Category Archives: Symbolism

Behavior Cemetery, Georgia

Sapelo Island, McIntosh County

Behavior Cemetery is an active cemetery believed to have been in existence prior to the Civil War. It now serves as a burial ground for the descendants of the earliest Black families who have called Sapelo Island home.

Boston Gardner’s grave features a clock. The clock likely represents the passing of time.

The cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. The cemetery features many handmade markers that span several decades and more recent granite markers. Burial patterns are not in rows, and the older burials towards the middle and back of the cemetery.

Vases can be seen in many cemeteries, especially coastal ones.
Liberty Bell, 1900-1912
A fleur de lis next to the grave of Isabella Robinson, 1858-1889. In religion, it can represent the Holy Trinity. Additionally, some enslaved men and women were branded with a fleur de lis as punishment for trying to escape bondage.
Glasco Grovner, 1856-1928
Mary Lemon, 1906-1919. The star motif can be seen in many coastal cemeteries.
Deacon Grant Johnson, 1892-1956. The letter stamping is common method to mark headstones.
A modern memento
I believe these are giant checkers.
If you look closely, you can see the rebar and the mesh. It gives an idea of how some of these markers were made.

Joe Pope Cemetery, South Carolina

Hilton Head Island, Beaufort County

Founded in the mid to late 1800s, Joe Pope Cemetery is one of several Gullah cemeteries on Hilton Head Island. The land is owned by the Queen’s Chapel AME Church, but it is maintained by the Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church.

Benjamin Singleton, 1906-1947
Ben Singleton, 1857-1928. Notice the three linked chains which commonly represents the Odd Fellows and for fidelity, love, and truth. He was likely an Odd Fellow.
Viola Mitchel, 1905-1958

Braddock’s Point Cemetery, South Carolina

Hilton Head Island, Beaufort County

Flanked by condos and one of the many golf courses on Hilton Island is an historic cemetery called Braddock’s Point Cemetery. While the earliest death date on a marker is during the Civil War, it is believed this also served as a burial ground for the people held in bondage at the nearby Braddock Point Plantation.

One of the burial practices with the Gullah Geechee people is to bury their loved ones with personal items. Sometimes it is the last dish they used, or another object of importance. Braddock’s Point Cemetery illustrates older and more modern interpretations of this practice.

My assumption is that there was a plate in this grave marker that was lost over time.
This marker is one that I’ve seen repeated in several coastal cemeteries.
One of the few markers with a corresponding footstone.
A more modern take of using plates and seashells

Piney Woods Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Georgia

Chattahoochee Hills, Fulton County

Founded in 1852, the Piney Woods Primitive Baptist Church is located in the crossroads town called Rico which now makes up the town Chattahoochee Hills. It has a mixture of box slab crypts, seashell covered graves, field stone markers, and traditional late 1800s headstones.

The church moved from the site by 1856, but the cemetery stayed active close to 1900. One side of the cemetery contains burials with no markers. It’s believed they are for men and women who were born into slavery of the founders of the church and the town of Rico.

The seashell covered graves were a Southern phenomenon. In the Christian tradition, they represent a person’s travels through life and the final passage involves crossing water into the promised land. An articles that provides further details can be read here.

James K. Shelton markers

Echols County, Georgia

While visiting Wayfare Primitive Baptist Church in Echols County, Georgia, I found this cast iron grave marker for the first time. I do not recall seeing them before this visit. The combination of headstone and foot stone made of metal was interesting to me. I noticed the patent date and researched who owned the patent.

James K. Shelton patented this marker in 1887 while living in Alabama. The empty frame used to contain glass because Shelton thought it would be a safe way to keep a person’s photo. Unfortunately, the glass idea did not work. In one article, it mentions that at least in one county no fully intact marker has been located. Based on what I’ve found online, I couldn’t find a documented one where the glass is intact, so if you ever see one, make sure to photograph it.

Baby in Half Shell Monument

Katie Lou Bell (1905-1905), Cleveland Cemetery

For approximately fifty years after the Civil War, a popular way to memorialize young children who had passed was a figure resting in a half shell. Prior to 1900, twenty-two percent of all children in the United States died before their first birthday.

The shell can represent a pilgrimage, spiritual protection, and innocence. Using those meetings, it makes sense this became a symbol for child graves.

Wealthier families would employ sculptors to make one that represented their child. Poor families, who wanted their children memorialized, adopted the shell as a way to mark graves when Sears Roebuck offered them in their catalog.

Here is a great academic article about these monuments by Annette Stott.

Cinderella Cooper (1885-1887), Evergreen Cemetery
Harry (1886-1892) and Nellie (1888-1892) Roberts, Kennesaw City Cemetery
April Lee Porterfield (1975-1988), McDonough City Cemetery
Ruby Colley (1899-1890), Morgan Methodist Church Cemetery

Caney Head Methodist Church, Georgia

Roosterville, Heard County

Caney Head Methodist Church is typical of a Southern rural church, but one of its most famous residents, Mayhayley Lancaster, a lawyer, political activist, midwife, and oracle, is not.

Mayhayley Lancaster, 1875-1955

As a woman with many professions, she was also the first woman to run for the Georgia legislature. Yet, she is most known for her roles in high profile Georgia trials. She was part of the defense team for the Leo Frank trial. Additionally, she played a role in the Wallace trial, later known as Murder in Coweta County. A made-for-tv movie later starred Johnny Cash and Andy Griffith.

Founded before 1833, the church started in another location about a mile from the current location. According to church records, there have been four church buildings. This one was built in 1897. Still an active church, the cemetery features several different types of grave markers that are prominent throughout the South.

Harriett Lancaster, 1852-1935-This is Mayhayley’s mother. The marker’s symbolism represents the Biblical quote, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.”
There aren’t many grave houses left. This is a well-maintained one.

Village Cemetery, Georgia

St. Simon’s Island, Glynn County, Georgia
Peter Ramsey, 1873-1931

The Village Cemetery is located on the 258 acre Guale Preserve which is part of the Musgrove Plantation. It is a private cemetery that is only open to the ancestors of the enslaved who are originally buried there. This is one of the most incredible collection of vernacular headstones I have personally had the opportunity to document.

The glasswork and friezes are all done by an incredible artist(s). I tried to do genealogical searches to determine why these markers are here. Sometimes there are clues in the records, but I am unable to determine any.

My appreciation to Brian Brown to showing me this hidden treasure of a cemetery.

Hattie Lee, 1871-1929
John Davis, 1871-1927
Lucinda Ramsey, 1924-1956
William Ramsey, 1887-1952
Aaron Loman, 1891-1931
Camilla Sullivan, 1896-1923
Jim Hightower, 1884-1934
Albert Hampton, 1897-1937
Thomas Lee, 1881-1933 – “Death is eternal. Life why should …”

The Wonder of Life Monument, South Carolina

Spartanburg, Spartanburg County, South Carolina

In Spartanburg, South Carolina’s Greenlawn Cemetery, there is an impressive monument, sculpted by Bernard Zimmerman , called “The Wonder of Life.” Commissioned by the cemetery, it’s one of the largest monuments I’ve seen in a lawn cemetery. Each sculpted figure (18 in total) represents different aspects of life. It was restored a a few years ago, and the trees that surrounded it were removed.

Smith Grove Missionary Baptist Church, Georgia

Jefferson County, Georgia

This a well cared for church and cemetery in Jefferson County, Georgia. The vernacular headstones and some of the ledgers are incredibly interesting. One of the ledger stones reminds me of stained glass. I wondered as I photographed it if glass was once there.

In doing a doing genealogical search, I am unable to determine why it is Professor Lewis Seabrook. I was hoping to find out that he was a professor for a local college. In census data, he is listed as a farmer. Maybe he was just so knowledgeable that he earned that name.

The church was founded in 1867. It was one of the founding members of the Walker Baptist Association. Members initially all hailed from the plantation of Noah Smith.

St. Andrews Church, Hale County

This Carpenter Gothic church is located in Prairieville, Alabama. The congregation of St. Andrews Episcopal Church was founded in 1834. Enslaved laborers built this incredible church in 1856. These builders were loaned to the church by members who were slaveholders.

The cemetery contains a significant amount of ironwork and fencing. Many posts featured common symbols found in a cemetery. The upside-down torch represents a life that has ended or snuffed out. The arrows represent mortality. If you look closely at the road, you will see three leaves, and that represents the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Circus Train Wreck Memorial, Muscogee County

On November 22, 1915, the Con T. Kennedy Carnival Show left Atlanta for a show in Phenix City, Alabama. Unfortunately, over 50 passengers were killed when their train collided with a steel passenger train, which was significantly stronger than the carnival train. After a mass service at the Columbus First Baptist Church, there was a large funeral procession to Riverdale Cemetery, where the carnival show members were laid to rest. The Con T. Kennedy erected the “Under the Big Tent” monument in memory of those who lost their lives.

Sheffield UMC Cemetery, Georgia

Down a sandy road, there is the Sheffield UMC Cemetery which has several vernacular headstones made with tile. Outside of marbles, this is one of the most used materials I see in homemade headstones and ledgers. There was a church next to the cemetery, but it burned many years ago.