Symbols are used to express otherwise inexpressible ideas and thoughts. They have been used for centuries, dating as far back as Egypt and early China. Because of their educational value, the study of symbols used on burial markers has become an interesting field for both the professional historian and casual visitor.
Here in Lone Mountain Cemetery, as well as other historic cemeteries of Nevada, the designs and inscriptions are symbolic, expressing the values that existed in society during a specific time period in history. The Victorian attitude of "beautiful death" differed greatly from the more dark, superstitious beliefs of the Puritans. The age of the "beautiful death" portrayed death as a desirable and long-awaited refuge from the weary world. This change is society's attitude is reflected in the use of symbols such as flowers, wreaths, angels, weeping willow trees, lambs, and other expressions of eternity.
Studying the symbolic artwork on the head and footstones reveals the attitude toward death and immortality. Central themes such as sorrow, everlasting life, purity, innocence (and many other themes) are symbolized by certain motifs, including but not limited to weeping willow trees, roses, draped stones, doves, lambs, wreaths, ivy vines, anchors, a cross, stars, shells, and many more. Some of the symbols you will see on the markers include:
ANCHOR: Originated in days of catacombs; imagery is from Hebrews 6:19. Cross with anchor and heart represents faith (cross), hope (anchor), and charity (heart). LOGS. The Order of Woodcraft, a fraternal organization, had markers carved for their members' gravesites which resemble logs or trees, with knots, cut-off branches symbolic of a life cut off, cut short, and tree rings on the top surface of the marker. This example is found on the headstone of Jacob Straight.
ANGEL: God's messenger; annunciation; resurrection; with hand extended - guardianship; with both hands extended - invitation; kneeling - adoration.
BOOK: A Chinese symbol used to ward off evil spirits. Also, symbolizes the universe as an immense book with words written on an eternal tablet with a divine pen; a Bible. This example can be seen on the grave marker of G. Raffeto.
DOOR: The arched shape of the stone itself resembles an arched doorway to heaven, as shown on this stone marking the grave of James Cook.
DOVE: A slavic symbol, based on the belief that at death the soul turns into a dove. Frequently used on a young person's marker; also constancy, chastity, virginity. This dove rests on the shared marker of John P. and Clarissa Sweeny.
DRAPED STONE: Draping stone with a cloak symbolizes dignity, and a veil cutting the person off from the earthly world. Frequently seen on stones of a lodge member.
ETERNAL FLAMES: Symbolizing eternal life, transcendence, and FLEUR-DE-LIS, a Christian symbol of pilgrimage, are both evident in the decorative top pieces of this fence surrounding the gravesite of Harrison Shrieves.
FLOWERS: Chinese symbols of longevity and fertility:
Daisy ~ innocence
Lily ~ purity
Gladiolus ~ incarnation
Rose ~ rebirth
Pansy & Lily of the Valley ~ humility
Hyacinth ~ Power and peace
HEART: Center of body; charity. A heart-shaped marker was used for the 1913 headstone of John Minervo Moss (right). More recently, on Mother's Day, 1996, a heart-shaped stone (left) was dedicated for the infants buried in Lone Mountain Cemetery.
IHS: Greek abbreviation of word meaning Jesus. Note the initial letters of three separate words, hence having periods after each letter is incorrect. It should read "IHS" or "IHC." This example can be seen at the grave of Father Charles A. Bengel.
THREE INTERLOCKED RINGS: The three interlocked rings indicate the person was a member of the Oddfellows (I.O.O.F.) fraternal society. The rings symbolize friendship, love, and trust. Sometimes shown with one ring broken, symbolizing the loss of a member of the lodge. HAND: Manus Dei - hand of God; extended - protection; palm upward - invitation; folded - prayer; two hands, palms together - worship/adoration; clasped - holy matrimony; handshake - fraternal handshake between members of a lodge.
IVY VINE: Eternal life; faithfullness; memory. The ivy shown here appears on the headstone of Harrison Shrieves. A different use of ivy can also be seen on the marker for Jennie Clemens.
LAMB: From the Book of Enoch, symbolizes purity, innocence, meekness, unwarranted sacrifice. Most commonly used on a young person's marker.
This lamb watches over the final resting place of Mary Maria Davis.
OBELISK: Ascension; its upright position with pyramidal point at top pointing the way to heaven. This obelisk marks the grave of Francine Pauline Doyle, "consort" of Capt. William H. Smith.
SCIMITAR, CRESCENT MOON, CROSS: Reflects the deceased was a member of Knights of Templar. The crescent moon represents a world of changing forms/images of paradise; the crown is a sign of success and is located on top of the head; the cross is a Christian symbol, and the scimitar represents strength and courage. This stone, placed in 1908, marks the grave of John Wagner.
SQUARE, COMPASS, PLUMB, MORTAR, TROWEL: The Masonic emblem - symbolizing the desire for a straight, even life, held together with the mortar of God.
This 1896 marker for M. Harris also demonstrates an example of a draped stone.
TREES: Represent immortality of the soul; life, growth, regeneration.
Oak ~ Celtic - strength, long life, virtue
Ash ~ Scandinavian
Olive ~ Roman - peace
Palm ~ victory
Willow ~ sorrow of those left behind; mourning, grief
A willow tree is used in the decorative fence surrounding the grave of Mary Maria Davis, as well as on the 1873 headstone of Edwin Cushing and the 1870 headstone of Dr. Anton W. Tjader, son-in-law of Abram Curry.
WREATHS: Different types reflect certain values:
Ivy ~ conviviality
Oak ~ strength
Olive ~ peace
Bay ~ death, mourning
Laurel ~ distinction in literature or music
The wreath pictured here, made of bay leaves, can be found on the monument of Harrison Shrieves.
LEAVES: Used with or without a wreath configuration, leaves signify:
Palm, cypress, olive ~ peace
Laurel ~ reward, victory
Oak ~ eternity, strength
Bay ~ death, mourning
Cypress ~ death, mourning, immortality. Since cypress loses its leaves in gales of
wind, it is a symbol of the righteous man who preserves his faith even at the
cost of worldly riches and honor.