A walk through a London cemetery

In a search for interesting epitaphs, this blog post popped up – a very interesting tour of Highgate Cemetery, East in London. Between the two sections, East and West, there are 53,000 gravesites. For those of us used to the much smaller varieties, just the incredible variety of historic era, styles of monuments and statuary, is a little inspiring. Many thanks to the author for this pleasant survey.

via Highgate Cemetery, East — Destination: everywhere

Tombstone Tuesday: Military (US) Edition

Here’s a wonderful rundown on military cemetery markers. Many thanks to The Hipster Historian. According to Calvary Caretaker Terry Miller, bronze military markers are the only exceptions to granite allowed at Calvary.

Tombstone Tuesday has quickly become my favorite genealogy prompt from the Geneablogger with Thomas MacAntee. Last week it was the first edition. I’m a sucker for cemeteries (I have well over 500+ photos of gravestones on my hard drive right now). Each week of Tombstone TuesdayI’m going to feature different stories, ideas or facts about cemeteries, tombstones and anything related to the field of death and burial.

grvestones Evergreen Washelli Columbarium

Military tombstones and graves are quite unique among gravestones in general. They typically have a uniform look that is the same in almost any cemetery that you will visit. There are three types of headstones and markers available — the upright headstones, the markers, and the medallions.

John Peter Watson

While I did share the above picture in the last Tombstone Tuesday, I just love the visual representation of the winter ice on this picture. This was John Peter Watson

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Epitaphs – one last greeting card

Ever struggle about what to write on a birthday card? That’s nothing. Try deciding what goes on your tombstone.

Think about it. It’s going to be there a long time. And for the people who go by, the words etched on the stone with your name on it will be the only thing they probably will ever know about you.

Even somebody who never gets writer’s block can be a little hesitant. You only have a small space to deal with. It’s not like you can write a novel.

For some people, there is an easy and obvious choice for an epitaph. Mel Blanc, who 220px-mel_blanc_4-15-05provided the voice talent for Bugs Bunny and scores of other cartoon characters has, “That’s all folks!” on his marker. Easy choice. Perfect choice.  But along with that the timeless, “Beloved Husband and Father.”

For the rest of us who haven’t been household words, it’s a bit more of a struggle. Some people put jokes on their stone. Like this one:

“I made some good deals. And I made some bad ones. But I really went in the hole with this one.”

On one hand, epitaphs like that make for a more amusing walk around a cemetery. But we are talking about your last earthly calling card.  Everyone likes to be funny…on occasion. But do you really want a joke on your last earthly billboard?

It’s important to some people not to sound trite; to be a repeat of something so repeated it loses all significance.  And yet, many of the oft-repeated epitaphs are appropriate: Rest in Peace, Beloved Husband and Father or Devoted Mother. Those kind of engravings won’t get a second notice by the unrelated passersby if that’s all there is, but they are dignified and many times appropriate.

Of course, there are many more options now. Photo engraving on granite allows for images of airplanes and fishing scenes. Photos can be embedded in the stone. There are computer chips available now for smartphone reads. Walk by, scan a barcode and get a complete rundown of the deceased.

If you’re aiming at majestic, well majestic costs a lot. An average size upright monument can cost several thousand dollars. The Egyptian pharaohs are the champs at majestic – decades of slave labor to erect a gigantic pyramid for a single king. Good thing most people can’t afford that. We’d be up to our eyeballs in rock.

One of the most expensive monuments at Calvary is the Follman Mausoleum. It holds Follmann Cryptthe remains of Dr. Follman and his wife and in today’s dollars, cost about $100,000. And yet for all that space to work with, it is simply engraved with “Dr. Follmann.”

Some people choose a quotation or a sacred verse to engrave on their stone. “I sought the Lord and He heard me and delivered me from all my fears,” is a popular verse from Psalm 34:4.

Stay tuned for more on epitaphs…

The Calvary Ghostwriter

Written in stone…

rodneydangerfieldby the Calvary Ghostwriter

My parents are both alive, thankfully. But they’re at an age where defining their last wishes is a good idea.

Almost anyone who’s buried a parent will tell you leaving the details to after the fact is a very bad idea. It creates undue stress at a bad time, invites family squabbles and takes away all the opportunity to budget wisely. And above all, you’re only guessing what your parents would want.

Emotions run high when a parent dies and children can run wildly onto either path of being too extravagant or too miserly.

There are many details to consider: cemetery and lot location, music, time of day, obituary details (especially in today’s environment of non-traditional family structures), flowers, officiant, urn versus casket, etc.

One of the things at the top of the list to deal with is the marker. This can be a major expense, depending on the size and engraving; an upright memorial can run thousands of dollars. This is the stage we’re at in planning right now. My parents have lots at Calvary, and we’ve written down all their last wishes about even minor details.

“Written in stone” naturally has a ring of permanence to it. So it’s probably important to spend a little time in deciding what to put on a memorial marker.

Depending on the stone you choose, you probably won’t have a lot of room to work with. My parents have opted to have no epitaph on their stone. That was a little hard for me to accept. They are fabulous parents, devoted to each other and their children and grandchildren; to have nothing of praise on their final marker seems to me a bit like giving them the short end of the stick.

An epitaph is a short phrase and can be religious, poetic, emotional, a quotation or even humorous in nature. The famous comedian, Rodney Dangerfield, had “There goes the neighborhood” engraved on his memorial.

Here are some popular epitaphs:

  • Rest in Peace
  • A Loving Husband (Wife) and Father (Mother)
  • Forever in Our Hearts
  • An Inspiration to Us All
  • In God’s Care
  • In Loving Memory
  • Our Little Angel
  • We Miss You

Sound a bit run of the mill? Epitaphs are like greeting cards – you have to shop around or be inventive to come up with something that doesn’t sound mundane.

Along with the words, it’s important to get name spellings and dates right. You can’t erase an engraving. Just today, a coworker told me about her grandfather whose name was “Otto.” It reads “Othto” on his gravestone.

You’ll also have to consider graphics. These days there are a lot of choices – photographs can be attached or image-engraved onto stones. Or engraved art can be anything from an airplane (say, for an avid pilot) to a fishing rod. Rosaries and crosses are popular traditional choices.

Don’t forget to consider the color and composition of the stone. Many cemeteries only accept granite now. The reason is obvious when you see old limestone stones that have weathered and are unreadable. Granite lasts.

Once you have a firm idea of the content, it’s time to contact a stone artist to have a layout drawn up. We’re currently working with Tom Miller (Monuments by Miller). Someone like Tom can produce a layout, give you a cost estimate and tell you how long it will take to create the marker. By the way, depending on what you want, it could take weeks to months.

Remember the 5 Ps – Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. You can take that to the grave.


A boy named RIP


This cross from 1720 bears the complete Latin phrase in its plural form ("Requiescant in pace")

This cross from 1720 bears the complete Latin phrase in its plural form (“Requiescant in pace”)

Most people look for jobs in a given profession. We decide to be a plumber, go to plumbing classes and then apprentice. Or, we decide to be a doctor, go college and med school and then intern.

But sometimes we seem born to it.

Calvary Caretaker Terry Miller was only two or three when his Dad, Jerry, began calling him “Rip.” Evidently, it was a play on the short version of his name…”Terry” became “Ter” and then “Rip.” That nickname stuck like glue and is still used by Terry’s family and lifelong friends.

So Terry started growing up as “Rip.” Fast forward to 1973 when Jerry became caretaker at Calvary, and Terry was 12 years old.

“I was up there helping out and was seeing all these markers that said ‘RIP’ on them. I asked my Dad why all those markers had my name on them,” said Terry. “I will never forget that day.”

As almost everyone knows, RIP is short for “Rest in Peace” and has been used on tombstones for hundreds of years. Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry:

Rest in peace” (Latin: Requiescat in pace (Classical Latin: [re.kʷiˈeːs.kat ɪn ˈpaː.ke], Ecclesiastical Latin: [re.kwiˈɛs.kat in ˈpa.tʃe])) is a short epitaph or idiomatic expression wishing eternal rest and peace to someone who has died. The expression typically appears on headstones, often abbreviated as R.I.P. or RIP.

“Weird that a child with the nickname ‘Rip’ would wind up spending his life making sure thousands of people were resting in peace,” Terry mused.

Christmas wreaths on display

2016 Christmas wreaths on display

Caretaker Terry Miller was very exhausted but very pleased after installing 240 wreaths around the cemetery. It was a record year for wreaths, and the stately grounds are all ready for a little snow to complete a perfect holiday display. Our gratitude and thanks to all who bought a wreath in honor of a departed loved one! Come visit soon!

Time to order your Christmas wreath

It’s hard to think about the holidays without remembering Christmas past and

Christmas Wreath

Christmas Wreath

departed loved ones.

If you’d like to decorate a loved one’s grave with some holiday color, Calvary Cemetery is now taking orders for Christmas wreaths. Ordered wreaths will be placed on graves the last week of November and will be removed after New Year’s Day (weather permitting).

These 25-inch wreaths are Balsam Fir and feature a red bow with white-tipped pinecones.

To order your wreath for $25, call Terry Miller at 507.995.1010.

It’s official — the Vatican rules on spreading and storing ashes

Calvary Cemetery has two areas specially dedicated for cremated remains. Resurrection Garden is one.

Calvary Cemetery has two areas specially dedicated for cremated remains. Resurrection Garden is one.

On Tuesday, the Vatican issued guidelines for the disposition of the ashes of the cremated, according to the Associated Press.

To read the AP story, click here.

Simply put, the Vatican does not condone the practice of spreading ashes, or separating a person’s remains. Although cremation is an approved practice (within certain guidelines), the remains should be buried in a consecrated place.

“To set the faithful straight, the Vatican said ashes and bone fragments cannot be kept at home, since that would deprive the Christian community as a whole of remembering the dead. Rather, church authorities should designate a sacred place, such as a cemetery or church area, to hold them,” stated the article.

According to local sources, this is not a reversal or change in the Church’s stance on cremation or accepted burial practices. It is more an affirmation of a longstanding position. In the Greater Mankato Area, the clarification has already been disseminated to the local congregations through the clergy during the past year.

Calvary Caretaker Terry Miller says there had been a trend, substantiated by comparing the local parish deaths with burials, indicating that a growing number of local Catholics had either been spreading the ashes of those departed, or stowing them away at home.

“I think many people weren’t aware of the Church’s position on cremation,” said Terry. “But this past year, there’s been a big drop in the number of those unaccounted for. I’m guessing the word has been getting out from our priests.”

Terry says anyone who has been putting off a burial and storing remains at home, can call him without hesitation to make arrangements for burial. Terry also said he has heard of more than a few practical mishaps involved with keeping remains at home.

“I’ve heard it all,” he said. “And, it’s not uncommon to hear of someone who’s ‘lost mom’s ashes’ during a move. To me, it’s better to settle things at the right time.”

Nationally, the Vatican’s announcement caused a measure of media discussion. The renowned Whoopi Goldberg, for instance, during a broadcast of the show, “The View,” talked about scattering her mother’s remains in all kinds of indiscriminate places.

“You can’t dictate what is sacred,” she said, explaining that her mother said she didn’t want to “spend the money” (presumably on a church burial).

Goldberg, according to Net Worth and Biography 2016, is considered to have a net worth of $45 million (link). So clearly, it’s not always a matter of money but of prevalent popular views — views that were echoed by her co-hosts during the broadcast.

But to many, the Church’s clarification will make uncommon sense. We are all connected to those who brought us into the world and raised us, and connected as well to those who did the same for them. To many, it makes sense to create as permanent a marker, and a meeting place, as possible…a focal point for future generations to visit and venerate their forbears, to celebrate their triumphs or learn from their mistakes…and, maybe make a prayerful appeal for future generations.

On film, it’s all too easy to remember “Roots,” and a descendent of Kunta Kinte standing at his grave, venerating his forebear’s struggles. What if that grave never existed? What if Kunte Kinte’s remains had been scattered to the winds?

— The Calvary Ghost Writer