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Humor, revelation abound in tributes left on gravestones

October 10, 2013

Lynda Hollenbeck

A trip to an old cemetery can provide some delightful commentary — some intentional, some obviously not.
Much humor is found in the messages left by past generations, which most planned as serious memorials, but instead provide priceless tributes years later.
Epitaphs, once the norm, are practically non-existent now. I find them fascinating.
My late spouse once told me that his choice for the eulogy on my final resting place should be: "She was an enigma, but I loved her."
I responded that this would be OK except for the conjunction. "It should be 'AND I loved her,' not 'but,'" I argued. "You don't love me in spite of my craziness, but because ... ."
In typical Ed fashion, he just grinned.
Suggested epitaphs that never were actually chiseled into stone have been shared through various sources and are good for more than an occasional chuckle.
Ogden Nash, being straight to the point, suggested this pertinent gem for his tombstone: "Nash's Ashes."
Then a man named Thorpe offered for his gravesite: "Thorpe's Corpse."
These are much more appealing than the oft-used in earlier days "Rest in Peace" or "Asleep in Jesus" variety.
When a beloved country doctor's earthly life ended, his gravestone was inscribed with his professional shingle: "Dr. J.B. Jenkins. Office Upstairs."
The humor may have been unintentional in some instances, as recounted in "The Last Laugh," a collection of epitaphs by Hallmark. This publication included a "Lord, She Is Thin," because of the stonecarver's omission of the final "e" in the last word.
(That one makes me want to start eating my Wheaties. Who wants to be immortalized for thinness?)
Another in this anthology reads: "Here lies Bernard Lightfoot who was accidentally killed in the forty-fifth year of his age. Erected by his grateful family."
Also included in the book is: "Born 15 September 1822. Accidentally shot 4th April 1844 as a mark of affection from his brother."
A tribute to the joys of marriage in a New Haven, Conn., cemetery states: "Here lies the body of Obadiah Wilkinson and Ruth, his wife. Their warfare is accomplished."
This theme of marital bliss appears in this permanent tribute: "Within this grave do lie back to back my wife and I. When the last trump the air shall fill, if she gets up, I'll just lie still."
The monument for a blind wood sawyer's grave is marked with these words: "While none ever saw him see, thousands have seen him saw."
The Hallmark edition quotes the following as Benjamin Franklln's own epitaph:
"The body of Benjamin Franklin, printer,
Like the covering of an old book,
It's contents torn out
And stripped of its lettering
and gilding lies here.
Food for worms:
But the work shall not be lost,
It will (as he believed)
Appear once more, In a new and more
beautiful edition,
Corrected and Amended
by the Author."
From a burial spot in Saratoga, N.Y., comes:
"Farewell, dear wife, my life is past. I loved you whilst my life did last. Weep not for me nor sorrow take. But love my brother for my sake."
And this tribute to marital bliss: "Beneath this stone my wife doth lie. Now she's at rest and so am I."
Four graves in New London County, Conn., contain these inscriptions beneath the names of the deceased:
"My I Wife," "My II Wife," "My III Wife" and "My IIII Wife."
In the center of the four plots is a fifth marked "Our Husband."
A final tribute to a fisherman in Block Island, N.Y., includes these cryptic comments: "He's done a-catching cod. And gone to meet his God."
Above a locksmith's grave appear these words: "A zealous locksmith died of late. And did not enter heaven's gate. But stood without and would not knock because he meant to pick the lock."
Some sage advice is imparted in: "Don't attempt to climb up in a tree. That's what caused the death of me!"
This one from Lincoln, Maine, comes close to a special kind of advertising: "Sacred to the memory of Mr. Jared Bates who died Aug. the 6th, 1800. His widow aged 24 who mourns as one who can be comforted lives at 7 Elm Street this village and possesses every qualification for a good wife."
What would one guess the surviving husband's sentiments to be in this one? "She was more to me than I expected."
But there's hope for the future, as this indicates: "1890 - The light of my life has gone out. 1891 - I have struck another match."
The tombstone of a man named Arthur Haines reads; "Haines' Haint."
Short and to the point are these two, which state simply: "Out of Business" and "Next to Last Judgment."
Somehow appropriate for a deceased gardener buried in Eastport, Maine, is this one-word tribute: "Transplanted."
A dentist's epitaph reads: "View this gravestone with gravity. He is filling his last cavity."
Among my favorites would be the following words comedian W.C. Fields — who for reasons unknown to me despised Philadelphia — stated he wanted to appear over his final resting place: "I'd rather be here than in Philadelphia."

Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.
lyndahol@yahoo.com

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