looking back

Gravestones say a lot about us

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 7/8/20

Most likely, the oldest gravestones Marisa Hayes has seen were illegible. Any message they meant to say to the living is lost in time, thanks to the local sandstone or just damage (tree growth, lack …

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looking back

Gravestones say a lot about us

Posted

Most likely, the oldest gravestones Marisa Hayes has seen were illegible. Any message they meant to say to the living is lost in time, thanks to the local sandstone or just damage (tree growth, lack of care or freeze/thaw cycles) over time. But the death’s heads go back to 1720. As few as they are, the message is pretty clear. 

“They remind us of life’s brevity,” she said recently at a Zoom talk sponsored by Time and the Valleys Museum in Grahamsville. 

The researcher has been studying gravestones in the Hudson Valley region.

Eventually, death’s heads were replaced by cherubs. A more-cheerful head perched on wings, they represent a shift to a more liberal (as the term was understood then) religious outlook. 

The cherubs were eventually replaced by the enormously popular willow-and-urn. Rather than focusing on death itself or on the afterlife, they reminded people of their lost loved ones. 

Hayes can be reached through her Facebook page, Hudson Valley Headstones & Cemetery Research.

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