (no family name given) was clearly a fun person for her grave tells us that “Where ever she goes there’s laughter.” Included on the marble is Kay’s recipe for fudge.
Let’s have a bit of advice from beyond the grave.
Clement Gillman (1882 – 1946) tells us he “Led a common sense and therefore happy life because he stubbornly refused to be bamboozled by his female relations by his scientific friends and by the rulers spiritual and secular of the society into which without his consent he was born.”
John Ely (1908 – 1998), who went by the moniker “Fast Eddy,” “did it my way and wound up here.” But, he did it his way for nine full decades.
An unknown left this behind: “I made some good deals. I made some bad deals. I really went in the hole with this one.”
A gentleman of the writer’s acquaintance wanted “Was that it then?” on his marker. His widow vetoed it.
Jerry Farrer was disappointed to check out in 2003 at the age of 66: “I was supposed to live to be 102 and be shot by a jealous husband.”
Coy B. Shillinger blames others for her untimely demise at the age of 83. Her headstone in Skagit County, Washington says “5 bratty kids done her in.”
A Warning to Others
Some tell us how they died.
Jacob, third son of Capt. Jacob Rice had an accidental demise in 1818: “His death was occasioned by the fall of a dung fork, one tine penetrating his brain.”
In Topeka, Kansas a gravestone speaks to the occupational hazard of being a lawman: “Here lies Sheriff Tim McGrew who said he would arrest Bill Hessessy or die. He was right.”
Byron Vickers came to a similar sticky end in October 1887: “The second fastest draw in New Austin.”
In a Silver City, Nevada, another gentleman met his maker for a similar reason:
“Here lays Butch,
We planted him raw.
He was quick on the trigger,
But slow on the draw.”
Fifteen-year-old George Millet, who doesn’t seem to have been a romantic type, died in 1909 in New York: he “Lost life by stab in falling on ink eraser, evading six young women trying to give him birthday kisses in office of Metropolitan Life Building.”
In the churchyard of a village in which the writer grew up (Little Casterton, Rutland, England) is an alert to the bleak fate that awaits us all:
“Oft I have stood as you stand now
To view the graves as you view mine
Think thou must soon be laid as low
And others stand to gaze at thine.”
Remembering the Unloved
Relatives sometimes reach out to those that have wronged them in life, and not in a good way.
Bernard P. Hopkins (1904-1993) of Texas seems to have been a particularly unsavoury character. On a plaque next to his grave marker is the “Legacy of BPH: Liar, Thief, Cheat, Selfish, Unsharing, Unloving, Unkind, Disloyal, Dishonorable, Unfaithful.”
Herman Harband erected a memorial in the Beth David Memorial Gardens, Florida to what seems to have been a troubled marriage: “My wife Eleanor Arthur of Queens, N.Y. lived like a princess for 20 years traveling the world with the best of everything. When I went blind she tried to poison me. Took all my money all my medication and left me in the dark. Alone and sick it’s a miracle I escaped. I won’t see her in Heaven because she’s surely going to Hell.” Ouch.
Another angry spouse sent his better half off with this message, “Here is resting my dearest wife Brunjilda Jalamonte 1973-1997. Lord, please welcome her with the same joy I send her to you.”
Jilted and distraught wives get their revenge too.
John (no other identification) gets a unique send off in the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery, Montreal.
“Free your body
Unfold your powerful wings
Climb up the highest mountain …”
The sentiments continue so that the initial letters of each line spell out a well-known, two-word salutation, and it isn’t “Love you.” Apparently, the stone was jointly paid for by John’s wife and his mistress.
Lawrence L. Cook (1934-2004) seems to have been a bit of a louse. His marker no doubt put in place by his aggrieved partner reads “Ma loves Pa. Pa loves women. Ma caught Pa with two in swimmin. Here lies Pa …”
Sibling rivalry in La Pointe, Wisconsin, or is it an unfortunate absence of punctuation?
"To the Memory of Abraham Beaulieu
Born 15 September 1822
Accidentally shot 4th April 1844
As a mark of affection from his brother."
Maxine Menster’s Christmas cookies were celebrated as confections of wonder. The Cascade, Iowa woman died in 1994 at the age of 68 and her family put the recipe on the back of her gravestone.
And here it is:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 beaten eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cream
Cream sugar and butter then beat in the eggs and vanilla. Sift the dry ingredients and add to the dough while drizzling in the cream. Chill and roll out with flour before cutting out cookies. Bake in a 350 degree oven and frost.
- “Interesting Epitaphs.” Find a Grave, undated.
- “Just Kidding: Using Humor Effectively.” Louis R. Franzini, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, July 2012.
- “Here Are some Funny Epitaphs from Real Tombstones.” Thomas L. Fletcher, Brigham Young University, undated.
- “The Funniest and Meanest Tombstone Engravings.” Gary Buiso, New York Post, October 26, 2014.
© 2016 Rupert Taylor