Monday, August 07, 2006

A Book About Cemetery Symbolism

Book Review: Stories in Stone - A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography by Douglas Keister

Like many genealogists, I enjoy spending a lazy afternoon wandering through a cemetery, taking pictures or just looking around. I like the sense of meditative calm that you only get in cemeteries. And each grave marker has an interesting story carved in granite or marble or some other stone. Sometimes I come across a mysterious symbol engraved in a headstone or decorating a grave. These symbols almost seem like clues to add to the minimal information usually found on most gravestones. Two years ago author and photographer Douglas Keister published a book that discusses the meaning behind many of these cemetery symbols. He called it Stories in Stone.

Stories in Stone - A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography by Douglas KeisterThe book is illustrated with numerous photographs and includes an alphabetical listing of acronyms and abbreviations of societies, clubs and organizations. A chapter on mortality symbols discusses everything from the skull and crossbones to the grim reaper. There are chapters on symbols of flora (plants), fauna (animals), and religions (Christian, Hebrew, Chinese and Japanese), including descriptions of different kinds of crosses. Angels, who seem to gather in cemeteries everywhere, get their own section called "Heavenly Messengers." I was especially impressed with the chapter devoted to secret societies and organizations such as the Masons/Freemasons, Woodmen of the World, Knights Templar, Knights of Columbus, Odd Fellows, Grand Army of the Republic, Shriners, and others. Each of these is illustrated with an example photograph.

The book is not only useful for helping to decipher some of the symbolism found in cemeteries, it's also just fun to look through. Recommended for genealogy sleuths and cemetery lovers. You might try your favorite local bookstore or a library.

For more information about Cemeteries and their symbolism see: Cemeteries and Cemetery Symbols

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