The Perfect Memorial
Gravestones have a long history of being the perfect memorial for the dead, and they have played a key role in the evolution of todays often elaborately landscaped cemeteries.
The term gravestones itself is probably rooted in a long-held Jewish custom in which visitors to a grave place stones at the head. This tradition reportedly began centuries ago when a Jewish man broke the Sabbath to write a note that was used to solve a crime. Feeling guilty for the transgression, but knowing that what he had done was necessary, the man asked that his grave be “stoned” upon his death. And so the tradition of gravestones began. Placing stones on a grave is now seen as a way to honor the person memorialized by documenting the number of visitors to his or her grave over the years.
Todays cemeteries have become what historians call a “cultural institution,” but gravestones have been at the center of that change. Upright Gravestones typically are elaborately designed tributes to the lives of those who they honor and, as such, they are key elements of the sophisticated landscaping that is the focal point of most of modern cemeteries. The strong, elegant structure of most gravestones makes a stroll through one of todays cemeteries, for many people, as pleasant as walk through a well-maintained park.
The overall look of gravestones has changed rather dramatically as cemeteries have evolved. Gravestones of days gone by were usually large, up-right pieces of sculpted stone upon which had been chiseled information about the people they memorialized. By contrast, most of today’s gravestones are simpler and smaller, plaque-like pieces made of granite, bronze or a combination of the two. And they are displayed directly on the ground at the head of graves. These gravestones have often replaced the up-right gravestones , which are less common today because they have shown a tendency to deteriorate and fall over as years pass. Gravestones installed at ground level are designed to stand up to the elements much longer.
Todays gravestones usually are usually of two main styles: bronze and granite. Bronze gravestones usually have bronze plates with special memorial designs and lettering that give the name and dates of death and birth of the memorialized person. These plates are then mounted to granite bases and then installed in cemeteries as bronze gravestones. Granite gravestones, meanwhile, are fashioned out of the Earths strongest and oldest natural materials, which has been polished and chiseled into a gravestone that will certainly even centuries.
Besides their obvious emotional value, gravestones are also valuable to historians who often need to document peoples lives for decades, or even centuries, after deaths have occurred. The study construction of gravestones assures that people will be remembered for such documentation long after the elements have destroyed paper records or technology has made electronic records obsolete.