Memento Stones is a blog dedicated to the art and iconography of gravestone carving. As an artist, designer, autodidact and lifelong taphophile, it is my personal mission to spread the word about inspired memorial art with an emphasis on - but not entirely limited to - regional stone carvings produced prior to the Industrial Revolution. Please read on and enjoy the images. I hope you will find some inspiration!

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Most people, if they think of early American gravestones at all, picture the winged grinning skull or death’s head. Today I thought I’d present some of the many other mortality symbols which grace headstones of the period. Some are complex compositions with multiple elements illustrating the struggle between life and death while others attract the passerby with the their stark, simplistic symbolism 

Some early slate stones in the city of Boston depict a winged figure holding an hourglass (fleeting time) and a skeletal figure snuffing out the candle of life. In at least one image the skeleton wields a scythe ready to cut down the mortal and bring on death. In another the skeleton clings to the vine of life -  which continues down the sides of the stone creating decorative floral borders -  while brandishing it’s candle snuffer.

The Stevens family of Newport, Rhode Island produced a carving dynasty lasting several generations and their stones can be found up and down the east coast of the United States. A visit to the tremendous burial ground in Newport yields many examples of a Stevens design composed of winged effigy, scythe and hourglass. 

Coffins figure in colonial era designs from very early on. A circa 1700 stone in Malden , Massachusetts in topped by a winged death’s head which hovers above an hourglass flanked by impish coffin bearing figures. Each coffin is topped with crossed bones and flanked by Latin phrases: “Memento Mori” –remember death and “Fugit Hora” – the hour is fleeting (or time flies). Several similar examples of the carvers art can be found in eastern Massachusetts cities and towns such as Boston, Cambridge, Wakefield and Charlestown.


I found a wonderful stone in a graveyard in North Deerfield, MA which packs several mortality symbols. A winged heart flies away above a soul effigy (I plan to discuss soul effigies in detail in future entries) or “proto-angel”. Beneath the effigy lies a figure in a coffin and a broken skeleton, cut down by a scythe.   

A stone in the burial ground at Mansfield Center, Connecticut depicts the corpse in it’s coffin surrounding by flowering vines.


Some stones were erected in honor of more than one individual, a mother and child, or several members of the same family. These two are from Deerfield, MA and Franklin, CT.

I’m personally fond of the later eighteenth century primitive, folk art carving found in and around Derry, New Hampshire, including this stone for 5 individuals, each with their own pine box.


In Connecticut, a brown sandstone marker places the coffin beneath a tree (of life?) apparently about to be felled by an axe. 

In my next post I will be sharing some images of winged hourglasses and other time pieces-please check back! 

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