Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Taphophilia and Memorials

Several years ago, I needed character names and decided to take a walk through a cemetery to "borrow" names from grave markers. Around that same time, the city organized a cemetery walk, which is fairly common with historical societies, etc. What better way to walk through the cemetery than with a guided tour? The anticipation sparked my imagination with a woman who is more comfortable in a cemetery than in the real world, and I started to write the story.

When I looked into taphophilia (defined as "morbid interest in graves and cemeteries," but why does it have to be morbid?), I began to understand the attraction. The cemetery is dotted with angels and obelisks. From mausoleums to flat stones. Old markers, new markers. Taphophiles seem to prefer older cemeteries, the spookier ones with the more interesting stones, but that's the point. They're interesting

The cemetery I toured has a wide variety of monuments across a varied landscape. Mausoleums are built into hillocks (they're called french mausoleums, for the record). Different shapes and colors of stones adorn the graves and different types of engraving mark the stones. In this day and age, granite stones are either sand blasted or laser etched. Most stones are made of either granite or marble.

French mausoleums

As part of my research, I visited a monument shop - the granite works and the memorial works. Cutting the stones has become a computerized science which is no less interesting, and while I had pictured a guy holding a sandblaster in a small room, what I actually found was that same small room, with the "guy" standing outside the room, looking through a window, setting the computerized sandblaster to etch the stone, and he could either watch, or walk away while the computer followed its program and did the work. 

More of what I learned: 65% of people opt for cremation these days, and many of those people don't ever end up in the cemetery (on grandpa's mantel, dispersed into the ocean, etc.) either as a measure of cost or choice. There are cremation niches in the cemetery, and those niches commemorate the life of the deceased much the same as a headstone would. Some cremains are buried and have a headstone. What's the impact? Future genealogists may never find relatives without a grave marker annotating their life. Some people would like to be commemorated, remembered for who they were, or at least have their life acknowledged. Some people don't care if anyone ever remembers their contribution to the world.
An Epitaph

Last but not least - epitaphs, and this is the theme in my novel. I've been told people who want an epitaph carved on a stone generally have an idea what they want to say. The front of the stone is meant to state the facts. Name, date of birth, date of death, with limited space for another line or two, such as beloved mother, devoted father, etc. The back of the stone is wide open for any additional thoughts. While I was at the memorial works, I saw a three-foot stone with the entire 23rd Psalm engraved on the back. 

I found the stones and the symbolism interesting, and spread across a wide green lawn, I can see how some people would develop an interest with it all.

How do you want your life to be memorialized when you die?

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