Gravestone Girls
October 18, 2010 9:46 AM   Subscribe

The Gravestone Girls collect and reproduce aged New England cemetery art without damaging the original stones. Not able to attend any of their classes? In the meantime here are some do's and don'ts about collecting rubbings, via the Association for Gravestone Studies.
posted by hermitosis (19 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I'm glad someone is doing this. When tooling around old graveyards in New England I always worry, "For how much longer will these carvings be in tact?"
posted by En0rm0 at 9:50 AM on October 18, 2010

I bought one from them last weekend during a festival in Salem, MA. I was very impressed not just by the reproductions, but with the way they were labeled -- names, dates, locations, symbolic interpretations, the works. When I grow up, I want to be a Gravestone Girl.
posted by hermitosis at 9:52 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Most kids would come back to school after the summer with a Mickey Mouse hat and vacation snapshots from the beach, but in our family, we'd come home with sheet after sheet of brown paper covered with headstone rubbings from Haverhill, Massachusetts and other lesser-known parts of the crusty old Northeast.

"What did you do over the summer, Joe?"

"We drove around to cemeteries."

"Joe, if you're not going to take this seriously, I'm going to just ask Karen here."

"I'm serious," I said. "We drove around to cemeteries, and hitchhiked on a lobster boat to an abandoned island with a spooky deserted lifeboat station."

"Karen, what did you do over the summer?"
posted by sonascope at 9:55 AM on October 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

So cool to see this here, they are from my city and I know a few of them...!

I don't see any on the site, but they also have a couple cool t-shirts at any given art festival appearance...
posted by rollbiz at 9:57 AM on October 18, 2010

"I Told You I Was Sick"
posted by ColdChef at 10:34 AM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Looking at the title, I assumed this was related to Girls and Corpses magazine.
posted by mkb at 10:41 AM on October 18, 2010

My girlfriend, doesn't do rubs, but she does visit cemeteries for her genealogical research. She'll enjoy this.

And yes I do have phone conversations along the lines of, "No she's not here at the moment, she's visiting various cemeteries. Again."


MetaFilter: learn how to rub responsibly.
posted by Splunge at 10:49 AM on October 18, 2010

Yesterday my son's Tiger Cub den meeting was at a local cemetery. The boys tried to collect trash (there was nearly none!), then they did rubbings and shared what they'd made. Some of the stoenes dated to the late 1700s, including one man who died in 1788 at almost 80 years old.

My other son tagged along because we know this graveyard well: it's Rhode Island Historical Cemetery #19, called Peck's Cemetery, and it's where he's hidden a geocache. We love the cemetery....but we all let as the sun set. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 11:00 AM on October 18, 2010

Arent there guidlines which advise against geocaching in a cemetery?
posted by the cuban at 11:07 AM on October 18, 2010

This brings to mind the (now closed) shop on Newbury Street (Boston): 'Gargoyles Grotesques & Chimeras.' They had plaster casts of gravestones and all sorts of things. A fascinating place when it was around.
posted by ericb at 11:11 AM on October 18, 2010

other lesser-known parts of the crusty old Northeast.

I've been driving around the crusty Northeast a lot, well my part of it, going to places that don't get gone too much. And it always surprises me, though I guess it shouldn't, to be ten miles down a 20 mile road, from nowhere to noplace, and to come across a cemetary. It's one of those indicators "this used to be close enough to where a settlement was that we've buried our ancestors here." I've stopped sometimes and taken photos, but I like this way of meorializing memorials as well. The cemetery in Portsmouth NH has a whole gravestone history thing going on which talks about the people who used to carve the stones, who they learned from, where they came from. It's terrific. Thanks for this post.
posted by jessamyn at 11:20 AM on October 18, 2010

I didn't know, but am not surprised to learn, people are doing this with gravestones as well as monumental brasses. I have some beautiful framed brass rubbings that my mother and I did in England. The famous brasses there are actually reproduced so people can make rubbings without damaging the originals.
posted by immlass at 11:32 AM on October 18, 2010

Add me to the list of "People look at me funny when they ask me what I did this weekend and I said I went and had a picnic at the cemetery."

Really, lovely place for a snack. Very quiet.
posted by sonika at 11:44 AM on October 18, 2010

Really, lovely place for a snack. Very quiet.

In demand, too. The people are just dying to get in there.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:52 AM on October 18, 2010

When I was fourteen, my aunt took me on a two week road trip to New England, with the goal of finding the graves of ancestors, and making rubbings of them. We didn't know where exactly, we just went to the oldest graveyards we could find, armed with a book of family lineage that listed names and approximate locations.

Some we scouted in overgrown forests off unpaved roads, the markers tipped and covered with ivy. Finally, we hit the mother lode, and the father load. Our first ancestor in America was a ship captain that ferried the first settlers. Near Worcester Mass., behind the old court house, we found his stone, and along side it the stones for two wives. There weren't two wives listed in the genealogy, and this did disturb my aunt a bit. The dates for the deaths of the wives were pretty close together.

His stone was great, a combination of cherubs and skeletons, a winged skull across the top. His date of death was 1683. We did regrettably leave some traces of the ink from our rollers. I went back 20 years later and the graveyard was gone, a shopping mall taking the place. I asked around at the municipal building and they had some vague recollection of the graveyard being moved, but no one knew exactly where.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:28 PM on October 18, 2010

Great post, thanks hermitosis! The single best experience of my entire public school career, K-12, was the unit on our small town's history that our history teacher did when I was in 5th grade.

Over a number of weeks we learned all about famous names, dates, and industries from the town's 225+ year history, and it culminated in a day-long field trip to historic sites around town where we got to see the physical locations where all this stuff happened; crumbling ruins of the old shoe and furniture mills, the cellar hole of Lucy Keyes' (PDF) family's homestead, and finally the original town cemetery where many of the people we had learned about are buried. Here was a former Governor of the colony, there was a prominent citizen who had been brutally murdered by his servant.

We learned how to do rubbings on those wonderful old slate stones, and we learned that every one of them told the story of a living, breathing person who had been just as much a part of the town's history as we were.
posted by usonian at 1:22 PM on October 18, 2010

Oh goodie, this is a just the place to shill for one of my favorite history blogs, Vast Public Indifference, which often features New England gravestones. See her series 101 Ways to Say "Died" for some of the best.
posted by LarryC at 1:25 PM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

That's a cousin of mine on Page 5, first item in Castings. . There's a ton of Bigelows buried in MA.

I might have to get one.
posted by ltracey at 6:25 PM on October 18, 2010

Yay! Gravestones are one of the best things about New England. That Portsmouth Blue Ribbon Committee Jessamyn linked to is amazing - they get performers, historians and storytellers to do events in the graveyards all summer and fall, and they're quite good.

David Watters, a UNH English professor and one of the founders of the Center for New England Culture, is also a New England gravestone expert, and does some really good graveyard walks in which one can learn a tremendous amount. He's particularly good on the topic of gravestone iconography - teaching a layperson how to pretty nearly date a gravestone just by the symbology -- types of death's heads, cherubs, urns, weeping willows, lettering, and wording on stones. One of the most fascinating things about gravestone iconography is the move from the depiction of earthly remains - just bones, skulls, and dust, because the soul has moved on - to the more romanticized cherubs and more indirect imagery that presaged Victorian sentimentality around death, and a less sure view of the afterlife. Pretty neat stuff.

Here's a list of what some of the iconography was understood to mean at various times and locations, and here's a How to Read a Graveyard page that Dr. Watters contributed to.
posted by Miko at 7:03 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

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